The situation

‘MECD’ is one of the largest academic buildings in Europe. It is a focal point of the university, which has more than 40,000 students in total and is a member of the prestigious Russell Group.

Since 2018 we’ve been working with the MECD team to devise strategies for organising space and have supported academics, postgraduate students and professional services staff as they move to new models of working.

Having become used to the ownership of personal offices, the academic community was initially reluctant to adopt a more modern workplace model, which was needed to enable a successful relocation of all units to MECD. So it was vital to gain their commitment and support for change.

Our approach

We made sure faculty staff were deeply involved in designing and testing their future workplace and included them in every step of the iterative process. Following a workshop with members of the university’s senior leadership team, the faculty launched a three-phase iterative and transparent pilot programme to learn over the course of an academic year how different groups could successfully coexist and work whilst discovering whether the concept could meet the fluctuating demands of the academic calendar.

During each phase of the pilot, we monitored desk-utilisation and a group of faculty staff and students shared feedback about their experiences through a structured focus group and interview programme. An overall review was completed at the end of each three-month trial and this information was then made public and incorporated into the next cycle of the pilot scheme.

As well as unearthing design issues that were subsequently addressed to hone the workplace model, this inclusive approach meant that academics became familiar with what to expect in their new location at MECD, whilst building their trust in the change management process.

Having honed the ‘configurable’ MECD workplace model, we went on to work with each function to capture their operational needs and facilitate them in determining the specific space configurations that would assist their teams to work effectively. By working with others in the professional team we were able to guide the design of the space.

We have continued to support the MECD by helping staff adapt to changes in the workplace in the post-pandemic era. We ran a series of focus groups with senior management to explain the benefits of Working Together Agreements. These agreements empowered faculty staff and gave them greater ownership over their work culture and the implementation of hybrid working than if rules had simply been imposed from above. Following the success of the project, we continue to work with the University of Manchester to implement the process more widely.