Julia Hobsbawm is the author of The Nowhere Office: Reinventing Work and the Workplace of the Future.
In April 2022, it was published.
The post-pandemic university has become hybrid.
The new default for residential teaching and learning is blended. From the margins to the center is how online education has moved.
The reality that staff behave more like faculty is consequential for the academic culture. Professors have always worked in a hybrid way, but non-faculty academic professionals now combine on-campus and at home work.
We must rethink the campus as higher education shifts to a new normal. The Nowhere Office is a great book to talk about the hybrid campus.
Julia Hobsbawm, daughter of the influential late historian Eric Hobsbawm, wrote a book about post-pandemic professional working life in the larger story of changes in office culture. The high-status workers of the Nowhere Office were already mobile, flexible and self-reliant.
The flexibility to do professional keyboard/meeting-based work from either home or office has been extended to more employees. Corporate knowledge workers are no longer willing to commute for long periods of time to show their commitment to the job. They make decisions about where they do their work based on productivity.
This means that offices are becoming places where professionals gather for communication, learning and creativity. From home and on digital platforms, head-down thinking, producing and ongoing collaboration tasks can be done. In-office and in-person time is best spent doing things that are difficult to accomplish by email and zoom.
The evolution of office culture is a welcome change. The rise of Nowhere Office presents an opportunity to rethink the design of professional work according to her. According to Hobsbawm, worker well-being has been pushed off to underresourced HR departments and poorly operationalized through superficial corporate wellbeing programs. The culture of employment can be changed in a more humane way with the new hybrid work arrangements.
What will our campuses look like?
A college campus has a lot of things. The list isn’t long enough to list all of the activities on the campuses. One of the activities is that campuses are places of employment.
When work has moved from residential to hybrid, what does the campus feel like?
How has the culture of our institutions changed when the default is meetings?
What is the price we pay for the genuine benefits we get from greater working flexibility?
The range of colleagues who work primarily or exclusively remotely could be integrated into the fabric of academic life.
For those of us who work for residential universities, what are the best things to do when you’re on campus?
Can we imagine a different design for the spaces where professional academic staff work when on campus?
The Nowhere Office gives a range of ideas that companies are using to find and keep talent. Many of the lessons from the corporate world are not appropriate for higher education.
The Nowhere Office believes that the workplace needs to be designed with intentions. The office of the future can’t look like what we left behind in March 2020, says a goal that many CEOs have articulated.
If we think the presence of academic staff adds to the vibrancy and quality of campus life, we need to consider what staff want their work to be done from campus. We need to figure out how to incorporate these colleagues into the dense web of interactions and exchanges that constitute academic life for those whose jobs are now primarily hybrid or remote-first.
What are you currently reading?