#myUWEBBSview …a new collaborative research project with ISG, Stride Treglown and Bristol Business School, UWE.

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An exciting new research project is now underway at Bristol Business School and Law School.

We would like all UWE Bristol staff, students, services and visitors to get involved.

Over the next year, we are asking everyone to take photos to show how they are using the building and how they feel about the building.

Participants can then post their pictures on Instagram using #myUWEBBSview and in the comments box, tell us what the picture means to you.

Or, you can email your pictures and comments to myUWEBBSview@uwe.ac.uk

Check out our project website for more details: www.myUWEBBSview.com

The research project is led by Dr Harriet Shortt, Associate Professor in Organisation Studies, in collaboration with ISG, the contractors, and Stride Treglown, the architects of the building.

Stride Treglown have also featured the project on their website.

Watch this space over the next year for more details!

Cake in the Office – health hazard or edible symbols of collegiality and teamwork?

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By Dr Harriet Shortt

A longer than average blog post, but it’s about cake, so it’s important…!

I am sure many of us are familiar with cake in the office – cakes to celebrate a colleague’s birthday, cake sales for fundraisers in the office canteen, exotic sweet treats brought back by co-workers returning from holiday, and office bake-offs between competitive teams.

The BBC reported last year that this ‘office cake culture was a danger to health’ and the Royal College of Surgeons argue ‘workplace cake culture’ is impacting the health of workers in the UK, citing obesity and dental problems as key issues caused by such activities. The latest report from the Royal Society for Public Health (published in August 2016) discusses the impact of rush hour commuting on our health and well-being and notes that unhealthy food and drinks that are made available by outlets in train stations during our commute is potentially adding ‘an average of 767 calories’ to our diets each week. And only in January of this year, The Telegraph reported that civil servants had been warned that ‘office cake culture could be a public health hazard’ by a blog post written by a member of the Treasury’s ‘Wellbeing Workstream’.

Whilst I am not disputing the issues raised in these reports – they highlight important timely and relevant concerns around the health of the UK workforce – I would like to raise some further questions and thoughts about what other role cake plays in our offices today. Office cake culture isn’t just about health concerns – my argument here is that food plays a vital social, cultural and political role in office life and organisations should be considerate of the relationships and interactions that are centred around food.

I have been doing some research in a large public sector organisation about the food and drink consumed in their office – or more specifically, their new open-plan office. I am exploring the interconnectedness of food, work, people and space and considering how the ‘foodscape’ (where and how people encounter food in the built environment) of the workplace influences food consumption and social interactions at work. I have been asking: In what ways does space influence where we eat, what we eat and with whom? What is the role of food in our organisational environment and how does it impact everyday spatial practices? How might formal and informal eating practices alter our everyday experiences of space at work?

To help address some of these questions, I asked the staff I worked with to take photographs of their daily interactions with food in the office. They took photographs of food in the canteen, home-made cakes on desks, tins of biscuits on locker tops, and where they made tea and coffee. They talked to me about what meanings these held and why they were important in their everyday lives.

Some of the findings show how formal, designated spaces for eating and drinking, such as the canteen and tea stations, are popular with many workers. Eating lunch in the canteen with groups of friends is a daily ritual and provides opportunities to talk about personal lives, gossip, and a time and space to share hobbies and interests. The tea stations, designed by management and the architects to provide a space in which workers could meet whilst making a hot drink, are identified as ‘nice chatting areas’. However, although the tea stations provide a space to share a few words with colleagues and allow for chance meetings with others, due to their central public location in the open-plan office conversations here are brief and inhibited by the visible and audible nature of the space. Participants noted these drinking spaces were neither suitable for private or work related discussions.

