How one university made open offices work in higher ed

Best practice of the week: June 26 - 30

The University of Toronto has successfully adopted the corporate-style office trend and shifted administrative units to open office floor plans. Leading by example, Toronto’s Facilities unit voluntarily moved out of private offices and into low-walled cubicles positioned around the perimeter of the floor to maximize the natural light on staff desks. Toronto also created a variety of formal, schedulable rooms and non-reservable collaborative spaces for informal meetings and ad hoc discussions. Since staff spend less time in these rooms than at their desks, these spaces are positioned the near the center of the floor away from windows.

The University of Toronto Facilities unit’s move has been an all-around success. They reduced the total number of private offices by 30% and decreased workstation size by 25%. In total, the unit reduced gross square footage by 10%.

Moreover, contrary to conventional wisdom that staff will resist elimination of private offices, a survey of Toronto’s Facilities department found high satisfaction with the new space. Staff reported higher productivity, increased teamwork, and more collaboration across the Facilities teams. For instance, because property managers and maintenance managers now sit next to each other, they can quickly share information about ongoing projects. Toronto reports that the Facilities department space change has gone so well that other administrative departments at the university are now following suit.

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