Keeping you awake?

Across the country there are a real variety of university campuses. No two campuses are alike, but all have similar challenges that the Estates team have to work with. There was an interesting article from Wonkhe a few weeks back on what keeps your estates manager awake at night? from the incoming AUDE chair.

Estates Directors, by and large, are significant net spenders of university income. While we may also run aspects of our institution’s income-generating commercial services – conferencing and retail for instance – and we know our university built environment can be key in attracting research income, staff and students too, on the whole we sit on the expenditure side of the balance sheet, with buildings second only to people in terms of operating costs.

It noted the challenge that costs are rising, and budgets are being cut, and the challenges that this budgetary nightmare brings to the Estates team. There are things they can cut, things they can spend less on, and then there are the statutory requirements that have to be met and paid for. In addition the way in which campuses are been used are changing.

The issue of both students and staff using the campus differently now, post covid, and their hybrid use of space for studying and working. We know that space designed for the way we would use those spaces pre-covid, aren’t necessarily now the kinds of spaces that we need post-covid. Easy to say, actually quite challenging to think about and design spaces that meet these new needs. What are those new kinds of spaces and how would we know?

Most universities I have discussed this with reinforce the importance of the university space, a place for people to come together for education and research. There is an expectation that staff and students will be physically travelling to and using the university buildings and spaces.

Even so with hybrid working and studying the norm these days, spaces have to be flexible to allow for in-person working and studying, as well as allowing for online interactions to take place on campus as well. Just because a meeting or a lecture is online this doesn’t automatically mean that the person participating is going to be off campus. Are there spaces on the campus that can be used for these online activities.

Another challenge isn’t just space, but also time. You can already see that more people are coming into the office for two or three days a week, and those days are usually in the middle of the week. The challenge that anyone has in managing space is how do you provide the capacity needed for two or three days, knowing that for the rest of the week it will be underutilised. How do you incentivise people to spread their in-person working (and studying) patterns across the week, to ensure space is being used efficiently.

With people working at home for part of the week, what I am seeing in our own spaces, and hearing about on university campuses, and also seeing in the office work environment; is that without some kind of intervention, people are creating their own working patterns based on the patterns that benefits them individually and aren’t necessarily the most efficient mechanism for space utilisation across a working space. There is a default to mid-week in-person working, resulting in less utilisation on the extremities of the week. Should spaces be closed one day a week to allow for this?

Might it be more efficient to spread utilisation across the week, and then reduce the size of the space required? How then do you encourage and incentivise people to work on the less popular days of the week?

Whatever decisions are made by estates teams in relation to the campus, it is understandable why it might be keeping them awake at night.

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