During our discussions, workers reflected on their new open-plan, hot-desking environment and told me they felt this workplace design impacted negatively on teams and working practices: ‘…we just don’t get the banter around the office…not social banter, but I mean sort of asking for advice on what we’re doing…now we’re hot-desking it can be isolating…and there are too many people around’. In amongst these feelings of isolation, what these workers really appeared to value was the informal, ad-hoc sharing of food at desks and on locker tops in walkways and corridors. It is the ability to share food across this new office space that workers identify as key to bringing people back together and reconnecting conversations. Sharing food in this way is an important catalyst in promoting work based discussions and internal networking; ‘…people come and see us when we have food! It gets people talking…’ and ‘…cake, it’s really important…it breaks up the day, gives us a treat…it impacts on morale in a big way’.

It is worth reflecting here that, as a number of researchers have noted, open-plan offices are often designed with collaboration and teamwork in mind, yet here we see the word ‘isolating’ being used to describe how this new open-plan space is experienced by its users. It is somewhat ironic that workers feel isolated with ‘…too many people around’. Nonetheless, it seems it’s the combination of both open-plan space with food that produces a collaborative working environment for these workers. Indeed, one employee describes the placement of food on locker tops as how people ‘…display their wares and encourage people to talk more’ and how this ‘…encourages passers-by to stop, talk a bit of shop, eat and move on’.

Paradoxically, despite all the talk of talk, social interactions and connecting over cake, workers also identify the inability to eat alone as problematic. The very sociality of eating poses privacy issues for some and the open-plan, hot-desking environment presents particular challenges. Some identify the canteen as a space where the ‘pressure to talk’ is unwelcome. The canteen has been designed and is used by many as a social space where bench seating and long tables promote conversation and create a setting where meals are eaten together. Yet, for example, one worker told me ‘…I just want go and sit and eat my lunch and get back to work’ and is frustrated there is no opportunity, or rather no space, in which he might dine alone. The spatial and social expectations in the canteen are such that talking over lunch is a prerequisite. Indeed, a number of workers deliberately choose to eat lunch at alternative times of the day in order to avoid eating with others.

Consequently, alternative spaces for private dining are frequently sought out. Almost half the workers I spoke to took photographs outside the office, at various locations in the nearby city centre that captured where they liked to eat, including cafes, parks, and benches by the river: ‘…I can…sit on the green and have a bit of peace and quiet and eat my sandwich’. Others talked about finding alternative meeting and eating spots in cafes so they could ‘…talk about sensitive materials…’ over lunch or ‘…have a bit of a gossip…’ As we heard, the tea stations offer a nice chatting area, but as one worker said ‘…you’ve got to be careful because obviously now we are open plan, everyone near that area can hear what you’re saying!’ It seems only certain sorts of conversations can be had over food in the office and if privacy is required, alternative eating spots are pursued.

So far, my research has unearthed a complex picture of the foodscape of work – it throws new light on the appropriation of space in the office, re-defined by workers as informal eating locations and spaces for informal munching and chatting, vital for their morale, team communications and internal networking. It has also emphasised that the boundaries of a workplace foodscape are fluid and that we don’t just eat in the office and we don’t always want to eat with others. Sometimes solace is sought and eating a sandwich alone offers workers rare moments of contemplation and reflection in an otherwise impermanent, visible, and public working world.

In this current climate of health and well-being programmes and the drive for a healthy workforce, organisations might wish to take heed of the complex meanings of food across the landscape of work before implementing such programmes or raising alarm bells that cake in the office is a public health hazard. Indeed, other discourses around health and eating at work promote messages that food should only be consumed in designated eating spaces, and not at ones desk. This comes from other health and safety perspectives where workers are encouraged to take ‘proper breaks’ and avoid working through lunch breaks as well as organisations who demand a clean and tidy office, with clear rules ‘not to eat at your desk’.

However, if organisations are serious about understanding the eating habits of their employees, they should understand that food matters at work, but not just in the canteen and not just in relation to health. If organisations wish to remove food from parts of the office, they should be mindful that they are potentially removing the very catalyst that promotes sociality at work and confiscating edible symbols of collegiately.

