Workplace Trends 2013 – what’s new in work space?!

20131024_113649Another part of my week last week was spent at the Workplace Trends Conference 2013, held at the Royal College of General Practitioners. This is one of the few non-academic conferences I have been to and it was recommended by a friend of mine, Steve Brewer, at Burtt-Jones and Brewer, a great Workplace Design Consultancy

This conference, which has been going for 11 years now (why didn’t I know about this before!?)  is at the cutting edge of workplace design, architectural work and consultancy. There were delegates from all over the world and from a whole variety of organisations….Cambridge Architectural Research, Credit Suisse, Hassell, Leesman Index, Herman Miller, Google, Steelcase and so on….!

The amazing Frank Duffy kicked off the day with an overview of architectural workplace change over the past 5 decades…the US office landscape, the shift from the individual office to collaborative working, technology and how the computer has completely changed the way we work and where we work, globalisation and its impact on how we develop space, urbanisation and the big debate – are office spaces obsolete?

The rest of the day included some great presentations…from case studies of innovative work spaces in Australia, to academic research on work space and productivity, to trends in property development in London and how this shapes the future of the office build…

Broadly, for me, there were 5 key issues that emerged from this conference and raised questions in my mind – given work space is my area of academic research, the ideas here touched on some personal topics of interest!

1. There was a lot of cross-over here with the Learning Spaces conference I had just been to!…in fact I met Caroline Paradise from IBI Nightingale here too! In particular, we heard the same sorts of themes here in London as we did in South Wales…how do we cope with increasing numbers of employees/ students and the same/ less space?…flexible and collaborative working spaces…the impact of technology…and the little things matter. In fact, one speaker noted that we should be looking to universities for inspiration in terms of the future of our offices, given HE institutions are having to deal with an increasingly diverse population who work in increasingly diverse ways…

2. I LOVED the entertaining debate we had after lunch! “Offices don’t work: They’re a waste of space!” – Paul Morrell (Paul Morrell Consulting) and Paul Finch (Architects Journal). This is a debate we should all have if we are really and truly interested in the future of space and the nature of work. Get together at lunch with your colleagues and thrash it out! 🙂

3.  I still found that the core threads of what was discussed here was ‘functional’ and ‘physical’. There was still that age-old debate about productivity and when pushed, it was about what the CFO would say when you said you wanted to change the work space. Although I believe that there is a place for research and design that uses ‘efficiency’ and ‘productivity’ as its foundation, where was the emotional stuff?! There were glimmers of this, I admit… hints at the ‘people’ side of things, how do you cope when people don’t like change, how do you get people to collaborate in certain spaces….but it was being ‘measured’ (there were lots of statistics and graphs!) and people wanted ‘proof’ and ‘truth’ that it worked! It’s a question of where you come from, but arguably there is a space (forgive the pun!) for other sorts of research – research that embraces complexity, doesn’t look for the ‘holy grail’ of work space and ‘how to make people happy with their desks’ and that genuinely, collaboratively works with everyday users of space to understand what IS meaningful to people and where they work!…research like mine 🙂

4. There was a fab presentation by Ian Clarke – a polar explorer who has explored the 7 summits and travelled to the edges of remote spaces all over the world. There was something about this presentation – apart from the fact that it was completely awe-inspiring! It made me think about what we could and should learn from people who see space differently – and not from an ‘office’ planning/ architectural perspective. Ian’s talk included important ideas about trust, pride, people, power and being alone…

5. This conference was about the office. When we talked about ‘workplace’, we were talking about the office…and yes, there was the debate around where we actually ‘work’ nowadays and technology and the future of work meaning we would work at home more…on the train…in cafes and so on….but! In workplace research we still focus, broadly, on the corporate world. I know I have my own agenda going on here…but what about other workers and their workplace?! What about hairdressers, what about taxi drivers, what about refuse collectors, what about teachers in schools, what about body workers, what about nurses in hospitals…what about all those that don’t work in offices? These are areas that, in my view, are ripe for research – there’s more to space than the office, there’s more to space than office workers. We’ve still got a way to go before we really understand the future of workplace trends…


Re-imagining Learning Spaces Conference 2013

20131022_140239Last week I went to the second Re-imagining Learning Spaces Conference, at the University of South Wales. This was a great one-day FREE! conference organised by The Learning Spaces Pedagogic Research Group, chaired by Dr Bela Arora, and IBI Nightingale, represented by Head of Research and Development, Caroline Paradise. Despite being a rainy and grey day in South Wales (and boy did it rain!), this was an enlightening and energetic day! There was a great mix of academic staff from all over the UK, architects, facilities professionals, librarians, designers and space consultants – which made for some lively and varied group discussions.

