Staff call for genuine consultation on consolidation project

More than five hundred CSIRO staff in Canberra recently participated in the Staff Association ACT workspace survey. Staff Association Treasurer Scott Wilkinson examines the results and the widening gap between management principles and staff expectations.

AT THIS busy and difficult time, staff clearly expressed the importance they place on the site consolidation delivering suitable built accommodation from the $195 million project investment, and the impact on productivity and morale that inadequate facilities can have.

The consolidation project has proposed to place 98 per cent of ACT staff into open plan. The survey found that being exposed to frequent, unplanned interruptions would reduce staff productivity by more than 20 per cent.

Workstations must have acoustic and visual privacy to avoid this outcome. The survey comments and experience at other sites show that open plan is not providing sufficient acoustic privacy for the quiet focused work, phone calls and meetings involved in our team-based science.

  • Read a copy of the survey report here

Staff comments on management’s draft Accommodation principles also strongly rejected the proposal for all staff below EMC level to be in open plan. The proposed 14 m2 floor space allocation per employee is clearly constraining the design process.

There is considerable diversity in our work which the final design solutions need to accommodate:

  • 25% of staff make more than 40 phone calls per week
  • 47% of staff make 80% of all phone calls
  • 38% of staff collaborate with more than 5 people weekly
  • 61% of staff want frequent or constant ‘access to a private space for sustained concentration tasks’

On the face of it a more even mix of offices and open plan would better suit this diversity, and very private cubicles. Many more quiet meeting rooms are required, and enclosed offices can partly provide that function if there are many more of them.

Nearly half of lab staff reported that the laboratory proposed by the ACT Consolidation project is not satisfactory. The ACT consolidation project needs to carefully consult on lab workflows and space requirements.

Our literature review found that the ACT survey results are representative of scientific knowledge:

  • “one of the biggest losses of productive time during the day stemmed from interruptions by colleagues” (Davis et al., 2011)
  • Cognitively demanding work is more affected by noise
  • Minimising the amount of speech noise is the key to reducing its impact
  • Access to privacy is important for creativity, “a stimulating work environment provides both an area for the employees to be social and spontaneously engage in unplanned meetings and an area where they can retreat, be alone and concentrate” (Baumann, 2012)
  • Some types of workers are more affected by open plan interruptions than others, including introverts and older workers
  • Collaboration is limited by access to private spaces rather than by the number of chance meetings.
  • Read a copy of the literature review here

The Staff Association tabled these issues at the Consultative Council meeting a fortnight ago. We are in dispute under the provisions of the Enterprise Agreement with reference to CSIRO’s obligation to provide staff with accommodation suitable for their work role and function, and to consult on proposed changes. The Consultative Council meeting did not resolve the dispute.

We are seeking a meeting with the CSIRO executive as a matter of urgency to ensure that thorough consultation occurs about our workplace needs, and about designs that prioritise addressing them.

Make your line managers strongly aware of your views on staff accommodation. Share your views with your delegate representatives or comment by email.

The success of property projects is heavily dependent on successful staff consultation.


Scott Wilkinson is a research scientist at Black Mountain,union delegate and Treasurer of the CSIRO Staff Association Treasurer


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