by Cindy Stegmeier — This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of FMJ
Facility managers are repeatedly challenged to push the boundaries of space use efficiency. The opportunities for advancement often span across multiple teams, but who is looking for these benefits when responsibility can be spread across an entire organization? It is not always effective for executive leaders to be involved in the level of detail required to identify and diagnose this type of organization wide issue, and front-line staff are often not positioned to see the bigger picture across multiple departments.
It can take months or even years for individual or isolated discussions to build and spread, before an opportunity is clearly identified and defined, and even when this happens, it can be difficult to create change on a large scale. It is often a daunting task for leaders to implement significant change and employees can often be resistant. Despite this, the benefits for efficient space use can be substantial and with considerable financial implications, so where do we begin?
As organizations grow — especially when they grow quickly — it can be common for services to become decentralized, processes can progress in complexity or be duplicated, and it can be harder to provide effective strategic oversight. A holistic review of systems is often required to ensure efficiency within the organization. There are common variables in many organizations that can contribute to space use efficiency. Some of these variables include: how space is assigned, the type and number of room booking software programs used, the administrative processes for booking space, the number of people or departments administering room bookings, the event planning process and how many teams or people plan events, as well as all employees who book and use meeting space. The most impactful variable, however, is the culture of how facility space is used and viewed by everyone within the organization. Although these variables will inevitably span across an organization, they all link back to space, which can put FMs in a unique position to identify and champion space use change initiatives.
After many discussions regarding the complexities of space use, Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta set out to capitalize on the opportunities of effective space management, through the development of two policies. An initial space management policy was approved to focus on defining the governance and responsibilities for the allocation, assignment and coordination of all campus space. The second policy is underway with the intention to create change on a large scale and shift the culture of how all bookable space is administered and used including for events and in public spaces. This policy aims to achieve the following:
- Shift the culture of space use from dedicated to shared
- Simplify the room booking process and improve the customer experience
- Decrease administrative time managing bookings
- Increase and maximize the number of meeting rooms employees can use
- Decrease the number of software systems used to manage room bookings
- Create a consistent approach to space charges and event fees
- Centralize room booking data for holistic and consistent data reporting, improved event planning, and to support emergency management needs
- Ensure room use is appropriate to mitigate institutional risks
- Increase the capacity for revenue from space rentals and event bookings
Despite the overwhelmingly positive benefits from an initiative such as this, it also means that people and processes must change, and change can be hard. When making any wide-sweeping shift in an organization it can be helpful to ensure:
Executive leadership guidance
Formal approval of a written project outline can include the problem to be solved, key objectives and strategies for implementing change. The executive leadership team can guide and approve this document. If the intended changes have the potential to impact the whole of the organization, this approval would come from the leader of the organization. Project progress updates can be provided on a regular basis, including any major decisions, milestones, expected impacts and benefits, as well as required involvement of the executive team in communicating changes.
A clear vision for the future is communicated –
Good communications begin by explaining why the change is occurring, the problems that will be solved, and a clear definition of the desired end state. Ensuring that the benefits or answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” is communicated, will help stakeholders to see a manageable and positive path forward. These messages can be delivered to every stakeholder group and repetition is often required when creating large-scale change. The more executive leadership is involved in delivering this vision for the future, the more impactful and successful the change can be.
All interested stakeholders are involved
Nobody likes to be told what to do. When people are involved in developing change, they can voice their concerns and provide the necessary input to ensure the changes will be as effective as possible. They will be more likely to understand the rationale for change and hopefully become ambassadors that support the change and help others to do the same. Consistent and authentic engagement with stakeholders will improve the final outcome of the initiative and mitigate risks to implementing change.
