The Workspace Project: How to Design and Work in a Collaborative Space, An employee perspective

Posted on Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Author: Sandra Huertas (Database Administrator) with collaboration of internal partners across uOttawa

diverse group of professionals standing and holding certificates

“This working environment is all about connecting people and technologies in new ways, promoting collaboration with freedom of movement, more freedom of thought and more access to tools,” said Jacques Frémont, President and Vice-Chancellor.

Last year, Information Technology executives started looking at ways to maximize space, create a single space for team members, facilitate teamwork and collaboration, and make employees happy while improving wellness. The idea of a collaborative space was born, and a team of volunteers that love Information Technology and the University stepped up to help.

Empowering the team

We were empowered to take the lead in helping to design our space. Our guiding principle is that one-size-does-not-fit-all; to offer flexibility to a diverse workforce. We wanted to evaluate the most important things about working in an open and collaborative space, so we designed surveys for employees to express their preferences, special needs and even wish lists.

Our first great milestone was having the power to choose the look of our space. Working with Facilities and an external design firm, we were presented with three schemas. A survey was sent out to all employees asking them to vote on their preference. The colour schema in the space today was the winner, chosen by us. This was a first sign of how involved we would be in the process.

Our input didn’t end there, we created working committees and surveys looked at:

  • Light preferences:  Low, medium, and high
  • Zone preferences:  Collaborative, quiet, semi-private and private
  • Workstation etiquette
  • Ergonomic needs
  • Allergies
  • Brainstorming of wants, like a recreation room, kitchen necessities, etc.
  • Unassigned seating preferences

Partnerships across the University and beyond

We worked closely with partners across the campus and outside the University to understand more about digital workplaces.

  • The University ergonomist, Pauline Borris, helped us with ergonomics and healthy working habits, which comes in handy with our new adjustable sit/stand desks.
  • For managing unassigned seating, we consulted with the Library and Microsoft to understand their software and guidelines.
  • We worked with TLSS to provide the best technological experience that was completely wireless, easy to use and that leveraged Microsoft Teams to its fullest

Before even working in the space, we developed and agreed upon mobile working guidelines, workspace guidelines and etiquette guidelines. Despite being more mobile, we’re more productive, efficient, and engaged in our work. We are trusted to put our hours in, and a lot of effort was devoted to developing that trust through workshops and hard work.

The new collaborative workspace

The result of our work and planning is unbelievable! We now have a modern, open, and sophisticated workspace; the Vanier Hall basement has been transformed.Our workspace is making a huge difference in our working life. Positive interactions take place all the time.  We are constantly discovering wonderful things about our colleagues and the students that work with us. We are getting to know each other and discovering connections that make our jobs easier and our lives more enjoyable. In this space, sometimes you just share an issue or ask a question and teammates jump in to help; the energy is amazing. It makes a huge difference to have the team under one roof – we solve issues and develop solutions must faster thanks to our proximity and ability to collaborate.

“I am excited about the hot-desking aspect. One day I can be in the quiet zone to focus on my tasks and another day I can be working collaboratively without the need for emails and messaging apps,” remarked Sadiki Latti, Senior programmer analyst.

The new, flexible workspace, the first of its kind on campus, also offers:

  • a variety of desks, workstations can be easily adjusted for sitting and standing, there is even treadmill desk and a stationary bike workstation
  • noise-cancelling features using specialized panels and white noise machines
  • a dedicated kitchen/eating area that promotes interaction
  • workstation and room sensors to track usage patterns to adjust the workspace
  • a multi-use recreation space
  • improved air quality through a new HVAC system
  • new collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams

The future of the workspace

We’re still improving the space. We are planning fun, team-building activities for our recreation area. Our CIO encourages us to bring forward ideas and concerns, and regularly meets with the workspace committees to hear about our progress and provide feedback. We continue to meet regularly to address issues and see how we can improve the space while learning and growing from each other.

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