The newest trend in academic offices draws on old traditions of intergenerational cohabitation.
“The idea,” explains Provost Peanut-Buttere of Great White Northern University (GWNU), “is to pair experienced and newer faculty members together in a single office to build networks of support and comaraderie.”
In other words, professors are sharing offices. But Provost Peanut-Buttere is quick to explain that intergenerational offices are not actually “office sharing” or “flex space” arrangements. “This approach is fundamentally different. Intergenerational offices draw on long-standing traditions from places like China. Really, we’re probably drawing on Confucian wisdom. So this isn’t some ‘johnny-come-lately’, flex office trend. We’re not jumping on any bandwagons except for some really old bandwagons. Like really, really old. Older than Harvard, that’s for sure.”
Where possible, intergenerational offices include two desks, one for each scholar. Where space does not allow for two desks, the scholars typically take turns using the office or, more commonly, the more junior faculty member sits at the feet of the elder faculty member. “This is a perfect way for the Elders to impart wisdom to the younger generation of scholars,” says Provost Peanut-Buttere.
Professor Grumpus of GWNU was recently paired with Junior Professor Desparadas. At first first, admits Grumpus, he was not keen on the idea of an intergenerational office. He pointed out that there would not be room for his chesterfield once Desparadas’s desk was moved into his office. A bit of creative problem-solving addressed his concerns, however: Facilities built Grumpus a loft bed for the office.
“It’s perfect,” raves Grumpus. “Now, I can have naps and I can ask Desparadas for help with my computer and the printer and the library and filing my expense reports.”
Desparadas could not be reached for comment. She is pre-tenure.
When asked if there are concerns about scholars becoming territorial, Provost Peanut-Buttere is quick to assure us that problem-solving is part of what scholars do. “I’m sure they will find ways to work out whatever differences they may have.”
Are intergenerational offices the future? Or are they just a fad, like “flex office space” and “hot desks”? Intergenerational cohabitation has a very long history, and many families are opting to return to intergenerational homes, especially as housing becomes increasingly expensive. Intergenerational offices just might be the way of the future.