Office design

Partly due to the excellent The Brits Who Built The Modern World TV series, reflections on my own past experiences and changes in my current workplace I have become quite interested in all things ‘office design’ of late.  Part of my reason for this is that, as we consider the future of learning in the workplace, I am increasingly of the mindset that we can not separate this from where that learning may happen.

For example, one of my first experiences of eLearning was training during a brief stint working for B&Q (almost identical to Home Depot for any Americans out there).  To complete this training (mostly health and safety based from what I remember) I was sat, by myself, in a room which was predictably cold and dark (it was night shifts in Sheffield after all).  Now the training might have been fine but my memory is that room and nearly dozing off after a full day at university.  Forward on 10 years or so and many of our knowledge workers will find themselves in open, airy spaces – not locked away in little rooms – but the opposite problem will often happen.  Whilst the B&Q room was overkill in providing a quiet study space we now have call centers where, when you call as a customer, you cannot hear the operator over all the other discussions happening in the surrounding area.  The open plan office debate rages on.

‘Traditional’ eLearning though can realistically happen anywhere, the aspects of listening and reading being easily enough done on a bus (for example) provided it can be deployed to mobile.  My major concern is with virtual classrooms, whilst often deployed from the ‘safe walled garden’ of an LMS/VLE, we expect these platforms to offer a comparative environment to a classroom – engaging, full of discussion and activity.  Therefore, where in office design are we seeing spaces for individual activity?  Well here a couple of examples of what is possible:

I tend to support the idea of home based and flexible working where people can actively participate in an environment where they will naturally ‘open up’ – it also deals with the notorious question of what to feed people on training events!

So, if I come into the office, what do I need?  I would say two major things:

  1. An ability to ‘dock’ into a multiple screen display – much more efficient for multitasking such as video production whilst emailing, etc.
  2. Proximity to people I need to talk to regularly, realistically my direct team to learn from them and discuss current tasks face-to-face.  That proximity may be virtual for team members who are elsewhere – in which case ideally the office will not be so open plan that talking on the phone seems antisocial to other teams around you.

My most productive time in work was probably when I sat in a team of about 4 within a space than held about 8 desks (everyone in that room being part of my extended department).  This was small enough to be intimate but large enough that you still heard about what different teams were up to and not isolated in your particular task.  I’m increasingly thinking that the 8-10 people model may be the best – flexibility is no doubt key, as illustrated in some of the ‘trendy’ offices recently picked up on by BBC Business.

The recent PWC report suggesting traditional offices may start to disappear is something I agree with but I do think we need the better joined up collaboration, learning and workflow tools that I have mentioned in previous posts – only with this can the organization remain efficient in an increasingly distributed ‘office’.  Part of that efficiency will also be to consider how people remain engaged as things change, the impact of office (space) design of engagement should not be underestimated in my opinion, although pieces regularly call up Google for examples of good practice of course.

What future for education? MOOC – Week 2

It has been a little while since I’ve engaged at all with a MOOC.  I continue to sign up for the odd one but having moved into a house which is now proving a ‘money pit‘ my spare time has largely been taken up with cleaning, worrying about money and general panic about the years of work we’re facing.

This has been educational in itself – full building surveys are there for a reason, do not buy houses based purely on character, garden sheds are difficult/impossible to fix, foxes are very similar to dogs, etc etc but I am trying to get back into further personal development (including the recent splurge of posts here).

Anyway, the WFE MOOC seems to have picked up a bit of traction with people I follow online and whilst I largely ignored Week 1, the activities for week 2 are a bit more interesting:

1 – the discussion task

Offer an example of someone who is considered to be intelligent or gifted BUT who has had to be an expert learner. Tell us something about that person (they could be real, someone you know well, or a celebrity or fictional character). Outline why you think they are a “good” learner. THEN choose two posts from the discussion forum (not your own) and post a response to them: why do you think their learner is a good example: what does it tell us about intelligence and learning? Please read our forum posting policies before posting or starting a new thread.

Now I find this task description a little complicated, the need to use BUT and THEN in the way they have kind of highlights that there could/should have at least been use of bullets to better set out the instruction. From one of the staff replies, to someone seeking clarification, there is also something clearly missing in the above description:

“The idea is to consider the learning process of people who are considered to be gifted or intelligent.
There are examples of people who are highly successful who were even at some point in their life considered to have learning or other difficulties, overcoming this by developing expert learner skills
A little reading up on people who you consider to be particularly intelligent or gifted might give you some ideas. (musicians, businesspeople, scientists, nobel prize winners etc)”

There is a clear difference here between identifying a good learner (lets say Napoleon as an example of someone who studied hard at military school and quickly learned on the job afterwards) against someone who has overcome a learning or other difficult by becoming an expert learner (Stephen Hawking type examples here I guess or the business leaders for whom ‘school didn’t work’ only for them to still be a success and find out later that they had severe dyslexia or something similar).

This all highlighting one problem of running a MOOC – that you open yourself up to a world of nitpicking!

2 – the reflection activity

  1. During your own education, how has your “intelligence” been assessed?
  2. How has this affected the educational opportunities you have been given?
  3. What judgments have people made about you that have been affected by an assessment of your “intelligence”?
  4. Do you consider yourself to be a “learner”? why

Personally I would say all animals are learners, in incremental ways we change our behavior continuously from dealing with basic needs, such as sourcing food, to highly technical skill development.  The education system typically assesses our recollection of information (exams) or ability to research, analyse and articulate (essays/vivas).  Recollection can be more complex, for example in Mathematics, but rarely would my formal education have assessed in more detailed ways.  Few opportunities were given for more detailed investigation, coursework in practical subjects at school would have at least combined physical skills with mental activities.  Intelligence can of course be judged in many ways, Howard Gardner etc etc, but as the image in course menu suggested, we revert to ‘clever’, ‘brainy’, ‘smart’ and many negative options too.  Ultimately we will all learn but combinations of our neurology, previous experiences and environment will impact what this means in reality.