Do you need an office?

Apres moi, le deluge…

I’d like to say that this question was prompted by careful reflection over the impact of recent strike action, but actually it’s been triggered by the exciting news over the weekend that my building flooded.

This is even more impressive than it sounds, given that our campus sits on a hill, and my office is on the 5th floor. Some very cold weather, frozen water pipes and a riser have worked to produce some interesting effects that could, in another context, form the basis of a major piece of performance art.

However, beyond this, I find I’m now very rarely in the office in any case. This is the result of my various duties, which see me heading off to different points of the compass on a regular basis, more often than not off-campus.

Apart from the neglect of my plants, I can’t help but feel that not being in the office means I’m loosing something.

On the days that I am in, I get to see lots of people passing by – I work on an open-door policy – and I can grab stuff off shelves: books, notes, tea-bags. I’m in my community and with my colleagues. More prosaically, there also exists an entire category of stuff that I can only do on-campus, usually involving matching up intranet activity with hard copies.

But it’s also a bit of a sanctuary: I can focus on work, in a space that’s set up for my needs. Much as I am able to write content on trains, airport departure lounges, kitchen tables or the backs of meeting rooms (to pick actual examples from the past week), it remains much easier to do that at my desk, in my office.

Of course, I’m working in a very specific set of circumstances, but it raises questions that all of us might consider. As space comes under pressure in more and more universities, there has been more talk (and action) on having open-plan offices, or hot-desking. Having seen the latter in action, I recognise the merits for space-saving and for more collegiate activity, but I will also bemoan the loss of private and personal space: sending yourself off to a pod might help with some of it, but not all of it.

If there is a point to this, then it’s the old chestnut that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. My enforced absence from my office reminds me of why I like it so much. Whether I will have any more say in the future about having such a space remains a moot point, but I will be trying to make the case whenever I can.