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Humanities Campus Think Tank: institute’s identity in the work environment is key

On Monday 14 March, the members of the Humanities Campus Think Tank came together for their first meeting in the restaurant of the Pieter de la Court building at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FSW).

During a tour of pilot areas of activity-based workspaces (ABW), the members took a look at possible elements we can apply in the work environment of our  own Humanities Campus currently under development. A clear conclusion is that the identity of an institute or department is key for a pleasant work environment. Without that, the work environment is too impersonal. We mustn’t forget that we don’t work for a bank or a mortgage provider; we work at Leiden University!

What is the issue?

In the alternative Humanities Campus there are fewer square metres available for the work environment at the institutes and in the support departments. As a consequence, critical choices have to be made if we are to create a pleasant work environment for everyone. As the institutes are in different buildings, and the construction of the campus is in phases, each institute has a different task and the planning is also different. Dean Mark Rutgers will be visiting each institute in the coming period to discuss this issue with the Institute Council. The members of the Think Tank, all of whom are representatives of different institutes and departments, will provide knowledge of the current and preferred future work situation in their own unit and will have a say in the decision-making on how the available space will be organised. 

Context: from home working policy to activity-based workplaces on an alternative Humanities Campus

During the meeting, the members discussed the aim of the Think Tank and their expectations. The issue of activity-based workplaces (ABW) was then discussed. Chris Suijker from Real Estate was present to answer questions. He was able to reassure those present that it is not the intention that the Faculty of Humanities will move completely towards flexible working. Institutes have the final say in how the space will be used and in the allocation of workplaces. The Think Tank  members advised at this early stage that the layout must reflect the wishes of the users. A change of culture will be needed in allocating the workplaces; it would, for example, not be a foregone conclusion that a professor who is hardly ever present on campus will have his or her own office, while a PhD candidate who is on site for a lot of the time has to share a workplace.  Lastly, the home working policy was discussed, which states that working from home is not compulsory, but refers to the distribution of time between home and office work depending on the appointment.

Conclusions following the tour at FSW

We were given a tour at FSW of the Faculty Office and the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology (CAOS) in the Pieter de la Court building. The work environment in the building was reorganised in the corona period, which means that the staff are only just experiencing their new workplace. It is too early to say how they are finding it. At CAOS there are fixed workplaces for staff, meeting areas and a communal area, similar to how the Arsenaal is organised. Following discussions with the staff, the Faculty Office is now working completely flexibly; there are no fixed workplaces (not even for the management), workplaces can be reserved on line, in the same way as meeting rooms. There is also a communal area and lockers for personal belongings.

A few observations by the Think Tank:

  • There are no name plates: how can you make sure you can be found as an institute by colleagues and students? How do you gain a feeling of belonging?  
  • The work environments have no identity (as a lecturer, or institute, including for students);  
  • The storage space is minimal;
  • The  booths, cells and cubicles are felt to be unpleasant;
  • The human element is missing: this work environment does not give any sense of belonging; it lacks connection while this is what characterises our university.  

Positive findings:

  • The light;
  • The accessibility;
  • The communal area where people come together;  
  • Different types of desks;
  • It is clean and tidy;
  • The online system for reserving meeting spaces.  

The tour gave rise to the following question: ‘How can you ensure in such a new work environment that the identity of an institute or team is expressed so that, whether you are a student, lecturer or staff member, you feel part of it?’ This is a good question to address in the coming meetings.  

Reason for setting up the Humanities Campus Think Tank

The faculty community responded with some reservation in autumn 2021 to the developments relating to the Doelen complex and the new work place norms. Colleagues wanted to be involved and to have a say in how the available working environment is to be organised. The decision was therefore taken to set up a Think Tank with staff from the Faculty of Humanities. Click here for more information about the Think Tank. (Dutch)

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