Members of the USyd branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) have been spotted this morning handing out free pot plants to staff entering the new F23 Administration Building, which opened its doors for the first time today.
The distribution of Australian flora from 8am to 10am is a gesture intended to celebrate the NTEU’s success. The University’s Campus Infrastructure Services (CIS) had previously disallowed incoming staff from personalising their new office spaces. Specifically, CIS had told incoming staff that they were not permitted to bring personal artworks or pot plants. After the NTEU petitioned, CIS overturned this decision.
The NTEU action is part of a broader campaign against the perceived rise of unsatisfactory workspaces at the University. According to an NTEU statement released today, the University has failed to consider the “wellbeing and working needs of staff”.
Examples include staff being asked to work at small 1.5 metre desks, the installation of security cameras, and the implementation of open plan office spaces without “consideration for need for privacy or the ability to escape from distractions”.
Open plan office spaces in higher education have become a popular trend in the last few years, but not without controversy. A 2015 Guardian article addresses the pros and cons, with those against referencing increased noise levels, stating only “10% of scholars can work without interruption in their institutions”. Additionally, the lack of privacy is an oft cited concern. The Guardian op-ed states “rather than increase the flow of information and boost cohesion, open plan spaces reduce effective communication between colleagues”.
This is in contrast to a University spokesperson telling Honi that “open plan work spaces encourage collaboration and communication and are a better functional and cohesive use of space”. Additionally, the spokesperson confirmed that feedback about the office spaces was acquired from presentations and workshops held across “relevant faculties and schools”, and was incorporated in the final spatial design.
Responding to the concerns over 1.5 metre desks, the University states that the sizing is in accordance with Australian Design Standards. Similarly, occupants worried about privacy have asked for security cameras to be removed. But the University reassures that the cameras will not be used for monitoring work spaces and common dining spaces, and that they were installed in line with Security Design Standards. This means the cameras are fitted with “privacy screening” but will still monitor public movement in the building, for the safety and security of staff.