Middlesex staff give 'hot-desking' a cool response

May 6, 2005

The culture of hot-desking has arrived in academe as part of a multimillion-pound expansion and refurbishment programme at Middlesex University.

However, promises of "state-of-the-art facilities", "open-plan" office areas and "hot-desking" - where staff have no fixed desk and work wherever the mood suits them - have been given a thumbs down by Middlesex staff.

In a newsletter titled: "Natfhe horror at flagship call centre proposals", the lecturers' union warns: "The architect's plans feature, as we feared, open-plan workstations and hot desks, and a few bookable discussion rooms... we reject these proposals." The union is planning an emergency meeting at the end of this month, and is consulting its lawyers over the implied changes in staff working conditions.

The changes are part of a £40 million plan to transform Middlesex's Hendon campus in North London. It currently houses the university's Business School and is being expanded to include the 4,000-plus students who study at the School of Computing Science, in Tottenham.

The campus will be completely refurbished "to bring its teaching and staff rooms up to modern standards". A glass atrium will enclose a quadrangle to "provide a major new social space".

Staff are concerned about plans for the Williams building, where all business and computing staff will eventually be housed and which is the focus of the open-plan hot-desking proposals. They are also up in arms about transitional arrangements, under which computing science staff will be housed for up to two years in temporary accommodation while the work is carried out.

Natfhe's newsletter says that, apart from managers and senior academics, "everybody else will be accommodated in the call centre cubicles" in the temporary offices. Natfhe says: "At the time of writing it would seem that the proposed developments can only lead to a worsening of staff working conditions. This amounts to a variation of contract. We are presently seeking further legal advice on this."

A university representative said: "Final configurations for the Williams building are being worked on and discussed. The final plan will comprise a mixture of open plan, individual offices and meeting spaces. The university is looking at where additional accommodation may be needed and which staff may operate better from its new administra-tive headquarters in New Southgate."

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