The day started with a warm and enthusiastic welcome from Dr Bela Arora, who highlighted the important connections we should be making between facilities, space and the aesthetics of our universities, the student voice, innovative teaching, well-being and the student experience.

Next, we enjoyed a fascinating keynote from Dr Mark Moss at the University of Northumbria. Mark’s work – in the school of psychology – explores smell and the environmental application of aromas. Apart from learning a new word – ‘anosmics: people who can’t smell!’ – I thought Mark’s work was really thought provoking…and apart from Prof Sam Warren and Dr Kat Riach’s ESRC funded ‘smell’ project, Mark is one of the few people who I have heard talk about detailed research into the significance of smell in the workplace, learning space or indeed any space! He talked about scientific trials exploring the smell of rosemary and its impact on long-term memory…other work that examined the relationship between the smell of peppermint and exercise, smells when we go clubbing, smells when we go shopping, and using the scent of lavender in toilets in the workplace in Japan to enable people to ‘rest more successfully’!

Our small group discussions then raised some key issues, where we debated ‘what are the characteristics of the ideal learning environment?’…lots came out around facilitating teaching and learning relationships, ownership, togetherness, technology…and that the little things matter!

After lunch we had a great tour of the award-winning Students’ Union building at the University of South Wales – we all took lots of pictures, asked loads of questions and along the way debated how various spaces would work at our own universities, what wouldn’t work, what spaces could be used differently, how and why  acoustics are really important and although we talk about togetherness and community…what does it really mean and does it really work?

Our second keynote was from Prof. Alexi Marmot at UCL. Alexi discussed design and the management of innovative learning spaces and covered broad ground in this area, including technology, using an Action Research approach to exploring this emerging topic in more detail, and’ future proofing’ the space in our institutions.

An important part of the day was the Student Panel Discussion, where we heard from a number of students across the university and how they felt about their teaching and learning spaces. This was an insightful session where we heard about where students work most effectively, what times of the day they worked and again…how the little things mattered to them too!

Finally we heard from the Director-General of the Department of Education and Skills, Welsh Government, the Programme Director for 21st Century Schools, Welsh Assembly Government, Caroline Paradise at IBI Nightingale and the Site Librarian of the award-winning Trevithick Library at Cardiff University. For me, this last session drew together some important threads – we need to make sure that we talk to those in and across the education sector and learn from them; that we should identify the ‘space champions’ in our institutions and work with them during change management process; that pre and post occupancy research is vital…and once we ‘move in’ to our spaces, that’s not the end – as Alexi Marmot said, that’s just the start and the academic community needs to continually work together to ensure that spaces and places are always working well for those that inhabit them!

Thanks to everyone involved in this conference – and I’m looking forward to Re-imagining Learning Spaces, 2014!

Students Doing Great Things!

I had a wonderful day at work the other week when I met with three of my students for a catch up. They were inspiring, full of energy and enthusiasm…and it was one of those days that you remember why teaching is one of the best jobs in the world! So, I felt compelled to blog about this and share the good news!

schoolsspeakersCameron is an undergraduate student in the Business School who is embarking on a self-employed placement year. Cameron came to catch up with me and tell me about his latest ventures and how he’ll be spending his time over the next year. While most of our undergraduate students seek full-time paid employment for their placement year, Cameron will be working on building two of his businesses and developing his role within them: Managing Director of Hungry.Under.Dogs ( ) and as a Motivational Speaker ( ).

Cameron has already been involved in a wide variety of charity work, community services and business engagement across the region, nationally and internationally, including The Princes Trust. Cameron was recently invited as a guest speaker at The South Gloucestershire and Stroud College and at Royal Holloway University, to speak to a wide variety of young sports people, including the Great Britain American Women’s Football Team.

Cameron also told me he had recently been accepted as a Motivational Speaker with ‘School Speakers’ ( ), an organisation set up by Claire Young, The Apprentice finalist 2008 – wow!  Cameron intends to grow his business and his role to construct workshops that can be taken into schools and colleges to inspire others and promote the value of self-belief, education and aiming high!

There’s something about students with such entrepreneurial spirit that is just so inspiring. It’s great to see students so dedicated, not only to their studies, but to their careers, the lives of other young people…and developing their own business ideas – lovely!

fashionLater that morning, I saw another fab undergraduate student who is just starting his Second Year and is looking for a placement. Daniel came to catch up with me and talk through the finer details of a ‘good CV’! Here was another case of a student going beyond what is expected – Daniel told me about some great marketing work experience he had done over the summer at a leading German Supermarket! He is now working on the PAL scheme that helps other First Year students develop their study skills, he’s part of the marketing society and at the same time has achieved a first in nearly all subjects so far and achieved over 70% for his First Year overall! Crikey!

