December 4, 2018

Seven Steps for Planning Campus Transformation

Achieving Impact

Picture a 1960s brick tower with floor after floor of doubled-loaded, concrete block corridors. Now, imagine the Provost’s charge to renovate this building to create the “academic workplace of the future.” As challenging as this sounds, it can be done. With the help of brightspot strategy and Diamond Schmitt architects, University of Michigan transformed Weiser Hall into a dynamic and flexible “center of centers” that brings together international and interdisciplinary institutes and centers so they can share space, services, and ideas. To accomplish this, the team used a seven step formula that other institutions can apply on their campus: conducting in-depth user research, developing a shared vision, creating a flexible programming formula, developing the design, piloting the concepts, facilitating a change management program, and conducting a post-occupancy evaluation. This formula yielded impressive results including an average overall productivity savings of 4.26 hours per person per week – the equivalent of every unit being able to growth its staff by 10 percent for free.

Setting the Stage

The context for this transformation project begins with the reality of the existing building as one of the most unloved buildings on campus providing a great opportunity for renewal. At the same time, there was campus-wide interest in taking a new approach to planning projects. Rather than simply meeting with units, listening to their needs, adding these up, and building the sum of their needs, the University wanted to start planning projects more by function and less specific to a department or school. This would increase flexibility, sharing, and collaboration. To make this shift, Michigan recognized that their architect couldn’t be the primary change agent; the University had to be the change agent and enlisted brightspot to advise and support them in this process accordingly.

At the same time, another shift was happening: the campus was moving to a shared services model which meant, for example, that rather than every small unit on campus having their own budget officer and their own events person, these resources could be pooled and shared across units more efficiently. Rebooting what was called Dennison Hall as a “center of centers” then enabled the University to solve other problems as well because the International Institute would be the anchor tenant and would free up space elsewhere and also help them adapt to a future with reduced funding due to changes in Title VI programs.

Our Seven Step Formula

Weiser Hall represents a comprehensive approach to innovative project delivery ranging from research to assess needs all the way through post-occupancy evaluation to measure success and fine-tune the building, its policies, and its operations.

Step 1. Conduct Research

To understand user needs, we conducted interviews, focus groups, and an online survey; we also analyzed event calendars and service transactions. From our findings, we created user personas to describe the motivations and behaviors of archetypal faculty, staff, and student users, such as connector, implementer, organizer, juggler, and climber.

We also uncovered interesting data to inform the planning; for instance, we discovered that on average staff were more heads-down than faculty, spending 41% of their day working individually vs. 27% for faculty. We learned about the priorities: having time to think was the most important activity with 94% ranking it as important but only 56% agreeing that current space supported it. We identified that culture, brand, and identity were key considerations as dozens of different units would be coming together under one roof but still wanted a way to express their individual identity and work in their own way.

Step 2. Develop Shared Vision

Based on the research findings, we then created a vision for the future with the advisory committee and the executive committee. A vision is a description of the ideal future state, with enough detail to make decisions about what would have to change to achieve. Starting with a scenario planning workshop that identified the key decisions to be made, and through several discussions and iterations, we created a vision for Weiser Hall to be a place that provides a sense of group identity as well as a globally engaged culture. It will offer a range of settings for different activities including formal and informal while supporting collaboration, focus work, study, and events. It will foster a culture of collaboration across disciplines and geographies, with seamless technology and support services, in a space that is magnetic, welcoming, and flexible.

Step 3. Create a Flexible Program

Because the units occupying the building, their size, and the nature of their work were all subject to change, we distilled units into different types and sizes and then used these factors to create a headcount-driven formula to allocate space (approximately 100,000 usable sf). We identified three types of units:

  1. “Creation units” as inward-facing and focused on creating ideas, often through deep thinking in a office and small group at a whiteboard (e.g., Center for the Study of Complex Systems)
  2. “Communication units” as outward-facing and focused on convening large groups of people and delivering programs (e.g., Center for Global and Intercultural Study) in event spaces, and
  3. “Service units” as those that provide support services to other units (e.g., information technology).

