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In Australia, several universities have done exactly this - replace offices shared workspaces plus bookable meeting rooms - to no obvious ill-effect.

Alex - interesting. Do you know which ones?

Most academics, (myself included) feel like we get more work done in a totally private office. But at the same time, I know that I'd spend way less time checking facebook/twitter/the stock market/making personal phone calls during work hours if I was in a shared space.

Given that the overwhelming majority of for-profit enterprises have shared workspaces, I'm thinking "either for-profit enterprises are really dumb, and are doing something that systematically lowers the productivity of their employees, or there are serious advantages in terms of cost savings/increased productivity/other benefits to having shared work spaces."

This layout would also work well when groups of students come for consultation. My office hours almost always spill over into our seminar room. But I need absolute silence to work or read, so without a private office I would stay home. We have a real 'come to work' culture at Usask, which probably worth the space. Of course, we are also just 12 people.

The main issue for me with moving to shared space would be what to do with books, etc. One person I know in Australia is being moved to the new model Alex mentioned and they've essentially been told to keep their books at home and just bring what they need for the day. I know if I tried I could throw out half of what I have in my office but that's still way too much to take home and store there.

Jim: "The main issue for me with moving to shared space would be what to do with books, etc"

I hear you - book storage is a big issue in my life, too. This is a generational thing, however - the bookshelves in most of my junior colleagues' offices are empty. And if you were trying to explain to someone why you needed an office to yourself when students were desperately short of study and meeting space, would "I need someplace to put my books" pass the Globe and Mail test (i.e., how would you feel about that appearing on the front page of the Globe and Mail)?

Kelly: "But I need absolute silence to work or read"

So do I. So perhaps we could share an office?

A drop leaf table anyone?

Doesn't anyone sleep in theirs?

Lord - "Doesn't anyone sleep in theirs?"

I do have one colleague who has a couch in his office, and I do wonder if he sleeps in his office - it's certainly tempting to do so if you have a super-sized office and live out of town, as some faculty members do. But if you're asking me to check my privilege - that's fair. I hesitated before publishing this, but figured that, on balance, faculty offices are a subject worth talking about - whether, like Kelly, you figure they're essential for research, or whether you take Alex's view that they could be replaced with shared offices and the world would not end.

I think in some disciplines and some fields even today a personal library of books is not an unreasonable thing to need, like research labs in some of the sciences. Not everything is available online or in digital format. I wouldn't be worried about explaining to the Globe why I need them.

Jim - sure, I've got some old government documents in my office that would be really hard to find anywhere else. Plus a good-sized library of books that I regularly lend out to students. But how much space, and what kind of space, do your books need?

They're good for talking. You could use a small whiteboard. Or maybe there's a better way ...

Nathan - I've got a chalk board - you can't see it, it's to the left of the camera. Another indispensable piece of furniture scrounged from someone else's office!

I could maybe get by with a solid wall of books, and a couple of filing cabinets. I have that and more now, so as I said I could pitch a fair bit. Areas I teach in regularly like Thought and Economic History tend to lend themselves to books, and I like to have a variety of texts around in other areas I teach, and I teach a lot of different courses (maybe 20 in the past decade). I've also found that most of the areas I've been working up for research lately, even now have a fair bit of the relevant literature in books or reports. So books are definitely something central to what I do.
I can't keep them all at home - aside from the inconvenience that would involve I don't currently and have never had enough space for that - maybe at some mythical point in the future when not only all my kids and grandkids and all their stuff is gone. Housing them in shared space at work would to me mean unacceptable security conditions. I worked in shared space as a grad student and I'm still pissed off at some of the things that got stolen.
My objections would go beyond concerns about books though.

Speaking as a programmer, shared workspaces are terrible for individual productivity, especially if you need to think. However they do save money on office space. Programmer productivity is notoriously hard to measure, and rent is easy to measure, so guess what usually gets optimized. A detailed discussion of this trade-off can be found in Peopleware by DeMarco and Lister.

Lately I've heard people make the argument that shared workspaces increase collaboration and thus improve team productivity, which is more important than individual productivity. It's not clear whether this is works out to be a net benefit, but it is certainly an argument worth considering.

Open floor plans have recently become more popular (among employers, at least). However, the software industry has a tradition of forgetting or ignoring, and then painfully rediscovering, what older generations learned, so I would be careful about viewing current practice as necessarily being best practice.

Jason: "Programmer productivity is notoriously hard to measure, and rent is easy to measure" Nice point! Though wouldn't you think profit maximization/competition would lead to lower productivity firms falling off in the long run, at least?

Jim: As an aside - the econ department at Carleton is in the process of getting rid of all of the old books that were in the reading room, including older editions of, I think, Wicksell, Mill, Robinson, etc - books that look like they once belonged to West or Rymes. So if you'll be in Ottawa at any point in the next little while and are interested in history of thought stuff, left me know. I'm giving some shelter in a bookshelf in my office. I can't accommodate them all, however - yet it pains me to see beautiful old books going into the recycling bin.

Might be up some time this fall, but could be flying. I have a pretty good collection, so the more obscure people are more likely ones I'm missing. Secondary but classic books are also good. Anything by Irving Fisher is really hard to get.

@Jason McLaren:
> Lately I've heard people make the argument that shared workspaces increase collaboration and thus improve team productivity, which is more important than individual productivity. It's not clear whether this is works out to be a net benefit, but it is certainly an argument worth considering.

That would require that teams sit together. Any benefits on team productivity won't be realized for an individual programmer/researcher or one who's team is in another shared space somewhere else.

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