FM for the future

Mark Swales from Sheffield Hallam University tells us about the key trends in facilities management

Tell us a little about your role. 

I’m Director of Estates and Facilities at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). My role encompasses a broad remit – everything from organising student events and graduation ceremonies, through to academic timetabling and commercial service operations. Essentially, I’m responsible for running the team that supports the lifecycle of the student experience on campus. 

The university business model has changed dramatically in recent years to cater to student demands, how has your role as facilities manager evolved?

I think the fact that the university business model has changed dramatically in recent years to cater to student demands is a positive thing. There is much more focus on the student experience. It’s now seen as an integral part of their journey and, as such, the services we provide have to place the students at the heart of everything we do.

Thanks to this new emphasis, universities recognise the important role that the support services have in delivering an outstanding student experience, and achieving accreditation for quality of services has become more critical and valuable. We’ve recently been awarded a Customer First accolade for our FM services and we have also been named as ‘Investors in People’, which means we’ve got the right people, possessing the skills necessary to deliver fantastic workplace services. 

In order to evolve and keep up with the changing nature of workplace – academic or otherwise – facilities managers in the education sector have to understand the full spectrum of the student experience, in order to support the ever-evolving business needs.

What are the hot topics for facilities and estate managers to be aware of this year? 

There are two key things that facilities and estate managers need to be aware of this year. The first is the Diamond 2 report that acts as a guide when it comes to driving efficiency and effectiveness within the sector – this involves understanding how to improve the utilisation of a space, which is an area we actively think about, as it’s important to make the most of the square footage available! 

The second is procurement – specifically the 30% collaborative procurement target for the sector. In line with this recently announced target, FM teams within universities need to understand how to collaborate effectively with third parties, in line with university frameworks of best practise. 

SHU recently won a Leesman+ award for workplace effectiveness. What does this mean to the university?

For us, being awarded with the prestigious Leesman+ award demonstrates our commitment to developing the workplace in a way that supports our people in their day-to-day roles. The quality of the built environment and the services that support it are crucial factors in student recruitment and retention, and this was the key reason behind our decision to conduct a deeper inquiry into the design and effectiveness of the facilities we have. When we initiated the relocation of our facilities operation to a new building, we began an in-depth analysis of the working environment and its effect on occupants using Leesman. The Leesman survey measured staff satisfaction in the previous and new workspace; and I’m pleased to say that staff satisfaction has drastically improved after the relocation – and that’s thanks to the insight that the Leesman preoccupancy survey offered. 

We’ve implemented a number of innovative working practices for the staff who work in our Bryan Nicholson building. The flexible working arrangements have really been embraced by the teams and this is shown by the fantastic feedback in the Leesman post occupancy survey report. The move into the building gifted us the opportunity to look into how we worked as a team, what was important to individual staff and how people interact with the building itself. The Leesman+ award is testament to our commitment to creating a workspace that supports the range of activities undertaken by our people, and we’re delighted that it has helped us to massively improve both user experience and productivity. 

What kind of environment do you want to provide for SHU students? 

We want to establish and maintain an environment that creates a sense of place – a home from home, as it were, so staff and students feel like they belong here at SHU. For us, it’s important to include a social element too. This need to create social learning spaces is becoming prevalent across the sector and that’s again due to the focus on heightening the student experience. 

Creating the best student experience has become a top priority for universities in recent years, how will you continue to ensure your students are satisfied?

We’re investing £34m into making similar improvements – next time to an academic facility that will house both students and faculty. We believe we can again produce positive outcomes by measuring user satisfaction pre and post occupancy using Leesman, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the pending surveys. 

In addition, it’s important to understand the student needs and expectations – part of this involves piloting different kinds of environments and getting that all-important feedback. Our vision is to facilitate memories of a great campus experience; and everything from catering through to security staff and customer service teams impacts this experience, so we have to be constantly mindful and relentless when it comes to improving our offering. It’s about keeping the workspace and the facilities offering dynamic and up to date.  It never stops! 

What, in your experience is the biggest challenge facing facilities managers today? 

I think the biggest challenge is still the old adage of having to do more with less. We’re entering more financially constrained environments and resources are getting squeezed. As such, we need to be more creative when it comes to stretching the purse strings and being playful with the resources we do have. 

Do you have any tips for schools, colleges and universities in looking after their facilities?

My top tip is to keep the needs of your students at the heart of all your decision-making.

Everything you do should go towards improving the student experience. Also, never be content with how you do things now – universities should strive for continuous improvement. 

What does the future look like for SHU? Are there any expansion projects in the pipeline? 

Professor Chris Husbands joined us in January as the new VC. With his arrival, we’ve begun refreshing the university strategy, which includes the estates and facilities offering. 

SHU will also be deploying further Leesman surveys in the not so distant future as we are planning on implementing agile working in more of the campus buildings. We have a number of new and renovated buildings set to be occupied in 2016, including our new development at Charles Street and the former Head Post Office. We are constantly looking at better ways of working and are buoyed by the brilliant post-occupancy survey Leesman carried out. 

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