Innovative workplaces influencing learning spaces, or is it the other way around? #chickenoregg

What does this make you think of:

It’s about choice

Get better engagement

Freedom of how to work, where to work and when to work


Recognises the spectrum of work styles

Different activities requiring varying levels of concentration or collaboration

Technology is crucial

Improves team collaboration and reduces individual competitiveness

All of these phrases can be used to describe 21stC learning environment. One where we value choice, freedom of movement, collaboration, yet each of these comments came from the world of business, describing innovative working environments that structure people and outputs in an approach called ‘activity based work’.

Veldhoen & Co developed the idea, used in the Netherlands about 15 years ago.

“It’s about choice. We’re trying to break down barriers within companies – if we can break down those barriers and give people the freedom of how to work, where to work and when to work, it will absolutely empower them to deliver the utmost that they can.”

My favourite ‘tweet of the week’ came from @gcouros:

“we are preparing kids for that jobs don’t exist.” Are we sometimes preparing kids for jobs that will no longer exist

As we seek to retain Gen Y into the teaching profession, the school as a workplace needs to think about these elements and reinvent. One of the reasons why activity-based work has taken hold in the corporate sector, is that this generation are motivated differently and command and control culture is no longer achieving results. Gen Y employees will leave if they aren’t sufficiently engaged and they will take their talent and build their own start-up.

What are the key elements of activity-based work that can, and are, relevant in school education – for staff, as well as students?

  • No assigned workstations and no private offices
  • Sections of the workplace allocated for particular work activities
  • Technology, cloud computing and mobile devices
  • Improving team collaboration and reduces individual competitiveness
  • Removing hierarchical structures as much as possible
  • Providing freedom as to how, when and where they work
  • Focus on quality results an outputs, rather than observed effort and time on task

Of course, surrounding all these elements, it is important for leaders to reinforce the desired culture and support the community in working in new ways. It changes the culture of “if I can’t see them, they probably aren’t working” – to one where outcomes matter. The command-and-control approach to work and learning reinforces the need to be seen working hard to get reinforcement/motivation, whereas, in this case, it’s the results that matter and how I have used my time to do this, that’s my responsibility.

For those in transition from command-and-control approaches there can be a perceived loss of status, especially for those who view success as having their own office. Where to work is dependent on the type of work a task requires. There needs to be places, of course, for individual work and confidential conversations, but these spaces are available, rather than owned.

“When you give up a permanent seat, you give up a nest,”

Activity-based work creates a new working landscape, and has direct applications to the school as a place of work and learning, to retain the younger teachers who have different motivations and aspirations and for these students, who will reinvent the world.

The last thing that forward-thinking educators want to do is reinforce a learning environment that is preparing young people for a world that no longer exists.


Further reading and ideas:

Some cool pictures of working environments:

Activity-based work:,yarra-valley-water-eyes-activity-based-working.aspx

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