Identifying benchmarks & baseline data
As part of the initial phases of the policy drafting process, Mount Royal University first completed an environmental scan of existing space use policies to understand the standards of similar institutions across Canada. The university also conducted research on pertinent space utilization metrics and benchmark standards. To measure postsecondary university space utilization, the Council of Ontario Universities recommends the following calculation:
NASM/FLE = A/(HxS) x AWSCH
Net Assignable Square Metres Per Full-Time Learner Equivalent = Average Area of Student Station in Square Metres / (Hours x Station) x Average Weekly Scheduled Contact Hours (AWSCH = the average hours that a student is scheduled to spend in class)
Alberta Infrastructure sets the following utilization benchmarks in relation to this calculation: Classrooms are to be used 80 percent of the time in an average 57-hour week (Hours = 45) and 80 percent of all seats in a classroom are to be filled (Station = 0.8).
Existing room scheduling software was able to provide data on the current level of bookings for classrooms that are dedicated to specific faculties, and these were compared with rooms that were openly available for booking by any faculty.
Utilization of open classrooms during prime periods – 84 percent utilization
Utilization of dedicated classrooms during prime periods – 34 percent utilization
This data conveys that dedicated rooms are booked much less often than open rooms. In some instances, classrooms are specialized or designed for a single intended use, such as science labs. In these cases, the lower number of bookings makes sense, as only specific classes can be held in these rooms. However, in other cases, standard classrooms that could be used for multiple types of classes are dedicated to specific faculties and often sit empty, as no one else is permitted to book them. Some of these dedicated classrooms are also booked through an alternate software program that is administered within a faculty. When these rooms are not in use, the central scheduling team is not able to see the room availability or book the room. The value in understanding current state data strengthens the understanding and opportunity for effective change. Mount Royal’s policy is intended to identify and maximize the number of standard classrooms to be openly available for use by all faculties and booked through the central scheduling team. This shift from dedicated classrooms to open classrooms will help build capacity for future program and enrollment growth.
Putting it all together
At Mount Royal, some faculties have administered and controlled dedicated classrooms for years and even decades. To shift the way they are currently managed is a significant, and in many cases, unwelcome change. Identifying and clearly communicating the institutional benefits will aid in this process, but to really get people on board it’s helpful to point out how it can benefit them personally. In this case, saving administrative time in managing bookings and providing access to more classrooms (that were previously dedicated) are two significant areas of improvement that can be communicated.
An institution wide stakeholder group was formed to explore and understand all impacts, benefits, and opportunities to be addressed through the policy drafting process. Stakeholder conversations required to create change are not always easy, and it’s important to recognize emotional responses to change. People want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Authentically listening to responses and concerns from a place of curiosity can aid in working with stakeholder groups. The policy, procedures, and benchmarks are foundational; however, it is the process of developing them in a way that works for all areas of the business, that ultimately inform the successful shift of culture.
Through Mount Royal’s stakeholder group, cross-department relationships are building, process and functional responsibility changes are occurring, awareness of institutional benefits is building, and the cultural shift is already beginning to take place. The team is becoming well-informed ambassadors who understand the challenges of implementing new space use benchmarks. They can help their teams and co-workers see a better future and how they can contribute to a stronger, more efficient system. Stakeholders can often become the biggest supporters of change once they fully understand what is at stake to gain.
Given the shift of postsecondary support in Canada from being publicly funded to more appropriately described recently by Alex Usher, President of Higher Education Strategy Associates as “publicly-aided” 1, attention to cost effective operations is imperative for a sustainable future. The effective booking, management, and use of space can provide significant benefits including reductions in administrative efforts, increased classroom capacity, and increases in revenue generation. When Facility Managers start with the end in mind, by setting clear objectives, researching applicable benchmarks, gathering current use data, ensuring executive leadership support, communicating a clear vision, and engaging all stakeholders, these benefits are within reach. Mount Royal’s policy on the temporary use of space is expected to be completed in early 2020 with additional implementation to occur throughout the year.
Cindy Stegmeier BID, LEED AP, CEFP, CEC, currently works as an Executive Advisor for Mount Royal University and has 10 years of experience working in the FM profession, eight of which with The City of Calgary. Her previous role was as the Manager of Strategic Space Utilization. She is passionate about people, leadership, governance, and business strategy, and has also recently become a Certified Executive Coach through Royal Roads University in Victoria British Columbia.