In addition, organisations must be wary of their disciplinary approach to eating in the office and how, perhaps, this undermines the needs of some workers and marginalises others’ food choices and behaviour. We might reflect on the lack of space in which workers are able to eat privately and consider that eating at ones desk is perhaps less about working through a lunch hour, and actually more about simply creating a personal space in which to eat alone and enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.

I hope that some of the questions I raise here, and in my research, may provide a starting point for other, future research into food, eating and the workplace – we might want to consider; what do the foodscapes of homeworkers look like and how are they experienced? How are foodscapes experienced and constructed by workers on the move or flexible workers without desks or offices? To what extent should we be concerned with ‘office cake culture’ given its social, cultural and political importance for workers? It is with these questions in mind that I end this blog and ponder over the future of food in the workplace, over a sandwich and coffee at my desk.


Harriet’s research will be published in a book later this year: Kingma, S., Dale K. & Wasserman, V. (Eds.). Organizational space and beyond: The significance of Henri Lefebvre for organizational studies – an edited collection. London: Routledge. Harriet will be discussing her research at the 12th Organization Studies Summer Workshop ‘Food Organizing Matters: paradoxes, problems and potentialities’ in Crete 18th -20th May 2017. Harriet is also supervising UWE Bristol Business School dissertation student Susannah Robinson, who is exploring the culture of food at work in a multinational organisation in London.

This blog has also been published by the national development organisation Work Wise UK: https://www.workwiseuk.org/blog/2017/3/15/qn3rh8777fnzlmel6y6f90i8b996bd





A crafty start to the week!

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Br Dr Harriet Shortt

This is for anyone interested in crafting, the NHS, midwifery, dignity in care-giving professions, and creative/ arts-based methods…and if you can knit or crochet, please read on, your help is needed!

My friend Jenny Hall, who used to work here at UWE and is now at Bournemouth, has a lovely website and writes a fantastic blog on her academic crafting/ quilting work and midwifery. I thought some of you might be interested in her recent blog on the experience of women during the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and the commemorative quilt that has been made to remember these women and ‘celebrate their life-long involvement with struggles for equality, nationalism and social justice’: http://www.midwiferyquilt.co.uk/hidden-voices-the-easter-rising-1916-77-women-commemorative-quilt/

Another amazing project Jenny is involved in is ‘The Knitted Midwife’. There are now a shortage of 3500 midwives in this country! So, to raise awareness about the shortage of staff in this remarkable profession, people are getting together to knit (or crochet, or felt) 3500 mini midwives for The Royal College of Midwives conference that is taking place in October. Please see details here: https://knittedmidwife.wordpress.com/

If you could share details of ‘The Knitted Midwife’ among your connections it would be wonderful, as most of us have had contact with a midwife at some point! The blog link is above and they have a Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/knittedmidwife/timeline and you can follow the project on Twitter @knittedmidwife #knitamidwife

The project organisers are also kindly asking that any knitted contributions come with a short message from their maker as to why they have got involved; the stories are being gathered for future research work.

Thanks everyone!

Women, dress, leadership and the 1980s

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Br Dr Harriet Shortt

Hello everyone!

Well, it’s September already and the start of a fresh new term for many of us. I hope you have had a great summer of holidays, rest, writing, teaching, planning, thinking, conference inspiration and everything else in-between!

I thought I’d kick start the new academic year with some good news…and a tiny bit of self-promotion! There’s a great new book out: “Gender, Media, and Organization: Challenging Mis(s)Representations of Women Leaders and Managers”. It is currently available to order at http://www.infoagepub.com/products/Gender-Media-and-Organization, and will be available to order on all major online retailer sites throughout the world within the next 60 days. Please see documents attached (below) for more details…and feel free to share these with your networks.