Daniel told me that he is now looking for a placement for his Third Year and would like this to be based in the Fashion Industry but is also looking at L’Oreal and other larger organisations…

I was so impressed, not only with the grades Daniel has already achieved – amazing! But also his determination to aim high and work in a competitive industry…whilst at the same time maintaining a down-to-earth, approachable and friendly manner…sometimes a rare combination…and good to see!

Grow-Your-Own-1-640x426Later that afternoon I saw a postgraduate student who is just completing her MSc in Sustainable Development in Practice. Jenni is doing some fabulous work for her dissertation; exploring people and their everyday experiences of growing their own food! She came to talk to me about the methods part of her work…and her interest in using visual methods, namely, participant-led photography.

Seeing Jenni’s work progress over the past few months has been really interesting and the use of visual methods for a project like this has worked really well. She came to show me her data and the images her participants had taken and they were just BRILLIANT! SUCH rich data and wonderful stories that went along with the images. We talked about the age old issue of how you analyse all this!?…so we worked through some of the stuff I had done using visual methods…

Jenni had made a great start though, and some of the themes coming out of her thoughtful analysis of the transcriptions were super – stuff to do with how people see the produce they grow as extensions of their own identity and their bodies, stuff to do with emotions, and stuff to do with space and place – marvellous! It was one of those cases where there’s too much for an MSc dissertation…and perhaps a PhD would offer more space for exploration!? Anyway, I found it a fascinating study and I can’t wait to see the outcome!

So, a jolly good day seeing three truly hardworking, interesting and happy UWE students!

Bags of Fun at The Makery, Bath!

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The Makery in Bath is a fab craft workshop that runs classes and courses for those interested in sewing, textiles and fashion AND they have a shop in the centre of town that sells wonderful ribbons, fabrics and a whole range of craft type stuff! I’ve been to a couple of classes before, including a Knicker Making Class – had great fun on a Saturday morning with my friend Gemma – hilarious! The latest class I’ve been to was held yesterday – a Mini Clasp Purse workshop – see pictures of progress and final product above! I am really pleased with the result – like all these things, you can spend a couple of hours learning a new skill and then you can adapt it to fit what you want to make in the future! The ones we made are big enough to be used as purses, a small make-up bag or could hold a small gift for someone…but you could easily adapt the pattern and make a large clutch bag!

The great thing about The Makery is that they offer a relaxed environment with expert help! All levels can get involved in most classes – even if you don’t know how to use a sewing machine, their staff will give you a hand and show you how. You get to take away your finished product, a pattern and a full set of instructions. I think short classes like this are great – learn a new skill, find a great way to use up small scraps of material you don’t otherwise know what to do with, and be able to make lovely presents for your friends!

Check out The Makery blog…and their latest news about pitching on Dragon’s Den!

My Exhibition at Bristol Doors Open Day

ea1I have recently been leading a research and consultancy project with the Environment Agency at their headquarters in Bristol Horizon House was built so all agency workers could be together under one roof, rather than spread across various sites around the South West – the building brought everyone together and, due to the fact that Horizon House is located in Bristol City Centre, it has encouraged more workers to use public transport to get to work. The building has won awards for its design and sustainability and is a real landmark in the city.

My project at Horizon House has involved exploring how workers feel about their new work space. Agency staff are now expected to ‘hot desk’ and work in an open-plan environment and I asked people how they felt about this, how they felt space impacted on their well-being and what spaces were meaningful to them. I gave a group of agency staff cameras to go and capture images of these spaces. I then conducted interviews with them and asked them to tell me about their photographs.

As part of this project, the Environment Agency were kind enough to ask me to present some of the findings from this research at their Women’s Network ‘Lunch and Learn’ event a few weeks ago. They also asked me to display some of the images and quotes from the research in an exhibition at the Bristol Doors Open Day ….this is an event that runs each year where organisations and businesses across Bristol open their doors to the public, giving visitors a rare insight into what buildings look like, where people work and how organisations function. I went along this year and it was a great day out, with many venues conducting tours and putting on demonstrations. My exhibition at Horizon House was in the main foyer – here I am with my display of photographs from my research! Thanks to all those who took part in the project and thanks to Julie Jupe and David Cameron at the Environment Agency for their support…and UWE for the funding!