University as a Workplace: Rethinking Spaces for Students and Staff

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Higher education organizations are not only places of learning, but also busy workplaces for students and staff alike. But what sets them apart, and how can we maintain their uniqueness while maximizing their potential?

We explore how universities and colleges can rethink their spaces to create more effective and innovative working environments – so grab your virtual backpack and follow us to class! Wow, we haven’t said that in a long time…


  • Universities and colleges combine intellectual curiosity, a culture of collaboration and a commitment to lifelong learning, setting them apart from conventional workplaces.

  • To keep pace with changing trends and technologies and create resilient and adaptable workplaces for students and staff, higher education institutions need to rethink their spaces and working models.

  • Flexible working models, integrating technology and fostering collaboration are key strategies for creating effective university workplaces that attract new, diverse talent.

  • Increasing financial viability, achieving environmental sustainability, and encouraging interaction between students and staff are important aspects to consider for the well-being of both students and staff.

  • Digital transformation and workplace management technologies play a crucial role in increasing efficiency and productivity at universities and colleges.

How Are Higher Ed Organizations Similar to Other Workplaces?

In many ways, higher ed organizations are similar to other workplaces. Just like in companies, there are teams that work towards a common goal. However, instead of products or services, their focus is on education and research. 

Both types of workplaces emphasize communication and teamwork in order to be successful. Students and staff work together to foster a culture of innovation and knowledge sharing. And, like any other workplace, universities and colleges face challenges such as budget constraints, changing technologies and evolving needs. Adaptability and creativity are key to effectively overcoming these obstacles.

Despite these parallels, higher education institutions have their own characteristics that set them apart from traditional workplaces and make them attractive (the number of people employed in the Colleges & Universities industry in the US increased by an average of 4.2% between 2018 and 2023).


And What Makes Them Different from Conventional Workplaces?

Higher education organizations are hubs of continuous learning and research. They foster an environment where creativity thrives, where critical thinking is encouraged, and where lifelong learning and the personal development of people in the community are top priorities.

Spaces within colleges and universities aren't solely designated for work; they're also vital for socializing and personal development. Despite the challenge posed by increasing student numbers and limited space, these institutions continue to place great emphasis on maintaining vibrant academic communities. 

They actively seek innovative solutions to accommodate the growing student populations while maintaining an environment that fosters collaboration. This spirit of collaboration often extends beyond departmental boundaries and encourages interdisciplinary interaction to tackle complex societal challenges.

Moreover, the role of technology in higher education goes beyond efficiency; it's integrated into teaching methods and research practices at a fundamental level. Digital tools are constantly enabling new forms of communication, exploration and knowledge dissemination.

Characteristics of Effective University Workplaces

Effective university workplaces are dynamic environments that foster collaboration and innovation. They prioritize open communication and transparency among students, faculty and staff. Flexibility is key to adapting to the needs of a diverse academic community.

A supportive culture that values diversity and inclusion is essential for creating a harmonious work environment. Encouraging professional development opportunities helps employees grow, and using technology to streamline processes increases productivity and efficiency across campus.

Physical spaces play a decisive role in the design of the university workplace. Libraries and lecture halls are generally designed to encourage creativity, focus and social interaction. In addition, access to amenities such as wellness facilities or green spaces contributes to general well-being.

Universities know how important it is to foster a sense of belonging among their employees. By prioritizing these features, they can create vibrant workplaces where people feel comfortable and make a meaningful contribution to their academic community.


How Can Colleges and Universities Rethink Their Workplace?

Colleges and universities should explore new flexible work setups, optimize campus space, and embrace digital transformation. Here's how they can revamp their workplaces for the future:

Addressing New Patterns of Flexible Work

As the needs of students and staff continue to change, higher ed organizations must adapt their workplace strategies accordingly. Despite the growing demand for more flexible working models, a staggering 63% of higher education employees still work mostly or entirely on site.

This discrepancy between employee preferences and current practices shows that colleges and universities need to rethink and realign their practices to better meet the expectations of their workforce.

By introducing flexible working arrangements, they can attract top talent from diverse backgrounds and allow for a better work-life balance for employees. Offering remote or virtual collaboration options also opens up opportunities for global partnerships and research initiatives.

Enhancing Utilization of Campus Spaces

Higher education organizations are vibrant hubs of learning and collaboration, and campus spaces play a critical role in shaping the experiences of students and staff. To improve the use of these spaces, institutions should think creatively about how they can repurpose unused areas.

For example, converting traditional lecture theaters into flexible multi-purpose spaces can facilitate different activities such as seminars, workshops or group study sessions. This can make a big difference in room utilization, considering that 30–60% of space on an average campus is underutilized.

A data-driven approach to space management also allows colleges and universities to optimize usage based on real-time feedback and trends. The use of technology such as room booking systems can streamline the planning process and ensure efficient allocation of resources. 

Boosting Financial Viability

Higher education institutions face the constant challenge of improving their financial viability in order to effectively support their operations – and their staff. More than half (57%) of higher education employees are at least somewhat likely to look for other employment opportunities, especially in search of a pay increase.