I’m really proud to say that I have a chapter included in the book: Dress and the Female Professional: A Case Study of Working Woman with my lovely colleagues Ann Rippin, University of Bristol and Samantha Warren, Cardiff University. I’m also pleased to say that the chapter is based on the analysis of the 1980s Working Woman magazine; a set of magazines that my Mum, Lesley Shortt, had kept in her study since the invention of shoulder pads and passed on to me several years ago “just in case they were useful…”. So, thank you Mum, they were…and this is what we did with them…

Abstract: Women and their clothes have always been a serious matter (Hollander, 1993). Using a visual social semiotic approach (van Leeuwen, 2005), in this chapter we undertake a “rich viewing” of 1980s cultural texts to explore the performative heritage of gender through the adoption of clothes, make-up, and accessories. This is a timely investigation because today’s 40-something women leaders and managers were socialized into their understandings of being “professional” women as a result of the proliferation of print, TV, and film images in the 1980s (see for example, Baby Boom, 1987; Working Girl, 1988). Through these images, women were instructed in the arts of tackling men’s dominance in the workplace through the adoption of shoulder pads, “big hair,” and sharp suits. They are now playing out these roles as managers in an increasingly surveillance-oriented world due to the growth of the internet, social media, and readily available digital image technologies. These media enable a (damaging) hyper-visible and obsessive focus on women professionals’ appearance; for example, politicians in the press are assessed on their fashion sense before their ministerial skills and abilities (Greenslade, 2014). At the same time, self-help texts for female professionals continue to be full of advice stressing how women should look the part if they want to succeed (Kenny and Bell, 2011).

So, anyone interested in clothes, women, leadership and 1980s fashion…enjoy!


WomanandLeadershipcombo4Gender, Media and Organization




New Academic Year – New Bristol Leadership Centre website!

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Hi everyone!

We hope you are well. We haven’t posted for a while – the summer months have been busy here at UWE with conferences, developing new programmes in the Business School and developing our BRAND NEW Bristol Leadership Centre website!

The Bristol Leadership Centre (BLC) exists to support the development of responsible and effective leadership practice and to advance knowledge in the field of leadership studies. It aims to be recognised as one of the leading university-based leadership centres in the UK, with a particular reputation for high quality business engagement and research.

Check out the new site here: http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/bl/research/bristolleadershipcentre.aspx

…where you’ll find lots of information about what we do and our partnerships…as well as our exciting up-coming seminar series!

Here’s to a new academic year…and lots of news, views and posts to come!

Best wishes, Harriet Shortt

Sounds of the Salon – new paper out on ‘sound’ at work!

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By Dr Harriet Shortt

The International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion has a lovely new special issue out: Sensually Exploring Culture and Affect at Work. The papers in this issue aim to provoke thought regarding culture, the senses and affect. Included, are articles on smell, touch, sensory experiences…and my paper on sound!…Sounds of the Salon: the auditory routines of hairdressers at work…..

…..Abstract: This article broadens the landscape of sensual ways of knowing and understanding and takes account of what we hear at work. In particular, I examine what role sounds play in the everyday lives of employees and why sounds are notable in organisational research. Central to this exploration are data gathered from a study of hairdressers working in hair salons. The findings presented here demonstrate that employees use sounds to sensually and creatively ‘tune out’ the emotional labour encountered as part of their work. It is argued that these auditory routines are used as a way of escaping work that is different to other strategies of escape; it is less about resistance or dis-identification, and more about respite and ways of relocating the ‘self’ elsewhere……

 I have attached my paper here: FINAL 2013 IJWOE050402 SHORTT and you can find out more about all the other papers…and the editorial introduction via this link: http://inderscience.metapress.com/content/h52631515180/?sortorder=asc

Best wishes and enjoy! Harriet

Free HEA Workshop on Decision Making, April 2014

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By Dr Harriet Shortt.

Hi all!

I’ve just been sent an email that I thought some of you might be interested in:

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) is running a workshop as
part of the HEA’s 2013-2014 Social Science seminar series. The topic of the
workshop is on decision making in business and management education. The workshop will be held on 23rd April 2014 at Plymouth University. More details about the workshop venue will be available nearer the workshop date. Attendance to the workshop is free and the booking is now open through the HEA’s website:

Best wishes to you all! Harriet

Workplace Trends 2013…what’s new in work space?