With these types, we created a space allocation formula with right ratios of spaces determined by headcount ratios of faculty, managerial staff, staff, and grad students; for instance, in a creation unit these are the proportion of 15, 5, 65, and 15 percent respectively.

Step 4. Develop the Design

The horizontal layout of spaces was driven by the realization that the width of the floorplate meant we needed two rooms deep on either side of a doubled-loaded corridor. With this layout, we organized floors in four-room clusters that were modular and sized for flexibility so that the same 120sf room could be a faculty office, three graduate students, or a five-person meeting room

The vertical layout fell into place almost magically and instantaneously in a workshop with the advisory committee as all the creation units sought the upper floors, the communication units the lower floors, and the service units in the middle. Key design features also emerged such as the double-height lounge on every other floor that combined open and enclosed meeting space as well as a shared kitchenette – a concept we borrowed after seeing it at several of the academic and corporate workplaces we visited on our study trip. A signature space for each unit such library, seminar room, or gallery also emerged as a key design opportunity and a chance to express identity and culture.

Step 5. Pilot the Concepts

To test the workplace concepts, we capitalized on the opportunity to use one unit’s swing space as a pilot. We used the programming formula and prototype layouts as part of the process, and got feedback before and after. From this activity, we learned that open workstations for some coming from enclosed offices was a challenge, that faculty enjoyed having student team space just outside their offices, and that access to natural light was satisfactory, even though private offices were in the four-room cluster and so not all located at exterior wall. This proved to be an important change management tool as well because the swing space served as a great “preview” for future occupants of Weiser to see office size and layout, amount of glass and visibility, and typical grad student stations.

Step 6. Integrate Change Management

Because the new workplace represented a change in allocating, using, and sharing space and the technology and services within it, we designed a change management program so that people were informed, excited, and prepared. This was the most helpful aspect for users because rather than building something new and hoping everyone would miraculously work differently by moving it, we prepared them to do so. We created the overall change roadmap that identified all the different touchpoints with users. We used a “train the trainer” approach to equip champions to then conduct retreats with each group to learn about building, meet neighbors, and set norms. A project website was created for information and updates. A welcome guide was created for occupants to orient them to the spaces, services, technology, and units within the building, and a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the opening.

Step 7. Measure the Results and Fine-tune

Using the research data from the planning process as a baseline for comparison, we conducted a post-occupancy to measure the project’s performance and identify areas to fine-tune. A majority of occupants feel the building meets its goals, and 83 percent are satisfied with gathering spaces, 80 percent with technology, 78 percent with access to natural light, 77 percent with furniture, 72 percent with access to colleagues.

The picture is nuanced though; for instance, satisfaction with ability to concentrate decreased by 11 percent and so the question becomes is that an acceptable trade-off given that satisfaction with collaboration increased and occupants experienced an average overall productivity savings of 4.26 hours per person per week?

As a result of the findings, the University may adjust some unit locations to optimize adjacencies and additional work to clarify and communicate norms is underway – particularly for students who, due to the project’s success, can be found working in every nook and cranny of the building.

How to Get Started

As you look to apply this formula to fuel workplace innovation on your campus, we recommend you pay special attention to the project structure and setup, stay flexible throughout, and integrate change management into your thinking.

To set up the project for success, create a clear committee structure with an advisory committee to represent different units, an operational committee to thinking through services and operations, and an executive committee to make decisions. Also, designate a “faculty shepherd” for communications to ensure faculty are hearing from a colleague when it’s time to organize a workshop for input or gather feedback.

To stay flexible, don’t think of deliverables like the space program as static; create dynamic ones that you change as you go within whatever boundaries or constraints you set. You can also look for opportunities to make things modular; for instance, the fewer different size rooms you have, the better because that makes changing the function or the occupant easier.

To integrate change management into the process, set the goal to have everyone informed, excited, and prepared about the change, and then make that happen by involving people throughout the process though a project website, regular meetings, tours, a welcome guide, and move-in celebration. Use swing space strategically too; rather than build it and hope they’ll come, test it with a pilot and know they will – and know what you have to refine by making your mistakes on pilot rather than the real thing. Good luck!

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