A multifaceted approach is essential to strengthen the financial health of higher education institutions. One way to improve this aspect is to optimize the use of space on campus. By reevaluating space allocation and use, additional revenue streams can be developed through rentals or partnerships with outside organizations.

Other strategies to diversify revenue streams could include implementing cost-saving measures such as digital solutions to streamline processes, offering online courses or counseling services, and collaborating with corporate partners for research projects or sponsored programs

Attaining Environmental Sustainability

When it comes to creating effective workplaces, achieving environmental sustainability is a crucial aspect that must not be overlooked. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to promote eco-friendly practices on campus and lead by example in protecting the environment.

From recycling bins placed strategically to encouraging carpooling and cycling, there are several ways in which these institutions can reduce their environmental impact. Green technologies such as solar panels and smart building systems not only benefit the environment, but also contribute to long-term cost savings.

Educating students and staff about the importance of sustainability through workshops, events and integration into the curriculum promotes environmental awareness among the university community and helps to create a greener campus for a more sustainable future.

Encouraging Interaction between Students and Faculty

When students feel connected to their professors they are more engaged in their learning process, and vice versa. This matters, since only 34% of university faculty and staff actually feel engaged in their job.

One way to encourage this interaction is through informal meetings where students can interact with their faculty outside of the classroom. From coffee mornings to setting up online forums or discussion boards, the key is to allow for ongoing dialog between students and faculty.

Group projects also encourage collaboration between the two groups, improving communication skills and allowing for a valuable exchange of knowledge. Innovation, then, is only round the corner! And, by promoting an open-door policy among faculty, universities can create a culture of accessibility and approachability.

Integrating Digital Transformation

Digital tools have become indispensable for colleges and universities. The use of technology not only increases operational efficiency, but also enriches the overall learning experience for students and teachers and helps institutions stay ahead of the curve in driving innovation and excellence in higher education.

By using digital tools and platforms, higher ed organizations can optimize their administrative processes, facilitate remote collaboration and offer personalized learning opportunities. Virtual classrooms, online resources and interactive learning modules are just a few ideas that can revolutionize education.

Moreover, use of data analytics also enables institutions to make informed decisions based on real-time data. This data-driven approach allows university management to optimize resource allocation, improve student learning outcomes and adapt quickly to changing market trends.


Workplace Management Technology for Colleges and Universities

Technology is revolutionizing the way colleges and universities manage their work environments. Solutions like the YAROOMS Workplace Experience Platform have multiple use cases in higher education organizations.

Thanks to its intuitive user interface, staff and students can easily reserve rooms for meetings, study sessions, or group projects. Real-time updates ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to room availability. This helps increase efficiency, streamline bookings, and successfully optimize space usage.

Administrators can also use analytics tools to gain valuable insights and track usage patterns to make informed resource allocation and room scheduling decisions. This allows colleagues and universities to maximize campus resources and facilities, leading to better student and staff experiences.

At the same time, we all know how important integration with existing toolstacks is. YAROOMS understands this and integrates with systems commonly used in higher education – this connection between room booking and other campus tools helps simplify processes.

Finally, efficient wayfinding and visitor management technologies help visitors (and not only) find their way around campus, contribute to security, and optimize resource allocation. YAROOMS provides features for comprehensive campus management, helping to create a safe environment for learning and collaboration.

See the platform in action - Watch the 3-Minute Demo Tour

Real-Life Examples of Innovative University Workplace Management

Some higher ed organizations prioritize sustainability initiatives within their workplace management strategies more than others, leading to reduced environmental impact and cost savings. 

By fostering a culture of adaptability and continuous improvement, they set a wonderful example for creating resilient higher education workplaces.

University of British Columbia

At the University of British Columbia, innovative workplace management practices have transformed the campus into a more dynamic and efficient environment. The introduction of flexible work arrangements for staff and faculty has optimized space utilization and improved employee satisfaction.

Columbia University

Columbia University has also embraced innovation in workplace management by integrating technology solutions to streamline room booking processes. This has not only enhanced operational efficiency but has also promoted collaboration among different departments.

Did you know that Columbia University and YAROOMS started working together in 2016?

Wrapping Up: Building Resilient and Adaptable Higher Ed Workplaces

Higher education institutions are not immune to the rapid changes that are reshaping our workplaces around the world; evolving trends demand adaptability and innovation from us all.

To be successful, they too must embrace digital transformation, but this should not come at the expense of an environment where students and staff thrive and where collaboration, growth and wellbeing are encouraged.

Today more than ever, institutions need to ask themselves: how can we continue to innovate while preserving the essence of our educational mission? In which aspects are we not prepared to compromise in the pursuit of progress? And most importantly, how can we ensure that we continue to produce the next generation of leaders?

Embracing change is as important as honoring tradition in higher education, and it is only by embracing this duality can we create an environment where excellence meets inclusivity and pave the way for a brighter future for higher education.

Topics: Workplace management

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