Sunday, November 24, 2013

New Digs

We're moving to a new building, soon, the first new academic building on our campus since the 70s, I'm told.  And it's beautiful.  For one thing, it's not built for riot control!  And it's using all the technology to allow windows and light.  So, yes, it's beautiful. 

And it's built to ADA code, so people with wheelchairs should be able to use the restrooms and get down the hallways, even.

But the layout, boy oh boy, the layout feels like it was done by people who've never actually inhabited an office.

Here's the basic layout for instructors' offices  (not to perfect scale):

We were all given basically the same office furniture, with a few choices optional (and thank dog one of the deanlings said that we actually needed more than a four foot tall single bookshelf available).

So, we could have a hutch on the top of the desk, which would only fit on the wall at the top of my picture, and would effectively block half the window.  But EVERYONE had to have the same big L-shaped desk, and it has to be where it is. 

Instead of the three bookshelves I've chosen, you could choose 2 bookshelves and a sideways file cabinet, or 1 bookshelf and two sideways file cabinets.

And you could choose an additional desk space sort of rounded off thing to make the desk into a horseshoe shape.

But other than that, it's all basically the same Ikea-style screwed together furniture, with the biggest difference being that every other office is the reverse of the ones next to it.  (And some offices don't have the structural element my office does.)  The chairs aren't in yet, but there will be (I'm told) two student chairs in the upper left space, and one rolling office chair for me.

So, yeah.  I should be thrilled, right?  It has a window, which is good.  And I have an office, which is good.  (And before anyone starts in, our adjuncts all have basically the same office, though some have skylights instead of windows because they're inside offices.)

We went in for a tour, and to tape down sticker things to show where we want our computer and such to go. 

And I was almost crying.

I hate it.  I shouldn't, but I do.

And I don't think this is just me being resistant to change or something.  I think the office isn't well designed for my use.

1.  There's no way to sit and work at the desk and either face the door or be, say, directly sideways to the door.  It will always be behind me.  Do you folks have those students who just walk into someone's office without any hesitation and loom over the space?  We do.  A lot.  In my current office, I can see them coming.  I have a feeling my office door is going to be closed all the time in this office.  (Usually, I leave it fully open because I think it's a more friendly feeling to the building.  But friendly be damned.)

2.  There's a window, but there's no good way to, say, stand and look out, and mull.  To get a good look out beyond the roof (we all look onto the roof of the floors below us), I'll have to sit on my desk.

3.  The office has about 18 inches of file cabinet space (hung with a single regular drawer under the desk).  Yes, I chose the three bookshelves option, because I teach literature and have a lot of books.  My current office has three bookshelves, and they were pretty darned full.  (I say "were" because we've been told to start packing, so I've packed most of the books I don't think I'll need before the beginning of the semester.)  What the hell am I going to do with four file drawers of files?  (We're required to keep all student work that isn't handed back for two years, so that's filling part of my file drawers, along with a full drawer for text teaching notes, and another drawer with course notes, and them stuffed in, advising and committee notes.)   And the single desk drawer?  That's gotta fit everything, the emergency tampons (because some of us are female humans, right?), the Tums, and so on, along with pens, stapler, index cards, etc.

4.  There's no coat hook on the back of the door.  I know this is a small thing, but think about it.  This is the icy north, where we have some six months of serious coat weather, and not a single office has a place to hang coats.  Who designs a building in the icy north without thinking about where to put big bulky coats?  The same people who design academic office spaces without both book and file space.

I don't think they were purposefully trying to make the offices inutil, but rather that they're used to designing corporate type offices, and didn't talk to any people who actually inhabit academic offices about how we use them.  Yes, some people really like desk space, and they should have been able to choose desk space options.  I'm guessing digital humanities people will tend to need fewer bookshelves than lit type people.  And some people won't keep paper files at all.  And some people want to sit right next to the window to look out.  And some people don't want to sit with their backs to the door.  And so on.

The administrative types who like uniformity and "branding" are happy, though, because every single office looks alike on every floor.  Each floor has it's "accent color" (ours is muddy brown, though they call it something that sounds more corporate), and everything will be uniform.  All of us interchangeable cogs in the academic machinery will march along like factory workers, hoping they don't outsource us.

How soon can I retire?

One last thing:  the hallway is interminably long, like the long of one of those nightmarish scenes in 60s movies where there's a long hallway of offices, all alike, and the workers all march in step to their place in the office.


  1. I understand how you feel. When we moved to our offices, we had similar "they don't get how professors work problems." Our biggest problem is the system of energy-saving lights that automatically turn off when you haven't moved for a half hour. And, of course, quietly reading and writing means we often don't move much and darkness descends! (A wave of the hands fixes it, but then we all look like nuts.) The other big problem was the windows into the hallways, which were put in, I assume to compensate for the lack of outside windows, but which also make us feel like we're in fish bowls. Many of us have put up curtains.

    But our desk system is a little better than yours and I sympathize with how yours sucks. I may not have a window, but at least my L-shaped desk in my cookie-cutter office is perpendicular to the wall so that I sit facing the door and students can sit on the other side facing me, with their own space on that side of the table!

    You'll get used to how your new office works, and you'll make it your own. New stuff is, in and of itself, nice, so take some comfort in that.

  2. Oops, that should say: we had similar "they don't get how professors work" problems. (They probably also don't get how math profs work *problems*, but that's not what I meant!)

