OPIRG Office as Focal Point

By Randy Kay, Coordinator of Volunteers


The opirg office could become a much more effective focal point for students, faculty etc.


As it is, it is primarily used for

  • a workplace for 3 permanent part time staff and student staff 
  • a resource library for loaning books, etc. 
  • a place people come to buy fair trade coffee/tea/chocolate 
  • a place to store and sell fair trade baskets, jewellery 
  • a place to recycle batteries 
  • displaying posters/leaflets 
  • storage for working group display material/etc. 

Other uses of the office not currently utilized:

  • meeting space for board/working groups 
  • social space for idea-sharing (ex. coffee/tea drop in) 
  • media work space (workstation/podcasting/video editing) 

The space in the student centre is a big advantage as far as visibility, however visitors report unclear understandings of the office’s purpose. Is it a place to visit or are you interrupting ? Is it a store? is it a library? Am I welcome? Can I just walk in?

    OPIRG’s lack of a mission statement means it is difficult to determine if the office space is being used wisely and in accordance with OPIRG’s goals.

    If we use an interim mission statement like: “OPIRG McMaster is a dynamic resource centre supporting student and community volunteers who are educating and taking action on important social and environmental issues” how does the office represent this view? How does the office distract or confuse this mission?

    • Do our current hours best serve our volunteers/students? What if we could make the room available to working groups after hours? For small meetings this would save staff time booking rooms on campus. 
    • Could we rationalize our office furniture to create more open space for meetings? 
    • Could we use a blank wall or pull down screen to project images, presentations, movies using our projector? 
    • What if a section of the office could be divided with a glass wall/door for interviews or quiet workspace? 
    • Do retail uses add or detract from our focus? 


    Volunteers have started the process of digitizing archives and getting rid of paper files (history archive, projector/button maker google calendar) turning basically useless paper files into usable, digitally sharable resources, while opening up new space in the process.


    Our office should be a visible embodiment of what we stand for. We can become a much more functional and versatile space by better arranging or downsizing furniture. We also have the privilege of room booking on campus to book extra work/meeting space. Some ideas to ponder:

    Forget One Person Equals One Desk

    “Think you need one desk per team member? Think again….’Part of the cost structure everyone has is they make this assumption of a desk per person, but with mobile work, when you walk into most places, how many of those desks are actually used at any given moment? Not many,’ …often up to 60% of desks can go. http://www.inc.com/ss/jessica-stillman/10-office-design-tips-foster-creativity#3

    Instead of desks, tables that can be accessed from all sides would create many times the usable work space.

    Zoning – Providing the appropriate range of settings and acoustics 

    Be mindful that more-open collaborative environments require a balance of enclosed spaces for focused work, conference calls, and telepresence. 

    Consider zoning the overall environment into quiet, social, collaborative, and speakerphone areas.
    Enable workers to have choice and control of where they work by providing a range of settings to support multiple work modes: focused, social, learning, and collaborative. Consider a range of “I” to “we” settings in open and enclosed areas. http://officesnapshots.com/2012/04/16/tips-to-help-you-plan-and-design-for-collaboration/

    Cultivate Buzz

    “Density counts–and not just for efficiency’s sake. “Think about when you go to a restaurant with your [partner] a second couple comes and they put them in the booth right next to you. What do you do with your voices? You get quieter until the restaurant gets busy and noisy. Offices are the same way. If you keep a lot of energy and people in the space, everyone is free to talk, interact, because the background noise–the buzz–gives them privacy” http://www.inc.com/ss/jessica-stillman/10-office-design-tips-foster-creativity#5


    Rewarding experimentation and innovation, new technology, new ways of doing things is essential to a thriving student office. The spirit of the times is accessibility, openness, transparency. How does the OPIRG resource centre reflect these principles?

    This physical transformation could supplement a successful Mission Statement process. OPIRG could (should?) seek involvement of students for credit to create more function per square inch(ex. http://library.mcmaster.ca/guides/meei_mtei “Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Course code: SEP 6E03 | MEEI | MTEI” )

    Until recently the OPIRG Blog title was “OPIRG McMaster: RESEARCH AND ACTION” yet the focus on “research” remains a weak spot for OPIRG. While action is integral to our volunteer efforts, identifying OPIRG McMaster with our working mission is perhaps better reflected in a new title: “OPIRG McMaster Resource Centre” which puts more focus on the office space, and on our mission to support student action.

    FROM PAPER TO VAPOUR (the cloud)

    We have already started the transition to a more flexible, transparent and accessible environment. Using new technology and online portals helps keep OPIRG current and available. Consider:

    WIKI – intranet for board of directors/staff, transparent, accessible from anywhere, cheap (now also used by working groups)

    Blog – essential to communicating in multiple formats (video, photo, links, text) – should be utilized by staff and board.

    History online – no good having paper files sitting on a shelf or in a cabinet taking up valuable space. Putting documents online makes it shareable, and secure. We have a blog for that! (and can tweet, post to Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc.)

    Google calendar – finally got equipment booking into the modern age, and no need for paper binders/calendars that can only be accessed in the office – can expand to use spreadsheets and documents for sharing via google drive.


    Resisting change just hinders the ability of OPIRG to update, reinvent and reinvigorate quickly. There’s too much at risk to just coast and follow “this is how it’s always been” mentality. The current physical space is cluttered, and out of touch with new realities and opportunities. But resistance to change is always an issue:

    “It is this balancing act between optimizing stability (maximizing core business improvements) and continually innovating (adapting new products/services to eventually become core business practices) that feeds the organizational engine and keeps it in Prime. Of course, when the organizational scales tip in favour of administrative stability over innovation, death by bureaucracy is the final outcome.” http://righttojoy.com/transformation/organizational/life-cycles-how-we-stay-in-prime/

    Change is inevitable and should be embraced with a clear forward looking vision. The OPIRG resource centre can better serve our mandate and support our mission with a few easy but important changes. A culture of adaptability and cooperation using horizontal open communication contributes to our ongoing success. Can we get started?

    What do you think? Please share your ideas in the comments!