Home-working during Coronavirus – using the corners of our home for work, rest and play

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Back in 2017 Dr Harriet Shortt, Associate Professor of Organisation Studies at UWE Bristol Business School, wrote a piece for Work Wise UK about how the commute – be it on a train, a bus or in a car – offers an important space for reflection and escape. She talked about how the commute can be a space ‘in-between’ in which we can momentarily break away from the multitude of identities we seek to maintain in contemporary society, and temporarily find a sense of sanctuary in a working world characterized by change and fluidity. The commute, therefore, offers a ‘liminal space’ in which to momentarily dwell – a liminal space being one that is on the ‘border’, a transitory space somewhere ‘in-between’ where we can suspend social expectations – and just press pause. She also reflected on the liminal spaces of the workplace – like corridors, stairwells, corridors and toilets. Places in which, as her research shows, are usually used to escape the visibility of the office or shared workspace and become important territories for private conversations, quiet reflection, and inspiration and creativity (Shortt, 2015).

In her guest blog post with Work Wise UK last week, she talks about the loss of these spaces and how we can find them again in our current conditions working from home, which for many of us also includes juggling home-schooling with work.

Since the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown, for many workers these spaces have vanished. We aren’t commuting, which is great for the environment and for a whole host of other reasons, but I wonder if there are some of you who are missing the space the commute created between work and home – that liminal space for reflection, decompression or planning. And, of course, many of us are not in the office, so those corridor conversations, those watercooler moments, those snatched minutes in a toilet catching up with a colleague are gone. All these informal micro-interactions at work that are so vital in the everyday life of workers have, for the time being, disappeared.

Instead, many of us are working from home. We have set up workspaces almost overnight and our homes have become workplaces and meeting rooms, classrooms and gyms, places of worship and places to rest. These changes in our domestic environment have taken some adjusting. We have had to negotiate with partners and children about how our home spaces are used, for what purpose and when, we’ve had to compromise our sense of privacy and open up our homes as personal backdrops on Zoom calls, and as the earlier blog from Stefanie Reissner and Michal Izak shows, we have had to think carefully about how we establish, manage, and re-adjust our work/ home boundaries.

All this transposing of work life into the home and sudden, rather dramatic mass shift to working from home has made me think more about the organisation of space at home, and in particular, the liminal spaces of the home. In all my research projects in both public and private sector organisations over the past 15 years, the significance of liminal space has always emerged – whether it be the cupboards in which hairdressers find respite from the visible work they do, the toilets where open-plan office workers go to have private conversations or the stairwells that nurses use to catch up with each other away from the wards. But what are the liminal spaces in our homes, how are they being used in the current crisis, and do they have any value? As a researcher of organisational life, I’ve seen and heard various stories over the past 8 weeks from UK workers adjusting to working at home, and I’ve had my own experiences as a mother and knowledge worker juggling full time work and home schooling a 5-year-old, and the corners of our homes do seem to be significant in a number of ways…

Firstly – liminal spaces for new working practices. I have spent a number of years researching the work of hairdressers working in hair salons and over the past 8 weeks or so I have been struck by how innovative some in this industry have been at adapting to working life at home, using social media (mainly Instagram) to do so. What has been notable are the uses of liminal spaces in their homes, that are now appropriated as new workspaces. For example, one celebrity hair stylist in London is seen in a walk-in wardrobe demonstrating an easy up-do (wife as model). Another hair stylist in Wales is pictured in a hallway by the mirror demonstrating how to cut a little boy’s hair (son as model). And another stylist in London is filmed in a toilet demonstrating a guide to toning your hair at home (self as model). These new workspaces are allowing them to still work, still connect with clients, but perhaps help them avoid exposing parts of their homes to others and somehow this protects their privacy. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, the new Twitter account ‘Room Rater @ratemyskyperoom’ has been set up to comment on and rate the backdrops and private homes of the rich and famous as they Skype and Zoom in the media. As such, the privacy of our homes has been comprised by new working from home practices and so we might reflect on how the liminal spaces in our homes might offer an alternative to putting our more dominant spaces – kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms – on display for all to see.

Secondly – liminal spaces for privacy and rest. The privacy issue is one that we have not really talked about during this crisis. The big focus, naturally, during isolation has been countering the feelings of being alone or separated, and as Reissner and Izak advised in their blog earlier this week, we need to stay connected. But just as I would argue that overly open, collaborative workspaces sometimes forget the need for private, quiet space in their designs, for those of us as home in lockdown with partners or families, we might think about how important it is to find just a few moments alone for rest, reflection and respite. One Bristol-based entrepreneur I am working with on research project text me a photograph of her on the roof of her house and said:

This is the only place I can get some rest…some peace and quiet. This is where I can just breath for a minute. It’s a beautiful view and a lovely skyline, all the trees and rooftops. I love being up here, I might do this more often’

Another young mother in Bath, who works in the public sector and is working from home with 2 small children said:

‘I find myself just sitting on the stairs to get five minutes peace. If I’m in the kitchen, the kids want snacks. If I’m in the living room I’m working. I just sit on the steps for a few minutes and get a bit of down time’

So, it could be suggested that liminal spaces are helping us, just as they do in the office, to find private quiet moments of respite from family, technology and being on show. The corners of our homes, or, as above, the rooftops and stairs, are being used in the practice of self-care and wellbeing during Covid-19.

