The Nowhere Office: Reinventing Work and the Workplace of the Future By Julia Hobsbawm
Published in April 2022.
The post-epidemic university has become a hybrid.
The new defaults for residential teaching and learning are at least mixed, and probably hyflex. Online education has permanently moved from the margins to the center.
Less is said but more fruitful for academic culture is the reality that staff now behave like faculty. Where professors have always worked in a hybrid manner, non-faculty academic professionals now regularly combine on-campus and homework.
As higher education moves toward the new normal of local covid, we must reconsider the campus. Noah’s Office An excellent book on a conversation catalyst about hybrid campuses.
In the book, author and consultant Julia Hobsbawm (daughter of the highly influential late historian Eric Hobsbawm) makes relevant post-epidemic professional careers relevant to the larger story of office culture change. The Nowhere Office represents an acceleration of long-running trends where top-ranking employees were already mobile, flexible and autonomous.
This flexibility to perform professional keyboard / meeting-based work from Covid-Post, home or office has been extended to a much wider range of staff. Corporate knowledge workers are no longer willing to endure long journeys and want to endure the confusing office environment just to signal commitment to work. Instead, they decide where they will do their work based on which work environment productivity is optimal.
For companies, this means developing offices in a place where professionals come together for communication, learning and creative collaboration. Head-down thinking, production and ongoing collaboration tasks can take place effectively at home and on digital platforms. Time is spent in person and in the office to do what is difficult to do by e-mail and zoom.
This evolution of office culture and design is a welcome change for Hobsbawm. He writes that the rise of Noah’s office presents an opportunity to rethink the design of professional work. Hobsbawm noted that employee well-being has long been a concern, a goal pushed into less resource-poor HR departments, and poorly implemented through superficial corporate wellness programs. When designing new hybrid work systems, companies can develop a culture of employment in a more flexible and humane way.
How will our campuses move forward?
A college campus has many things. The list is too long to enumerate all the activities that our campuses cover One of these activities is the campuses workplace.
What does the campus look like as a place of work when that work has initially moved from residential to hybrid?
The default for meetings – and the work of academic staff goes to meetings – how does the culture of our organization change when zoomed in?
What value can we pay in building institutional communities for the real benefits we get from greater work flexibility?
How can an expanded range of colleagues who work primarily or exclusively remotely integrate with the fabric of academic life?
For those of us who work professionally for a residential university, which jobs are best when working physically on campus?
Can we imagine a different design than open offices for places where professional academic staff work while on campus?
Noah’s Office Provides a range of ideas that forward-thinking companies are embracing to recruit and retain their talents. While many lessons in the corporate world may not be applicable or appropriate for higher education, some may.
After all, The Noah’s Office argues that the Covid post-workplace must be designed with purpose in mind. It’s a goal to bring employees back into office, a goal many CEOs have articulated, the future office may not look like what we left behind in March 2020.
If we think that the presence of academic staff enhances the vitality and quality of life on campus, then we need to consider what it takes for staff to feel that their work is best done off campus. And for those whose jobs are now primarily hybrid or remote-first, we need to find out how these colleagues can be incorporated into the dense web of interactions and exchanges that shape academic life.
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