  3. Is the furniture bolted down? Leave it as is until somebody significant sees it that way, then move the bookcase to the opposite wall and rotate that desk so you can face the door. (I absolutely agree about not sitting with back to the door, BTW. I can't even bring myself to do it in my own house when I'm the only one home.) And if it's IKEA screwed-together pieces, all you need is a couple simple tools and you can re-engineer the whole thing. Then everyone else asks to borrow the tools, and pretty soon the whole corridor looks like actual people live there.

  4. In my opinion, it is an actual safety hazard to have your back to the door. You can voice your concerns this way, certainly. I mean, we've had enough school shootings in the last 20 years to warrant voicing a concern about safety. Also, you might argue that there's a privacy issue. If you keep student grades online, and you plan to work on your computer in your office, then having the screen facing the door means that anyone can walk in and see grades over your shoulder.

    Is there any way possible to protest the current design? Hey, tenure has its privileges, right??

  5. We will face this sometime within the next few years, and I'm already apprehensive, mostly because I already have a window, and fear I might lose natural light. I'm also distressed the realize, thanks to the student newspaper, that plans for the building are apparently already well under way, and we haven't been consulted at all as to our preferences (I -- naively, I realize -- thought that would happen).

    If there's unused floor space under the desk top, that's probably the place to put some additional file storage (boxes or cardboard or plastic drawers). Of course, you'll probably have to buy it yourself, which shouldn't be the case.

  6. Our system has standard office sizes, and our campus has a standard office layout much like yours, though in our case the horseshoe is standard. But the glory of the steelcase furniture is that it's modular. I have a layout much. Like yours, and when I moved to a new office, I made a point about the layout, where the desk should be, and they reversed it, setting it up (a) so that I didn't see the window from my desk and (b) so that my back was to the door. It took a month to get it fixed. But Fie is right - I made it about safety, and they made the change.

  7. Bad office design. Yes.

    I agree with you about the back to the door, for all the reasons stated above -- safety, and security, and I too just would not *like* it. If you are able to just change the design of the office yourself, with tools, I'd do it! (My office came with the desk arranged so that my back was to the door, and I just moved it; but it's a regular desk, not a big old L-shaped affair like yours.)

    My office has a giant window without a shade or a curtain, and it faces west. All afternoon in the winter, when the trees outside have lost their leaves, the sun beating in makes my office almost unusable. No one designing the building appears to have considered this. I've considered covering the window with tinfoil. Haven't gone that far. YET.

  8. As Dame Eleanor suggests, if you can move the furniture around, do it. Even if that means you have to walk in a spiral to your desk. That's what I did when they gave me a new desk and oriented much as you've drawn. It was a catastrophe. The glare rendered my computer screen useless and because our bookshelves are wall-mounted, I was sacrificing many linear feet of shelving.

    So I spun the desk around so that I face the door if I want or I can turn to look out the window (or over my desk at the main wall of bookshelves). A few colleagues commented that it seemed ungainly to have to walk down around and back to my desk but it's so much more workable in my experience.

    I also need to work on nuking more paper files. We're required to keep student work one year and then destroy it, but the university won't pay for shredders so I'm planning a take-home fire-starter exercise this holiday season to get rid of last fall's paperwork. *sigh*

    I am sorry that this "improvement" is proving to be such a pain. Let's hope that, once you're in, you're able to find a way to make it comfortable and supportive, despite their stupid designs.

  9. I am totally with you on the problem with having your back to the door. Even with my current set-up, where my side is to the door (our offices are long and narrow and it's really the only option... other than trapping myself behind the desk and having it jut out into the middle of the room, which is ANOTHER safety issue) I still am regularly startled. At least this way, though, students aren't looking directly at my computer screen and in theory I could charge a crazy student to get out of my office, should that situation arise - nobody is coming up behind me.

    All of that said, I am so, so jealous that y'all are getting a new building. Our building dates from the early 70s and it will likely be our (leaky, screwed-up, likely "sick" building) until I retire. My desk dates from 1972 or so and isn't appropriate for actually working at a computer. There are no plans to change that either. Is it a wonder that students never can find colleagues working in their offices? I think not.

  10. Totally with you on the back-to-the-door issue - so many things about that are uncomfortable or inappropriate for how we work. And the filing cabinet or bookshelves issue! I'n in a STEM discipline, but I have a pretty broad spectrum of courses that I offer, and that means a lot of text books as well as all of _my_ books and a last couple of journals which are still mostly in paper, not to mention about 8m of box files containing paper reprints most of which aren't available through the e-library (in which many journals go back to the mid 1990s only...). AND I have to keep an expensive and complicated microscope in my office, with work space, because academics have offices so don't get a bench space but still need to do research (plus this 'scope is a bit tempremental and gets misused a lot less and thus costs less in repairs/servicing when it's in my office where I can keep an eye on any users other than me).

    We too are expecting a large scale refurb in the next few years and I'm dreading it, the new carpet and chair situation was quite bad enough

  11. Sounds dreadful. At least the back of the door problem is easily solved. Just search for 3M command hooks.

  12. Oh, and we don't have coat hooks either, so many of us head to Target/costco/etc and by a coat has the advantage of holding my academic regalia between commencements!

  13. It's such a pity that a fabulous new building is turning out to be un-fabulous because no one in charge has actually thought about the people who will be working there! I hope that it will be possible to rejigger the furniture on your own as some folks have suggested.

  14. WHy not turn the desk so the file paart is on the wall where the bookcase is and the becasue on the opposite wall? Not exactly facing the door but your back won't be turned. Then put a cushy little chair in the corner on the door wall so you can site and look at the window. Add a nice oriental rug, lots of task lights scattered around the desk and bookcases (overhead lighting is the kiss of death in an office), some plants in the window and you're good to go!

    Post pics so we all can see.