A workspace for today’s mobile worker

Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A woman and a man stand while having a discussion in front of an elevated work desk.

You may have heard: Information Technology has a new workspace in the basement of Vanier Hall, a modernized area designed for today’s mobile worker that encourages team building and collaboration.

If you visit the new space, you’ll see collaborative zones and quiet zones, different lighting schemes and a variety of working areas and meeting spaces.

Although the accommodations are impressive and unique in terms of a university, the real achievement is the work it took to conceive, design and deliver a work area that facilitates agility and flexibility while offering improved well-being and job satisfaction. The space is unique to the University, and it sets out the vision for Information Technology.

As noted by Jacques Frémont, president and vice-chancellor, “The strategic plan is based on four pillars, and what excites me about this new initiative of yours is how effectively it supports all four of our strategic priorities for the future. In other words, you are setting the example for the whole university about where we want to go and how we want to get there.”

Jacques Frémont with IT staff at the inauguration of the new workspace.

In 2018, Chief Information Officer Martin Bernier, new to uOttawa, began to get to know the University, his team and his new working environment. He saw that for a team immersed in technology, its members were limited by their geographical separation, work and communication tools, and work environment. This led to employee-driven initiatives that are transforming the University’s working landscape.

For example, the year of Bernier’s arrival, Information Technology (IT) completed a pilot project for mobile working. This expanded the possibilities for employees to work from virtually anywhere, be it from home, the library or the corner coffee shop. Team members took the lead in developing guidelines around mobile working FAQs and information sessions, in addition to working with the unions and Human Resources to review policies. Through mobile working, on-campus workspaces could be optimized to account for flexible working hours or absences, with the added benefit of offering improved well-being and work-life balance.

The technological tools IT was implementing also provided opportunities. The upgrade to Office 365 brought the introduction of Microsoft Teams, which offers numerous tools for collaboration, improving the way people work both together and remotely.

The next hurdle was uniting two teams under one roof. Bernier brought the proposal to maximize workspace to Facilities, who were immediately enthusiastic about it. To ensure engagement and support, staff were welcomed into the process from the very beginning and encouraged to take the lead in the areas that interested them. The team immediately took ownership of the initiative and created committees focused on health and wellness, zoning and acoustics, business etiquette and work organization, workstation equipment and tools, furniture layout and design, and unassigned seating.

There have been measures to deal with noise concerns, and to improve air quality, openness and the overall technology. Employees worked tirelessly to understand the needs of colleagues through meetings, workshops and surveys. They then worked with Facilities to translate the needs into solutions for every type of worker. Since the space is rooted in flexibility and agility, employees continue to meet and consult with colleagues and partners on improving it. The possibilities to innovate are endless.

This is truly a “by employees, for employees” initiative.

“While everyone saw the cool new workspaces and environment, some of us also saw a new culture emerging, a new way of doing and a new way of being @uOttawa. Thank you for showing us the art of the possible and that space is not simply something to occupy, but something to leverage.”

— Guy Levesque, Associate Vice-President, Research Support and Infrastructure.

Collaborative and mobility workspace by the numbers:

  • 100 hours of workspace-related meetings
  • 79 workstations that can be reserved
  • 40 committee volunteers
  • 17 weeks from conception to move to Vanier Hall
  • 9 meeting rooms
  • 5 employee-led committees
  • 3 flexible seating areas
  • 4 collaborative booths
  • 2 workstations that encourage movement: a treadmill desk and stationary bike desk
  • 1 modernized and collaborative workspace
A group of employees work in a meeting room.


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