UC | Office Concept Atlas
After the first five months in Atlas, staff members who moved into the building at the beginning of this year recently received a survey with questions on how they experience their working environment, and on the office concept. As an employee of one of the central services located on the 10th and 11th floor, I too was given the opportunity to express my opinion.
Some of the questions in the survey triggered me to write this column. Take this question for instance: ‘The chosen office concept in Atlas will ensure that future employees regard TU/e as an attractive employer.’ The options on the scale ranged from ‘Completely disagree’ to ‘Completely agree.’ I believe that this office concept will in fact lead to a different kind of employee. In terms of organizational culture, a technical university is somewhat of a blue organization, blue representing order, security and structure. TU/e’s current stature as a major university is the result of the work and dedication of many fine, loyal, blue employees. But the average blue employee doesn’t flourish when he or she is in the ‘process of arriving at a flexibel workplace.’ This kind of employee generally prefers to ‘have arrived.’
Or take this question: ‘I have more contact with colleagues from other services/units in Atlas than at my previous work place.’ As I was answering that question, it occurred to me that the staff members at TU/e’s services are in the process of working towards a more integral service. Service professionals must not think from the perspective of their own service any longer, but from the perspective of the chain. I don’t doubt that we will manage to preserve the quality of our work in the chain as well. However, the combination of the words ‘chain’ and ‘quality’ always makes me think of products such as free-range or organic eggs. It makes me feel a little ill at ease.
But let’s go back to the survey. I think it is well-designed. It contains more than enough elaborate questions that cover several aspects, such as the preparation and the actual process of moving into Atlas, the available facilities, and the conduct of management and colleagues as well as your own behavior. Just a few questions caused me to raise my eyebrows: ‘Give your opinion on the following statement: I do not eat behind my desk.’ Observations like that keep you on your toes, shall we say.
The people who designed the survey give you the opportunity to paint a clear picture of what has changed since the move to Atlas. But it’s still a picture taken at a given moment in time that doesn’t indicate in what direction things should eventually go. People don’t always experience change as a positive thing, because change often costs a lot of energy as well. Furthermore, the knowledge-intensive nature of our work – and the need to work in a concentrated way that comes with that – doesn’t correspond with the atrium-dominated design of Atlas.
A study carried out by the American scientists Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban at Harvard University last year showed that the introduction of atriums without proper supervision leads to loneliness. And at the end of March, newspaper de Volkskrant published an extensive and critical article about the office atrium in which Rianne Appel-Meulenbroek, assistant professor in Corporate Real Estate at our Department of Built Environment, was quoted. She says that it worries her if this concept - which she believes started at companies in the creative industry where a swift exchange of ideas is of great importance - would also be implemented at institutions where employees need to be highly concentrated more than anything else, such as a university.
I’m interested to learn the outcome of the survey. I hope it will lead to more attention to the diverse needs of our employees, and to a better reflection of those needs in the working process. That way, Atlas won’t just be a beautiful building from the perspective of architects, but above all a pleasant building for the people who work in it. “Do you really think anything is going to change,” my colleagues asked me pessimistically in February after we had gotten through the first weeks. Yes, I believe so. We recently witnessed a good example in our province of something that was adjusted even though we thought it would never change: the Carnival Festival in theme park Efteling.