And finally – liminal spaces for play. I have seen how liminal spaces are being appropriated for play during our home-based lockdown. My 5-year-old daughter has been at home with my husband and I, like many other children, for the past 8 weeks, and the den-making has been rife! My daughter has made a den on the stairs, under the stairs, under the table in the dining room, in the hallway, on the landing, on the kitchen step. Dens have been built in every nook of our house over the past few weeks and having spoken to a few ‘working-from-home-mum-friends’, it seems I’m not alone in noticing this. One working mother in Oxford told me:

‘Yes, I’ve noticed my kids have been making dens all the time during lockdown! Behind the sofa, under a tree in the garden, all over the place – but never in the actual playroom that’s specifically designed for them and all their stuff!’

This has made me reflect on children’s needs for privacy and ownership over space. They compromise all the time in relation to space, with their bedrooms perhaps being the only haven they might have in a home, and even then for the most part parents place restrictions on these places – no food, no drink, tidy up, make your bed. It is no wonder that children, whilst in lockdown with their parents who are desperately seeking their own spaces and managing boundaries for work/home-life, are claiming snippets of space. This is perhaps a child’s response to seeking solace, rest and privacy, much like the entrepreneur on the roof or the working mother on the stairs discussed above. And of course, this only serves to highlight how liminal spaces, used for privacy and individual territory, are important to everyone, not just grown-ups in the workplace.  

So, working at home during Covid-19 has shed some light on the liminal spaces of our homes and how they are emerging as unexpectedly useful. As a response to the lockdown, we have seen how the territories on the margins of the dominant spaces in our homes (those we have defined uses for, like living rooms or kitchens), are now in regular use in new ways. Spaces like cupboards, hallways and stairways have always been there, in our peripheral vison, used mainly for transitioning through the home, but they now come into full view and full use – for work, for rest and for play. In our post Covid-19 world we might reflect on the potential for these spaces; how might they be used differently? What value do they have and for whom? And how might they feature when we’re working at home?

These are all reflections and food for thought on home-working during the Coronavirus crisis. I invite you to reflect on how you are using the corners of your home; what have you noticed about where you are working? Have the stairs and landings featured in your working day and if so, how? And what value do they have? As Bachelard (1958/1994, p.136) reflected, corners are symbols ‘of solitude for the imagination’ – what spaces in your home offer moments for imagination when you are home-working?

Serving yourself: value self-creation in health care service

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By Dr Fiona Spotswood

Yesterday, March 1st, the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre at UWE held the first seminar of 2017. Our external speaker was Singaporean Nadia Zainuddin, who is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales and is a member of the university’s Centre for Research in Socially Responsible Marketing. With a PhD in social marketing and a background as one of the leading thinkers in responsible and social change marketing in the region, her research interests lie predominantly in the area of health services, with a specialised focus on customer value creation.

The presentation Nadia shared was based on a paper she published in Services Marketing last year; “Serving yourself: value self-creation in health care service”. Her quantitative study rigorously explored the nature of self-service health screening, with a focus on bowel-screening; a home-kit type of screening with a high emphasis on customer input. Her findings, based on structural equation modelling, demonstrate that consumers can self-create value, leading to desired outcomes of satisfaction with the consumption experience and behavioural intentions to engage with the self-service again in the future.

Nadia explained the significance of her work for social marketing; that a key role of the discipline is to create conditions in which desirable behaviours are voluntarily undertaken. This prompted an interested debate in the seminar about the different roles of social marketing in the behaviour change context; as a mechanism for persuading and motivating, and as a mechanism for creating and shaping practices. These approaches are both important parts of the behaviour change and social change picture.

Further discussion from an enthusiastic audience centred on the applicability of the self-value model to complex practices like ‘commuting’, where the layers of value that could relate to audience participation are also entangled with infrastructures, institutions, skills and spatial and temporal sequencing as well as attitudes and beliefs. This leads me to wonder about the theoretical implications of the positioning of value – as something within a particular practice, or something held by the actors themselves.

The Bristol Leadership and Change Centre thanks Nadia for her presentation and wishes her best of luck in the next few months as she conducts further research in this are while on sabbatical in Glasgow. If you are interested in taking part in the BLCC seminar series – as a speaker or delegate – please get in touch at blc@uwe.ac.uk

 

Spirituality in a Challenging World

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Hi all,

Please see the link below for more information on a conference being held by the British Association for the Study of Spirituality at Ashridge on May 19-21 on Spirituality in a Challenging World.

The conference includes keynote addresses and parallel-session papers on both religious and secular concepts of spirituality as well as its role in organizational practices, health and well-being, and leadership.

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 🙂