Tuesday 23rd October 2018

When a university invests in their estate, there are two sides to the coin – the first being traditional educational areas, such as lecture theatres, class rooms and labs. Some of these are independently managed by department or centrally booked, aligned to the term’s timetable of classes.

The other is the office space used by faculty staff. Sometimes professors or lecturers who are senior at the university will have their own offices, while others may work in communal spaces. This will very much differ depending on the university, and the level of tradition that employees have chosen to embrace.

Real estate management

Universities are now being challenged to manage space, and increasingly, this is being pushed as a top priority at many higher education institutions. With continual emphasis on financial constraints of state governments, it can mean limited or reduced funding for public institutions, so any steps universities can take to reduce costs, improve productivity and retain both students and employees, is a huge positive.

As modern workplaces transform into flexible and agile spaces, making the most of their layout to boost productivity and cut costs, how can the average university follow suit?

Firstly, we must remember that most universities specialise in a certain chosen curriculum element – from architecture and technology to sciences, literature, and many other subjects. This shapes the university as much as student needs do, as the space required varies for different subjects: how a leading science university looks differs wildly in comparison to a literature or law leading uni. This factor always needs to be considered before a university makes any changes or investments.

Space management

The only constant at any university when managing space is the square feet demand. If a university is looking to find better value from its existing estate, then investing in more space isn’t going to work. Remaining in the parameters of what is already available, but ensuring both employee and student needs are better met, is a recipe for success. Employees may wish to have a better work/life balance, while students want access to the latest technology to aid their studies.

These needs are likely to evolve as new generations of students enter the university each year, meaning solutions must be cost-effective and future-proof.

Of course, understanding how space is used within the university is essential, and made easier with technology that provides usage analytics. Using utilisation rates data, universities can create environments which promote collaboration between colleagues, and can also better understand how individual employees work, particularly at their desks. There are also resource management tools which can streamline bookable spaces to make better use of space, maximising utilisation and improving productivity. With bookable spaces – be it meeting rooms, breakout areas or desks, use of external bookable spaces can be reduced, helping to cut costs.

Rearranging space to be more efficient can also help universities reduce their carbon footprint, as lower usage areas use less electricity with automated lighting, reduced air conditioning, and save on cleaning costs, as areas of lighter use require less attention overall. Unused space can also be made available for rental, providing another useful revenue stream.

Overall, universities must be sensitive to the needs of the student body and faculty members before looking for ways to derive value from their real estate. There are no hard and fast rules, just as there is no one singular university experience, but starting with assessing what you have (and how it’s used) is a good starting point.

Karen Spiller, Business Development Manager, Condeco I @WorkScientists

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