Downsizing the Workspace, Upsizing the Possibilities

Monday, November 28, 2016

uOttawa, University of Ottawa, new office space

Sometimes when people ask me what I do for a living I tell them my job is to Save the Planet. Yeah, it's a bit cheeky as far as a response goes, but whatever... and besides, shouldn't everybody's job be to save the planet. I mean after all, don't we all kind of need the planet to survive? I suppose my job is to find different ways to do things that ultimately help save the planet.

Consequently, part of my everyday job is to try to walk the talk of sustainability. You would be surprised how little things mean a lot to many people. How the smallest thing can cascade into something huge, or how the simplest message can help inspire others to dream big.

Earlier this month, my boss asked me to switch offices. The downside is I had to move, but the upshot was that I would have my very own office. My boss challenged me to try to make my new space as "paperless" as possible. He wanted me to try to model what a greener work space might look like.

This was of course great timing actually because a little while ago my office started to make a real concerted effort to reduce our printing. Of course there are numerous reasons why this makes sense in the office environment...
  • Less paper, less trees cut down (kind of speaks for itself)
  • Less printing, less cost (again, kind of speaks for itself)
  • Less printing, less labour - Every time a piece of paper gets printed and discarded it means someone on campus has to collect that paper, bring it to a bin, move that bin to the University's recycling centre, send it from the recycling centre to the City's recycling centre, and finally go about the business of recycling that paper. That's a lot of work.
  • Less printing, more security - This might not seem intuitive if you don't work in an office but the more things you print, the more unsecured information there is floating around out there. Think of all those confidential papers with private information just siting on desks or in unlocked filing cabinets.
  • Less paper, more organization - I can't tell you how many times I have had to leaf back and forth through mountains of paper looking for information. It is one of the reasons I love PDFs so much... they have a search function!!!
  • And of course my favourite... Less printing, more space - Paper takes up a lot of space in an office. I looked up the University office space standards and found that one third (yeah that's right 33%) of office space is dedicated to the holding, displaying, or storage of paper. The picture below demonstrates how everything serves paper in the typical uOttawa office.
Much of our office space is dedicated to paper

Now this isn't a story about paper, it is a story about space and so it's on this last point that I am going to focus because the possibilities of more space are very attractive for a campus that lacks it.

Back to my new office space. I took a look at the design of what was in place before and decided if I got rid of most of the paper I deal with, I could dramatically increase the functionality of the space.

The biggest change to make was to get rid of the oversized desk. I don't like big desks personally. They make me feel like I am trying to overcompensate for something. I know a desk can sometimes act as a status symbol (i.e. the bigger the desk, the more important the person), but when you get down to it, all that extra surface area is just more opportunity to hoard paper. 

I decided to keep the shelves to store gardening equipment, magazines (yes I know they are made of paper), materials for the Free Store and Muggy Mondays, etc... but I did say no to filing cabinets. If most of our activities are transitioning to paperless, why would I need them.

Of course this made the office a little too big, so I added some work stations so that people could come in and work on projects. *Small stations since no paper is really required.

I also added a meeting table and I am currently on the hunt for a black board from the Furniture Reuse Program.

And to top it all off, lots and lots of plants. I figured they could purify the air and I like the irony of replacing paper with plants. 

The real success of the whole thing is the increase in functionality. Where once there was one person, now there is the possibility for five. Since the whole thing is more like a hotelling space, people can come in and out, work on projects, store some things, and share some ideas.

As an aside, a lot of people have been asking me where I got the little green lamps on my desk.... yep you guessed it, the Free Store!

small meeting table

new office space, office of campus sustainability
student work space

new office space, office of campus sustainability
plants instead of paper

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more plants and more army men defending them

new office space, office of campus sustainability
desk extension for coffee, tea, and hat

new office space, office of campus sustainability
my desk, with an image inside an image

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more student workspace

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more plants and pictures

I am the first to admit that the configuration I have is a bit too dense for most people's liking, but if we could change the work place to be able to fit just 10% more people comfortably, the impacts would be huge. At the University of Ottawa, that would mean about 30,000 m2 of space (equivalent to about 50 family houses, or 330 tennis courts).

And that's only the space. Think about how much energy we would be saving if we didn't have to build extra space for more people. Or think about how much happier we could make our students and employees by replacing large desks with sofas, shelves with foosball tables, or filing cabinets with sleep pods.

The possibilities are endless, and the whole thing starts with doing something as small as getting rid of some paper.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager

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