Criticism of activity-based workspaces at University West

University West is to be refurbished so that the staff will have activity-based workspaces rather than their own permanent office space. The union opposes this decision, says SULF representative Tobias Arvemo.
Högskolan Väst
The renovation of University West’s campus is expected to be complete in 2028. Management has announced that employees will not have permanent workspaces when the work is complete.

University West’s campus is to undergo renovation work. In a recent email to staff, the management announced that employees will not have permanent workspaces when the work is complete. Instead, there will be a mixture of meeting rooms, smaller rooms where people can work undisturbed, an open-plan office area and a large ”work lounge”. The renovation is expected to be complete in 2028.

Li Lejerstedt, the University Director, does not want to call the new office solution activity-based, but prefers to call it a mix of different types of workspace.

“What we have said is that we will not have permanent personal offices. We will have spaces where several people work in the same room and there will be spaces where you sit in a more open-plan environment. There will still be desk spaces, but they will not be personal.”

Li Lejerstedt.

The union sees problems
The union is critical of the new office solution, explains Tobias Arvemo, chair of the Saco-S association at University West.

“I would say none of my members, or at least very few, are positively disposed to this,” he says. “From day one when this came up, I’ve said that there are few things that will annoy my members as much as this. There is compact resistance.”

Arvemo sees a number of problems. It may be difficult to find somewhere to put literature and other – sometimes potentially sensitive – material that researchers need to keep.

“How will the students be able to find us if they don’t know where we sit? And sometimes you need to discuss sensitive matters with students. In an office, you can always close the door and talk privately.”

Tobias Arvemo.

Important to have your own space
He believes that more employees will work remotely to a greater extent when the new premises are finished. “They say that we’ll have a livelier, more active campus, but I think that it‘ll be a campus where the teachers only visit when they have lectures.”

Earlier this year, an external consultant conducted a survey among University West’s staff. The survey, which Universitetsläraren has read, seems to show that most people think that having their own desk is important. Having to pack and unpack often and look for a place with suitable ergonomic equipment when most of the work is actually done at a desk and computer are some of the reasons why having your own room is important, staff say in the survey.

Aware of resistance
University Director Li Lejerstedt points out that each department held workshops to seek the staff’s opinions on the office issue. She is aware that there is resistance to the activity-based approach. “It varies, of course, but there are certainly employees who would rather see things continue as they are now.”

She explains that University West is expected to grow, but there is no financial scope to build new premises, so they had to look at the existing floorspace and think in new ways.

“We’re trying to create the best solution based on a new situation where we may have a hundred more people on campus,” she says. “Finding flexible forms of education also brings new demands, so we have to balance our financial situation and the operational goals we have set with the creation of integrated research and education environments.”

She is aware that the union is critical, but adds that it is difficult to please everyone. “I respect that we’re all different. But it’s not like there have only been negative reactions.”

Dissatisfaction in several places
University West is not the only higher education institution with activity-based workspaces and open-plan offices. On a thread in a forum for higher education issues on social media, where the renovation of University West has been discussed, people describe similar situations at other higher education institutions.

At one institution, an open-plan office was built despite opposition from the staff. It ended up having to be rebuilt again, because there were too many complaints, writes one person in the thread. When another higher education was constructing a new building, some employees were placed in open-plan spaces, while others were given their own rooms only after protesting and showing ”massive resistance”, according to another.

Some also describe how they are more positive towards activity-based office solutions, but emphasise that smaller meeting rooms, clearly divided areas and separate shared spaces are essential for it to work.


Categories: News, Work environment
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