University Transformation

By Dr. Geri McArdle


My claim to fame in the human performance profession came from being the writer of books that were regarded as, “… a classic on design and delivers  practical and useful information for new trainers and the most experienced in the learning field’’ which was quoted from William J. Rothwell of  Pennsylvania State University. Given that resume, it would be understood that I have contributed a lot to the discussion that is today’s learning space and university transformations. 

Recently I received my alum magazine from Syracuse University.  The lead article focused on campus transformation. When I attended Syracuse, the School of Education utilized an old hospital for its learning space. For my graduate work, the Maxwell School had no restrooms for women– this was what was happening in 1975.  Despite this overview, Syracuse remains my alma mater. They provided me with the experience and spunk to keep going and a focus on this month’s article discussing learning environments and learning challenges that may arise. I recognize the change that needed to be brought up simply by what I encountered during my years of study.

First, if a large institution such as Syracuse assessed their facilities in a way that allowed them to develop a goal statement similar to what Steven Einhorn ’64, G’67 spoke on where he said that an “objective as a community is to create a more connected, more robust center of learning and research that will best prepare our students for the world – now and in the future”, then the facility would continuously be able to enhance the environments students are learning in as times evolve. With this outlook educational and global companies should wake up and assess the working space that they provide these newly hired graduates.

Work Space: Product-Centric Approach vs. Human-centric Approach

The December 2016 TD magazine article The Ever-evolving Workplace authored by Joh Wolper, provided a response needed to answer the question involving how companies must be become self-aware of barriers to inclusion and make structural changes to address these barriers. By discovering “what the business community is doing about accommodating and adjusting workspace for the staff – especially the young graduates from institutions like Syracuse University” Wolper had a good understanding when he said, “the biggest barrier to inclusion (and space) in companies is that the companies simply don’t think about it” in making sure that it is a priority to acknowledge it.

Searching for an answer to this dilemma, I consulted my TD magazines and the web to find my answer. According to an article authored by Barry Fries, Founder and CEO of contractor B.R. Fries & Associates, “…whether created through renovation, adaptive reuse, or new construction, today’s workplaces are a notable departure from those of the past ... perimeter executive office surrounded bland, productivity-draining expanses of repetitive workstations. Poor acoustics, limited flexibility, and views, and a lack of meeting space marked these walled-in, open-plan “cubiclevilles.” 

So what is happening? Are university learning environments setting the tone with workplaces of today and tomorrow?  The answer is – yes, and a little hedge on no.

It’s All about Millennials

According to Barry Fries, founder and CEO of contractor B.R. Fries & Associates, (www.brfries.com), “… more than ever, we see young companies  buildings, where they’re installing sustainable, laid-back interiors with adaptable furniture systems, yet with a high finish quality.

Additionally, we find that in some high-tech companies run by Millennials these nonconventional workspaces are the norm.  “Millennials are collaborators, and they don’t like to isolate themselves says Marlyn Zuckosky, IIDA, Partner and Director of Interior Design with JZA+D (www.joshuazinder.com). 

Providing more open spaces for informal meetings is a successful strategy for Millennial run businesses.  It has been noted that Millennials in general have a lower demand for privacy compared to their Baby Boomer counterparts. Millennial’s tend to seek work that coincides with a greater purpose. This also allows for more meaningful connections at work, where 71% of millennials want their coworkers to be considered as their “second family.”

To conclude, with 72 percent of corporate real estate executives saddled with the responsibility of productivity improvements, according to Johns Lang LaSalle, decisions are made that are put the emphasis on a modification to their facilities for the support of creativity, focus, and teamwork.  However, are education designers creating a learning spaces that dictate a corporate design?  To that I would say no, the workplace users are the ones who are managing the workplace design!


About the Author

Geri McArdle has been a practitioner in the human resource field for 25 years. She has published nine books on human productivity and numerous juried research articles in professional journals... a founding member of our Chapter, an international trainer and consultant, she now spends her time in Fort Myers. 


You can read more by Dr. McArdle in our monthly chapter newsletters.


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