Revenge of the kid’s art

(Image from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170202-whats-so-wrong-with-dressing-up-your-desk)

As a (mainly) home worker, I’ve been tweaking my home office set up over the past few years until I’ve made it an ideal working space for me. I’ve been thinking about this in relation to online learning also, so here is an attempt to tease out some of that (probably unsuccessfully).

First, I should stress that I know having a good space of my own at home is a privilege – I don’t have children at home, live in an area where I can afford a house with spare rooms, have a decent job, etc. This post is not to celebrate how awesome my office is (although it is pretty awesome), but rather to use this as an instance to examine some of differences between home and online. So, if your response is ‘well that’s fine for you, I have to work from a messy bedroom with a four year old outside’, I get it, but that’s to miss the intention of this post.

So, to my awesome office – I reclaimed my daughter’s bedroom now she has left home, so it’s a decent size. I have book shelves, a record player with a small collection of vinyl, a fish tank, and a dog bed where Teilo keep me company during the day. My walls are adorned with cool Bryan Mather’s art, and I have photos of family dotted around. I’ve got a comfy chair, plants and easy access to a kettle and snacks. It is a great place to work, think, read, relax, and write indulgent blog posts.

Now let’s compare this with my old on-campus work space. I used to have a specified desk in an open plan office, with one pedestal assigned to me for storage. There was a ‘no personal effects’ rule in place so we weren’t meant to put up photos of family, etc, but this wasn’t strictly enforced. Now we have moved to hot desks. It is a nice modern building, but getting the temperature right is always a challenge. What it does have is of course, access to other people, joint social spaces, and meeting rooms.

We are seeing many organisations now suggesting/urging/demanding employees to come back to the office (the OU is quite relaxed about this so my home set up is safe). But for those who can have a nice home set up, the offer has to be quite strong. The power balance has shifted somewhat – are you really going to demand that people can’t put up their kids drawings around their computer monitor, or that everyone operates a clear desk policy? The office is going to have to draw on its strengths and not rely on being the default assumption any more. And to reiterate, it is the default for many people who do not have a good home set up, but across the company profile there will be a range of home comfiness. There is also a distinct possibility that by not making the office more attractive a division occurs between those who have no choice but to go to the office and those for whom it is a distinctly inferior choice, but there are people better qualified than I to write about this.

To turn to online learning then, and maybe there is a similar dynamic in operation. The lecture and campus can no longer rely on their monopoly position. Students like face to face, but they also like the flexibility of online, and have been exposed to some of this possibility now. An obvious example is lecture capture, which was already underway prior to the pandemic, but now students have experienced the flexibility of being able to get out of bed five minutes prior to the lecture, fire up their laptop and have toast while during the talk, those are freedoms not easily relinquished. So, as with the office, the campus needs to restate its benefits and to focus and elaborate upon these. As with the ‘no pictures’ rule, this might necessitate a lessening of control now that other options are on the table.

I think what both the office and learning case highlight is the importance of our physical selves and our relationship to space. The Metaverse fans may not want to acknowledge it but we are situated in physical bodies and these aren’t just inconvenient biological transporters, but have a profound impact on how we act and learn. The physical sense you have whilst working or learning is not immaterial, ask anyone whose tried to read something while having an irritating bite that you must scratch. Maren has written about improving your space, and Jim is a BigFan of the importance of being happy in your set up.

Anyway, I’m off to feed the fish.

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