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 was s a gesture intended to celebrate the NTEU’s recent success in advocating for the University to allow staff to personalise their new office spaces. The University’s Campus Infrastructure Services (CIS) had previously disallowed incoming staff from bringing 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 risk 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” in their new office buildings.
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 the need for privacy or the ability to escape from distractions”.
Open plan office spaces have become a popular trend in the last few years. A 2015 Guardian article addresses the pros and cons of these spaces, with those against referencing increased noise levels, “only 10% of scholars can work without interruption in their institutions”. The Guardian op-ed additionally states “rather than increase the flow of information and boost cohesion, open plan spaces reduce effective communication between colleagues”.
This is in contrast to the University’s position that “open plan workspaces encourage collaboration and communication and are a better functional and cohesive use of space”. A University spokesperson confirmed to Honi that feedback about the proposed office spaces was acquired from presentations held across “relevant faculties and schools” and was incorporated in the final spatial design.
The University states that concern over too-small desks does not reflect that the desks have been sized in accordance with Australian Design Standards. The University also reassurances occupants worried about surveillance and privacy that the installed security cameras will not be used for monitoring workspaces and common dining spaces.
The University has plans to construct various infrastructures in the coming years, in line with their Campus Improvement Program. The next to be opened is the LEES1 building, which will house research laboratories and dry workspaces. It is yet to be seen whether the upcoming infrastructures will face the same criticisms regarding workplace health and safety.