Collaborative Workspaces

The Actuarial Pulse is an anonymous, web-based survey of Institute members, run on a monthly basis, giving members an opportunity to express their opinions on a mixture of serious and not-so-serious issues.

What would you like to know? If you have a question you would like to put to the membership, email the Chief Editor.


My first workspace was in a corner of a four-person ‘pod’. ‘God’, the signing actuary, sat in an office, buffered by a secretary, who filled the space between the pod and his office. ‘Bertie’ my manager sat adjacent to me while the other two spots were occupied by my friend, and peer, ‘Joey’ and by another senior.

The pod was modestly set up but I had my own space and it was in close enough proximity to my colleagues for me to feel sufficiently comfortable and supported. We shared a roller-coaster experience but I remember each fondly.   

Step forward a few years (and then some)… I still work in an actuarial team and there is still the need to be collaborative and productive.

However, times have changed.

Back then, I took for granted that items like employees having their own desk to personalise, a personal waste paper basket and the office having a tea lady would always be the norm.

This month’s Pulse looks at the state of our workspaces.

74% of respondents are in the office five days a week, 8% are in four days a week and 8% are in the office for less than three days a week. Approximately 8% are never physically in the office, with the major reason being retirement and other reasons being self- employment and unemployment.

Generally we think our working space is ‘ok’ (78%) and 18% rate their space as the best working environment in the world. 4% think their workspace is so awful that they are looking for a new job.

A range of items/facilities are offered to make the work environment more comfortable. Not all environments are equal as seen in the following graph.

What facilities does your employer provide to make your environment more comfortable?

Collaborative-workspaces-PulseOther items mentioned were:

  • breakout / eating areas with TVs;
  • the provision of fruit, biscuits, drinks;
  • a coffee machine, fridges, microwaves, toasters;
  • ergonomic chairs and setup of workspace;
  • social club and staff discounts; and
  • bicycle parking.

The items I wasn’t expecting to see were “a private room to express milk for my baby who is still breastfed” and “a sexy office manager: my wife”… a very collaborative workspace indeed.stock-photo--bob-your-negative-thoughts-are-hanging-out-in-my-workspace-188165852

In addition to these facilities, employers provide a range of amenities/services and other facilities to make the work environment more efficient. These include remote network access, portable technology devices like iPads, pilates classes and fantastic office assistants!

Some of the comments did however remark that these services could be more integrated, more accessible and more reliable e.g. print anywhere access is good; printers that always jam are bad.

Workstation space also seems to be reasonable.

  • 62% merely need to roll their chair to get to the person next to them.
  • 24% have to get up and walk to get to the person next to them.
  • And unfortunately, 8% can touch the person next to them if they extend their arms out while 6% can smell what the person next to them had for lunch.


83% work in an open plan space while the balance of respondents have an office. Possibly due to the nature of actuarial work, 84% of us do not hot desk.

Loosely, hotdesking is the practice of not assigning permanent desks in a workplace, so that employees may work at any available desk.

Hot desking for actuarial staff is a recent development with no organisation hotdesking for more than five years. Of the 16% that are hot desking, 39% have been hot desking for less than one year, 38% for one to two years and 23% for two to five years. It is also reflected in the level of sophistication in the booking of workspaces. Over 74% said the booking of workstations was informal and 10% said their formalised system was unsophisticated and archaic.

The comments on likes and dislikes reflect the relative infancy of the practice of hot desking.


● Clean desks ● reduced clutter and paper accumulation ● facilitates collaboration among different teams ● enables you to sit and get to know people you may not interact with otherwise ● improves my engagement with my team, and with my customers ● offers greater flexibility and freedom to work how you want i.e. sometimes you may want to sit somewhere quiet where no one will bother you if you need to concentrate on a task or sometimes you sit with other teams because your task demands working closely with other people ● the associated cost saving benefits e.g. on paper and stationery.


● Uncertainty of where I sit and where others in the team sit ● administratively burdensome, time consuming and noisy e.g. setup/pack-up time ● logging into the phone system each day and time required to adjust the chair each day ● insufficient desks for people ● discriminates against anyone who does not arrive early in the office ● can be alienated from one’s team if not able to sit regularly with team ● inability to personalise space ● hot desking requires laptops – not as powerful as desktop computers ● lack of storage ● dirty desks if they haven’t been cleared ● difficulty in locating people.

