07 Jul 17

Agile Academics: New Frontiers In Designing The Academic Workplace

New Academic Workplace

The academic workplace is coming under increasing pressure to change. Traditionally, academics have had their own enclosed office in which meetings, administration and focused research tasks can take place. However, enclosed offices have proven to be poorly utilised, discourage collaboration and prevent serendipitous encounters. Universities are beginning to instigate new space guidelines that promote multidisciplinary interactions and greater agility across research clusters. Essentially, universities are looking to reduce the number of offices on campus, deferring to dedicated workstations and access to a wide range of shared meeting rooms, breakout spaces and quiet rooms.

This is not isolated to a small number of universities. Woods Bagot has engaged in conversations with a wide range of universities in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom on the topic of transitioning academics into agile workplaces.

Designing for academic work practice

In the past, it has been assumed that academic status will determine the size of an enclosed office. Architectural briefs have simply identified the quantity of each required size, with little interrogation of academic work practice. However, with new pressure on increasing utilisation and fostering greater multidisciplinary collaboration, understanding academic work practice has become an important consideration in designing the new academic workplace.

Woods Bagot has undertaken in-depth consultation with academics from several universities such as the University of Melbourne, University of Manchester, Lincoln Institute, Deakin University and Victoria University, establishing a deep understanding of academic work practice.

This consultation has enabled Woods Bagot to reconceptualise the academic workplace as a series of dedicated workpoints complimented by shared support spaces. Academic work practices can still take place in these new space typologies, however change management is recommended to support academics through this new concept. We refer to academic groupings as the creation of neighbourhoods or communities.

Western Sydney University

Western Sydney University is the most recent example of a new academic workplace where there are no offices. The environment includes dedicated workstations in close proximity to meeting rooms, breakout spaces and generous staff lounges. Quiet rooms are abundant, enabling academics to work in a more focused environment for as long as necessary. Neighbourhoods comprise 12 – 16 people, each with meeting spaces and quiet rooms in close proximity; you do not have to go far to access the type of amenity you need. An internal change management process was undertaken to assist academics with the transition.