Gavin Ford has been thinking of ways to improve communications between his teams, as well as looking at how to solve the problem of the university's payphones
04 February 2005
I'm going to spend the next few days looking at communication: thinking about how we can improve communication within and between my teams, with our customers and also looking at the facilities available in buildings that enable others to communicate.
Looking back at the minutes of several team meetings from last year, the subject of communication, or to be more precise, the perceived lack of it, was a common item for discussion at the meeting table. It was felt that many issues could have been dealt with more efficiently if communication between teams and people had been better.
I can see two reasons why communication may fail. One is because information is simply not passed from a to b. The other is that information may not have been explained in a clear way and so could easily be misinterpreted.
One area I need to focus on concerns how teams communicate with each other between shifts. Each campus appears to have its own way of doing this and I can find little evidence of consistency. I'm reluctant to add to the bureaucracy of more paperwork however, so have tried to come up with a simple solution that will work at each site.
The idea is under trial, but here is the gist of it. The individual email addresses of all facilities staff at a campus have been grouped together under one main heading, such as 'facilities team Falmer'. Also included in the group are names of our night security officers. At the start of each shift, a new message is created, which is addressed to the team's group name. Throughout the shift information is added to the email as appropriate. At the end of the shift the message is sent. The afternoon shift can then access the email to obtain the information. The same happens during the afternoon. When the night security team commences duty they will be able to access four emails - one from each site, with useful information about the day's events.
There are no doubt better ways of achieving the same result, but this is a quick fix solution works and is easy to implement. It is certainly an improvement on what was happening (or not happening) before.
Our department has been thinking about how we can communicate better with our customers (staff and students). We have several ideas that we plan to pursue, but our two favourites have already started to move in the right direction. Our department is now represented at each faculty group meeting and this is proving beneficial not just for us, but for the individual faculties too. We are also in the process of setting up an intranet site for our department, which will, among other things, be used to inform our customers of work we are undertaking and are planning to undertake and will inform of changes to service provision, making it easier for customers to provide feedback about our work and the way that we deliver services.
When I think about the communication facilities we make available to people in common areas at each site, it becomes more difficult to come up with ideas for improvement. The main reason for this is that most people now own a mobile phone so have no interest in using facilities provided by the university because they don't have to. A recent study at the University of Brighton revealed that 98 per cent of students own a mobile phone.
This explains why the revenue taken by payphones at the university has significantly reduced over the last two years and why I now have to heavily subsidise the service in order to retain the payphones. I've come to the conclusion that I have three options available to me. I could purchase the payphones outright from our contractor, I could simply do away with them or I could pursue another idea put to me recently by a local taxi company.
I'm opting for the latter. The local taxi company have asked if they can install telephones in strategic locations at each campus that could provide a direct link to them. I've taken the idea a step further by asking them to fund the replacement of our payphones, (when the contract expires later this year), with a phone similar to the one that they suggest, but with an extra button that connects to the emergency services. Telephones located in our halls of residence could have a connection to other services that students access frequently, such as a take away food outlet, for example. Everyone benefits and I am looking forward to its implementation later in the year.
Gavin Ford is facilities manager at the University of Brighton