Administration building to get rid of designated workspaces

The entrance to the Administration Building (Bestuursgebouw), which will be shared with the new tenants after the summer. Photo: DUB

The 950 employees of the Corporate Office were expecting a grand move in 2025 to the Van Unnik building, whose renovations will then be completed. Instead, the administration building will go through a slight revamp and an internal relocation which will free up nearly 3,000 square metres to rent. The new layout won't just reduce UU’s housing costs, but also facilitate a new way of working, which the Corporate Office wants to encourage.

Last year, UMC Utrecht knocked on UU’s door to ask whether the university had some room to rent: the medical centre has massive renovation plans and was therefore looking for temporary housing. The university saw potential in the administration building. The 2019 Strategic Housing Plan states that the Corporate Office has too much room, according to current office standards, so it needs to cut back on housing costs. In total, the Corporate Office should cut back on 35 percent of its space.

In the Plan, the university had already expressed its intention to adjust the administration building to the new way Corporate Office employees will work -- partially because the Corporate Office was supposed to leave the building by 2025, when it will be completely depreciated. 

Most Corporate Office employees to lose their designated workspace
What's this new way of working, you may ask? Well, it is "activity-related and irrespective of place". That means that the activities are at the heart of the building's layout, not the employee: there will be rooms for working quietly, working in groups, and meeting rooms. 

The rooms will be meant for two to eight people and there will be no open-plan offices. Each workspace will be a "flex space" with a desk, a monitor, and a laptop docking station. Eack employee will have half a metre of shelf space in a cupboard for work-related objects. Personal belongings should be kept in a locker in the hallway.

The employees who will still have a designated workspace or a room reserved for them include: receptionists, employees who require adapted workspaces, the control room for security, and student psychologists’ consulting rooms.

Currently, the building's layout is based on departments. That's about to change, because more and more Corporate Office employees are working interdepartmentally. To still have a "home base", the building will have "department clouds". The university has not yet revealed who will be housed where.

New reason to accelerate plans
The decision to make these changes has been made recently. Supervisors were informed about it in the first week of February, and the plans were presented to the Corporate Office Council last week. The members were surprised that the building’s interiors will be changed so soon, and wonder whether it’s appropriate to force employees to go back to an office they don't recognise, after the lockdown. Won't they desire to spend more time together in the office, after working from home for so long?

Leon van de Zande, Director of the Corporate Office, reacts that, in general, the desire to work from home has actually increased during the Covid lockdown. Martine van de Kerkhof, from Human Resources, adds that, according to a TNO survey, a quarter of the employees has indicated that they want to keep working from home after the pandemic ends, and 45 percent of them would like to work from home some of the time. “They go to the office to meet each other,” explains Van de Zande.

Fiona van ‘t Hullenaar, from Corporate Real Estate & Campus, explains that these renovations had been planned for some time. In 2019, in collaboration with the Facility Service Center, her own department was redesigned for this new way of working as a trial project, and the plan was to work on the fifth floor of the Administration building – where the Executive Board works – in 2020. Those plans were put on hold because of Covid, but fast-tracked once the request came from the UMC.

Safety standards and working from home
The Corporate Office Council fears that there will be “some resistance” to the abolishment of designated workspaces. “Besides, some employees will not want to work from home because they don’t have an office space at home. And what about the safety standards for working from home?”

Van de Zande expects some resistance too, but “by listening, involving and informing employees well, we hope to get everyone on board”. Van de Kerkhof, from HR, emphasises that no one will be forced to work from home. “There will be people who come to the office for some peace and quiet. There’s no requirement to work from home. That’s why labour conditions for working from home aren’t needed”.

From now until September
Another question the council asked is how to spread the building's occupancy across the days of the week. “Currently, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the busiest days, when all meeting rooms are occupied. How will that work when there’s less space?”, they asked. Van de Kerkhof expects that problem to solve itself in due time. “The meeting rooms will be equipped with audio-visual resources, so not everyone will have to be present at the office to participate in a meeting. We can have hybrid meetings”. According to the new plan, the building will also have more meeting rooms than it has now, and they will not be exclusive to a certain department.

In addition, the council inquired whether seven months isn’t too short a period to renovate the administration Building. Van ‘t Hullenaar replies that the plan to make all these changes from now until September is realistic because the university already has a lot of experience with similar projects. Moreover, everyone’s working from home now, which means they will not have to relocate anyone temporarily during the constructions. That saves time and effort.

According to the schedule, this month all Corporate Office employees will be sent a questionnaire inquiring what features they would like a workspace to have and what they expect from their work pattern. The answers will inform the revamp plans, with a definitive decision to be made in May.

After that, employees will have to come to the office in June and July – following all the corona rules, of course – to clean up and clear out. The actual renovation and relocation are scheduled for August. The administration building should be ready by September to welcome all its employees once more. By the way, the new design is not corona-proof: the university is assuming that the availability of vaccines will make all special measures redundant after the summer.

The area that will be let to the UMC is the small part of the building situated at the Universiteitsweg, comprising the first to fourth floors. That means that Security and Health & Safety can stay on the ground floor and the Executive Board can remain on the fifth floor, but those decisions aren't set in stone yet.

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