Given the list, I wonder if any of these comments are fed back to management? For example, an insufficient number of desks being available seems like a breakdown in the hot desking system and shouldn’t the need for teams to sit together be protected?


stock-photo-young-brunette-businesswoman-with-glasses-cover-ears-109472438It’s great to get to know your colleagues but we need to do things that others need not know about (both personal and work related) and also not know everything others are doing. It’s also important to be able to get work done without distraction. This is particularly hard in the open plan environment where everywhere seems to be a public space.

Unfortunately, the main actions taken for both were simply to remove oneself.

For privacy, people generally close the door, avoid doing personal things at work and defer it to home, use instant messaging (like office communicator or Lync) and do private emails and internet searches on mobile phones. Locking drawers, locking computers, setting up secure folders on the network and limiting paper with private information were other suggestions.

For noise control, the trusty earphones and white noise generators were key. However other suggestions were to: ● work after hours, when it is more quiet ● tell/ask/force others to keep quiet and/or stare them down ● hot desk with those who don’t make a noise e.g. the actuaries as opposed to the sales force.


stock-photo-cup-of-coffee-and-biscuits-selective-focus-183153068‘Gloria’ came by with her beverage and biscuit trolley twice a day. She knew exactly what you drank and had the ratios locked in her head (milk : sugar : strength of tea).

For me, the biggest unwritten rule in the office was to always make sure you drank the entire beverage Gloria had prepared for you. The moment you showed any sign of waste, Gloria would correct her actions. For example, if she saw you only drank 3⁄4 of your cup, then she would forever in the future only produce 3⁄4 of that drink for you. And, if you were a little abrupt, chances were that you’d only get to choose from the selection of stale biscuits! It’s impossible for one to consider and potentially follow the unwritten rules unless you know what they are! The readership gave their versions of what these are in their workspaces. I’ve grouped them roughly under: Touch, taste, smell, hear, see.

Note: As different things get on different people’s nerves, some of the following contradict each other.


Do: ● keep your mobile phone on silent ● clean up your mess ● keep things clean and hygienic ● wash up after yourself in the kitchen ● grab any spare stationery when someone leaves! ● get in early to get a good hot desking spot ● if you will be away from your hot desk for more than three hours, pack up and leave it clean and free ● long term booking of the same desk is ok ● sit in areas with those with whom you are cooperating on projects ● do follow the written rules! Respect personal privacy.

Don’t: ● take more than three pieces of fruit from the fruit box ● sit near the windows and pull the blinds down ● touch the air – conditioning/heating control ● steal/borrow/move other people’s chairs ● play cricket in the office ● sit in the same hot desk two days in a row ● take someone else’s usual seat.


Do: ● leave left over food from meetings in the kitchen for people to graze on ● have a spot for shared junk food/baking which people contribute to occasionally.


stock-photo-beautiful-female-office-worker-who-gestures-as-stink-108490184Do: ● shower after exercise!

Don’t: ● leave smelly shoes or gym towels in the office to air out ● eat a curry at your desk ● have boiled eggs for breakfast (at your desk) ● eat fish at your desk ● have lunch with a strong smell ● cook smelly food in the office kitchen.


Do: ● keep the noise down ● talk softly ● make private phonecalls in vacant meeting rooms ● move away from your desk if you are talking with someone for too long ● keep phone rings muted ● use instant messaging for private conversations ● have group lunches in the kitchen ● laugh at the bosses’ jokes.

Don’t: ● have loud personal conversations ● spend too much time on private phone calls ● use speaker phone calls ● shout across the open plan dividers ● call from offices to workstations ● take personal calls at your desk ● type with unreasonable force ● noisily slurp food.


Do: ● keep desk clean and tidy ● wear a tie ● observe the social contract ● be on time to all meetings.

Don’t: ● be seen coming in late (although this flies in the face of flexible workplace arrangements!) ● have a long lunch ● have inappropriate screensavers ● eat at your desk ● dress more casually than the boss ● leave gym gear or towels hanging around.


Our workspaces will probably continue to change into the future as there will always be a bunch of clever people who have new ideas on workplace productivity and cost efficiency.

At present some are more fortunate than others in terms of amenities, facilities, space and flexibility provided.

However, there will always be a version of ‘God’, ‘Bertie’, ‘Joey’ and ‘Gloria’ with whom we will work with. It’s the relationships we set up and nurture that are important. I think I’ll hold onto those thoughts when I head back to my desk, ready to put on those earphones, with the cup of tea I made in the one hand and the biscuit bought from the charity box in the other.

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