Campuses need to be more flexible than they have ever been before, according to a report published by AUDE (the Association of University Directors of Estates).
‘Blended Working in the Higher Education Sector: A Review of the Post-Pandemic University Workplace’ looks at the way the collective experience of working off-campus during the Covid-19 pandemic has changed attitudes, perceptions and habits in higher education across the world.
AUDE commissioned architecture practice Hassell Studio to help examine these issues. The study found that universities are trialling options and working towards a “blended working future”.
It also noted that “uncertainty is the current shared position, and that this is OK as the entire sector gently ‘feels its way’”.
Survey responses found that 59 per cent of respondents envisage that agile working will be implemented by the end of the year. But there remains significant uncertainty about the ratio of face-to-face teaching to remote teaching; 59 per cent are not yet confident about the room-booking systems that are an essential element of flexibility; and 74 per cent do not yet have the tools in place to monitor space utilisation effectively.
Dave Beavis, space manager at the University of Exeter and part of AUDE’s Space Management Group, said: “This report represents a timely pulse-check as to how the UK HE sector is implementing blended-working, and the survey results are striking. 89 per cent of respondents indicated that they intend to be operating some degree of blended working practices by the end of 2022, although the rate of change to adopt these practices is likely to differ widely by institution, dictated in part by the success of any pilots and the roll-out of supporting infrastructure and associated policies.
"The report identifies that most (79 per cent) survey respondents believed they would benefit from a ‘space dividend’ after adopting blended working practices, and furthermore most intend to repurpose much of this space to an alternative use. For many institutions this will likely be student-facing spaces as, overall, the survey indicated institutions believe they will require more study and social spaces, but less individual and small offices. So, blended working will provide many HEIs with the opportunity to reimagine the estate in terms of size and shape, whilst likely offering some greater degree of flexibility and resilience. It will be very interesting to see how this develops over the next few years.”
Jane White, AUDE executive director, said: “The number-one driver of change is the desire to see space used more efficiently within the existing footprint. But other reasons also emerge strongly – the push towards greater environmental sustainability; staff and student health and wellbeing; and of course our financial efficiency also feeds into this. Change in policy of the scale that is envisaged involves a real shift in corporate understanding and that can’t happen instantly. There are many studies on how workplaces will change after the upheaval of the pandemic, but few are specific to higher education. Academic workplaces are different from commercial offices, and academic activity varies hugely between faculties and across the academic year. Overall, respondents to the survey envisage fewer individual or small offices and an increased need for technology-enabled spaces, such as smaller rooms for synchronous online teaching and meetings.”