Yesterday two of our regular students, Francisco Aparicio and Javier Jiménez Juárez, Spanish lawyers from the world of banking who visit OISE Cambridge for a week every year, spent the afternoon at the Fitzwilliam Museum in the company of their teachers.
It was at their own request of course, although the teachers didn’t take much persuading. It is always pleasant to get out of the classroom (although we usually and perhaps rightly ascribe to paying students more mundane cost-benefit analyses). Everyone benefits from the sense of escape, of truancy; of being at play while others work.
Perhaps this partly explains the increased productivity (insofar as that can be accurately measured) associated with hot-desking – or hotelling, as they call it in the States. Hot-desking is a form of institutionalised truancy where employees have no desk of their own but are encouraged to settle down wherever they can find a spot: in a forgotten corner, on a sofa, in the canteen, behind a huge pot plant in an arboretum; you have only your laptop and a bit of peace and quiet. And so you work better. It goes without saying.
In some companies they go further and encourage their staff to wander off as they feel inclined, as an aid to creative thinking. But I think both approaches somewhat miss the point: in order properly to play truant you must be leaving what you perceive as your regular work behind; you do not carry it with you. You take a step sideways for a few hours into a parallel world of entirely different configuration. You are not fooling yourself into being more productive; you are simply being more human. And the benefits of a workforce being more human in the workplace are not quantifiable, and perhaps negative on the whole.
Thus I don’t know that we worked better in the Fitzwilliam Museum than we would have in the classroom – there is something to be said after all for the concentration and focus you can attain with a clear hour and a whiteboard, and a museum is a place for looking, in the end, not talking. Social gallery visits are an odd experience. But there is no substitute for a student and teacher gravitating naturally to an object of common interest – notably, yesterday, a seventeenth century view of the Escorial, and a Madonna and Child by Joos van Cleve – ‘horrible’, in the decisive estimation of Francisco, who then proceeded to talk himself into an opposite position in the course of the next five minutes as he minutely audited the details that were in fact well-done. In the similarly complex audit of a week of work, or a week’s English course, a period or moment of truancy, standing for a few minutes in front of a Joos van Cleve while others sweated (in our imagination) over their grammar tables, was no bad thing.
You can read about hot-desking and other forms of office organisation on the BBC website, here