SPACE….(IT and culture) the final frontier(s)
I’ve spent the last 12 months engaging, listening and gathering as much opinion, data and research as I can for colleagues, higher education peers and private sector companies both nationally and internationally to try to understand and predict what new ways of working might look like and how we might make best use of our spaces on campus. (most of which I’ve done remotely). We all changed to home working successfully ‘overnight’ but how we return to campus and use our buildings, efficiently, to their full potential now seems like a much more complex challenge, who’d have seen that coming!? I know I am not alone in feeling like the pandemic has brought about the biggest opportunity we have had, in any of our professional careers, to make positive changes to our work life balance, campus workspaces and the way we work, create and interact with our colleagues. Hybrid working presents opportunities to redefine how works get done and where. Many of us have enjoyed the opportunity to work more from home, so why come back to campus?
For me, the reason to come back to campus is to meet people, interact, share knowledge and collaborate. It’s difficult to replicate this virtually over teams or zoom – The good stuff we have been missing working from home, the qualitative aspects rather than quantitative. Getting the chunky pens out; sketching, thinking, sharing, bouncing ideas off colleagues, being creative as a group again! Incidental conversations that benefit and resolve issues, oh and the social aspect of enjoying a coffee with colleagues. Recently, a mix of off and on campus, has given me the best of both worlds.
Why change anything about our campus work spaces? I strongly believe what we need from our spaces and how we use them will evolve. Activity based workplaces are now becoming more common place. Offering choice to staff depending on the task at hand, moving from a single owned desk or office to a series of shared spaces, should benefit experience, wellbeing and efficiency. Most of us have experienced trying to complete a complex task within a traditional open plan office environment, not always easy. By creating different zones for different tasks, these tensions should ease and make completing tasks easier. By reducing single use spaces the building becomes more efficient, which positively impacts running costs and carbon impact. Re-purposing our existing spaces to create more collaboration spaces and less singular desks, more quiet spaces or spaces to make video calls without disrupting colleagues. Changing the way we think about spaces may also allow us to re-purpose space for other purposes that enhance staff and / or student experience. If we are to achieve maximum value from our buildings, no space should have a single use or a single owner, all our spaces should be capable of being shared, multifunctional and offer a variety of uses and or users.
My space – our space – everyone’s space
Our people are at the core of our service to students and research. Staff experience and wellbeing are fundamental to our offering. Space Efficiency and utilisation are also critically important at a number of levels; in terms of making the most of our large and varied estate, providing equality to our different groups and Schools but also to take into consideration the carbon impact associated with underutilised spaces.
It seems clear to me now that in order for changes to our space to be successful they must also be supported by appropriate IT, physical and digital must work together; digital connectivity and hybridity is such a vital aspect of the way we all now work and learn. Alongside changes to space and IT, culture and behaviours plays an equally important role. Only when all 3 are working together will true benefits and enhanced experience be achieved. To be effective as a hybrid working institution, we will need to evolve and learn new skills and ways of working – the technical skills to be able to connect, and the behavioural skills to continue to build strong connections, creating the right spaces will act as an enabler to making this happen. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I hope we grab it with both arms!
By Helen Wood,
Head of University Space