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By Dr Harriet Shortt

Another part of my week last week was spent at the Workplace Trends Conference 2013, held at the Royal College of General Practitioners. This is one of the few non-academic conferences I have been to and it was recommended by a friend of mine, Steve Brewer, at Burtt-Jones and Brewer, a great Workplace Design Consultancy http://burtt-jonesandbrewer.com/About-us

This conference, which has been going for 11 years now (why didn’t I know about this before!?) http://www.workplacetrends.co.uk/  is at the cutting edge of workplace design, architectural work and consultancy. There were delegates from all over the world and from a whole variety of organisations….Cambridge Architectural Research, Credit Suisse, Hassell, Leesman Index, Herman Miller, Google, Steelcase and so on….!

The amazing Frank Duffy kicked off the day with an overview of architectural workplace change over the past 5 decades…the US office landscape, the shift from the individual office to collaborative working, technology and how the computer has completely changed the way we work and where we work, globalisation and its impact on how we develop space, urbanisation and the big debate – are office spaces obsolete?

The rest of the day included some great presentations…from case studies of innovative work spaces in Australia, to academic research on work space and productivity, to trends in property development in London and how this shapes the future of the office build…

Broadly, for me, there were 5 key issues that emerged from this conference and raised questions in my mind – given work space is my area of academic research, the ideas here touched on some personal topics of interest!

1. There was a lot of cross-over here with the Learning Spaces conference I had just been to!…in fact I met Caroline Paradise from IBI Nightingale here too! In particular, we heard the same sorts of themes here in London as we did in South Wales…how do we cope with increasing numbers of employees/ students and the same/ less space?…flexible and collaborative working spaces…the impact of technology…and the little things matter. In fact, one speaker noted that we should be looking to universities for inspiration in terms of the future of our offices, given HE institutions are having to deal with an increasingly diverse population who work in increasingly diverse ways…

2. I LOVED the entertaining debate we had after lunch! “Offices don’t work: They’re a waste of space!” – Paul Morrell (Paul Morrell Consulting) and Paul Finch (Architects Journal). This is a debate we should all have if we are really and truly interested in the future of space and the nature of work. Get together at lunch with your colleagues and thrash it out! :)

3.  I still found that the core threads of what was discussed here was ‘functional’ and ‘physical’. There was still that age-old debate about productivity and when pushed, it was about what the CFO would say when you said you wanted to change the work space. Although I believe that there is a place for research and design that uses ‘efficiency’ and ‘productivity’ as its foundation, where was the emotional stuff?! There were glimmers of this, I admit… hints at the ‘people’ side of things, how do you cope when people don’t like change, how do you get people to collaborate in certain spaces….but it was being ‘measured’ (there were lots of statistics and graphs!) and people wanted ‘proof’ and ‘truth’ that it worked! It’s a question of where you come from, but arguably there is a space (forgive the pun!) for other sorts of research – research that embraces complexity, doesn’t look for the ‘holy grail’ of work space and ‘how to make people happy with their desks’ and that genuinely, collaboratively works with everyday users of space to understand what IS meaningful to people and where they work!…research like mine :)

4. There was a fab presentation by Ian Clarke – a polar explorer who has explored the 7 summits and travelled to the edges of remote spaces all over the world. There was something about this presentation – apart from the fact that it was completely awe-inspiring! It made me think about what we could and should learn from people who see space differently – and not from an ‘office’ planning/ architectural perspective. Ian’s talk included important ideas about trust, pride, people, power and being alone…

5. This conference was about the office. When we talked about ‘workplace’, we were talking about the office…and yes, there was the debate around where we actually ‘work’ nowadays and technology and the future of work meaning we would work at home more…on the train…in cafes and so on….but! In workplace research we still focus, broadly, on the corporate world. I know I have my own agenda going on here…but what about other workers and their workplace?! What about hairdressers, what about taxi drivers, what about refuse collectors, what about teachers in schools, what about body workers, what about nurses in hospitals…what about all those that don’t work in offices? These are areas that, in my view, are ripe for research – there’s more to space than the office, there’s more to space than office workers. We’ve still got a way to go before we really understand the future of workplace trends…

Harriet Shortt

P.S. Apologies again to those of you who have seen this on my blog too www.harrietshortt.wordpress.com …again, it was perhaps another one worth sharing! 🙂

Re-imagining Learning Spaces Conference 2013

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By Dr Harriet Shortt


Last week I went to the second Re-imagining Learning Spaces Conference, at the University of South Wales. This was a great one-day FREE! conference organised by The Learning Spaces Pedagogic Research Group, chaired by Dr Bela Arora, and IBI Nightingale, represented by Head of Research and Development, Caroline Paradise. Despite being a rainy and grey day in South Wales (and boy did it rain!), this was an enlightening and energetic day! There was a great mix of academic staff from all over the UK, architects, facilities professionals, librarians, designers and space consultants – which made for some lively and varied group discussions.

The day started with a warm and enthusiastic welcome from Dr Bela Arora, who highlighted the important connections we should be making between facilities, space and the aesthetics of our universities, the student voice, innovative teaching, well-being and the student experience.

Next, we enjoyed a fascinating keynote from Dr Mark Moss at the University of Northumbria. Mark’s work – in the school of psychology – explores smell and the environmental application of aromas. Apart from learning a new word – ‘anosmics: people who can’t smell!’ – I thought Mark’s work was really thought provoking…and apart from Prof Sam Warren and Dr Kat Riach’s ESRC funded ‘smell’ project, Mark is one of the few people who I have heard talk about detailed research into the significance of smell in the workplace, learning space or indeed any space! He talked about scientific trials exploring the smell of rosemary and its impact on long-term memory…other work that examined the relationship between the smell of peppermint and exercise, smells when we go clubbing, smells when we go shopping, and using the scent of lavender in toilets in the workplace in Japan to enable people to ‘rest more successfully’!

Our small group discussions then raised some key issues, where we debated ‘what are the characteristics of the ideal learning environment?’…lots came out around facilitating teaching and learning relationships, ownership, togetherness, technology…and that the little things matter!

After lunch we had a great tour of the award-winning Students’ Union building at the University of South Wales – we all took lots of pictures, asked loads of questions and along the way debated how various spaces would work at our own universities, what wouldn’t work, what spaces could be used differently, how and why  acoustics are really important and although we talk about togetherness and community…what does it really mean and does it really work?

Our second keynote was from Prof. Alexi Marmot at UCL. Alexi discussed design and the management of innovative learning spaces and covered broad ground in this area, including technology, using an Action Research approach to exploring this emerging topic in more detail, and’ future proofing’ the space in our institutions.

An important part of the day was the Student Panel Discussion, where we heard from a number of students across the university and how they felt about their teaching and learning spaces. This was an insightful session where we heard about where students work most effectively, what times of the day they worked and again…how the little things mattered to them too!

Finally we heard from the Director-General of the Department of Education and Skills, Welsh Government, the Programme Director for 21st Century Schools, Welsh Assembly Government, Caroline Paradise at IBI Nightingale and the Site Librarian of the award-winning Trevithick Library at Cardiff University. For me, this last session drew together some important threads – we need to make sure that we talk to those in across the education sector and learn from them; that we should identify the ‘space champions’ in our institutions and work with them during change management process; that pre and post occupancy research is vital…and once we ‘move in’ to our spaces, that’s not the end – as Alexi Marmot said, that’s just the start and the academic community needs to continually work together to ensure that spaces and places are always working well for those that inhabit them!

Thanks to everyone involved in this conference – and I’m looking forward to Re-imagining Learning Spaces, 2014!

Harriet Shortt

P.S. Apologies for the repeat post for those that follow my personal blog: www.harrietshortt.wordpress.com …I thought this one was worth sharing here too 🙂