By Dan Hurley, Vice President of Sales - EMS

Like many of you, I have heard from a lot of friends over the past couple of months. People are wanting to re-connect and talk about their experiences during this uncertain time. These friends include many of the outstanding people I have met during my 12 years working with our higher education partners.

We have talked a lot about the significant impact COVID-19 has had on our lives and it has been interesting to learn the various ways folks are coping with the current situation. Many have also shared their opinions on the “new normal” that lies ahead.

For one thing, the transition to working from home has proven successful for many organizations and those I have spoken to feel it will likely be a permanent part of the landscape moving forward.

Additionally, many of our partners have shared the ways they are using EMS to adjust how they are responding and adapting to COVID-19. Some of these include:

  • Leading up to campus closures, our partners leveraged real-time notifications and automated reports to identify events that had 100 attendees, then 50 attendees and finally down to 10 attendees.
  • Despite closing campus, many of our partners are still housing students. They are using EMS to manage the dormitory locations, delivering automated custodial reports to prioritize deep cleaning activities in active areas of campus.
  • Some faculty have not been able to effectively teach from home and some are still actively going to campus to conduct on-line classes. Notifications from the systems are alerting Campus Safety, Risk Management and key staff members to keep safety a priority.
  • Schools are creating virtual buildings and virtual rooms to track the events that are happening online to ensure communication, engagement and visibility.
  • Schools are creating additional Wi-Fi “Hot Spot Spaces” in different areas of campus to help students that may not have optimal home Wi-Fi and are coming to campus for on-line coursework.
  • They have created COVID-19 booking statuses for reporting purposes to identify cancellations and revenue lost due to the crisis.

Things are changing daily and it has been inspiring to see how EMS is helping so many organizations manage through this difficult time.

A New Normal?

Bottom line, the way our education partners communicate, instruct, learn and meet, will change forever. The higher education landscape will look very different when everyone officially returns to campus and we keep hearing different opinions on when that might actually happen.

Many institutions are indeed moving forward with a Fall term, while some institutions are exploring the possibility of a virtual Fall term and a physical return to campuses in Spring 2021. Others are considering a staggered return, sending half of their students back to campus this Fall and the other half remaining virtual; the situation would then be flipped for the Spring term. No matter where things land, everyone will have different expectations related to campus health and safety.

The ‘Great Return’ to Campus

Last week, I spoke with the CIO of a large public university in California – a long-time EMS campus user and a close friend of mine. As the CIO, he has a perspective that covers the entire campus – every college, office and department. I was proud to hear that, even 7 years after implementation at his university, EMS continues to be a mission-critical application for navigating today’s landscape.

With the dynamic path that lies ahead, it was no surprise to hear that his expectations for vendor partners are increasing. His institution will continue to partner with trusted vendors that have detailed business continuity plans, the ability to clearly communicate best practices as needs change and the financial backing to weather this storm together.

He mentioned that his institution is working diligently to prepare for ‘the great return’ and is focused on providing a soft landing for all employees, faculty and students, but there remains a lot of debate on what is needed to address the new normal.

Like many, they do not plan on mandating that all employees return at once, instead staff will return in waves. This could involve some employees moving to permanent work from home status and shift-scheduling other staff. Social distancing parameters for workspaces and common spaces will also be implemented.

This also means that the capacity of classrooms, meeting rooms, etc. will need to be reset to align with new guidelines and policies. And PPE along with additional safety controls will remain paramount in the return. Ultimately, things will just be different this Fall and beyond.

There are so many avenues and ideas that are still be being discussed and the narrative changes daily. Bottom line, schools will make decisions based on data and execute best practices based on local, state federal guidelines to ensure the health and safety of faculty, staff and students.

Evolving Demands for Campus Scheduling Solutions

Not surprisingly, we are seeing new and increased requirements for campus scheduling solutions. My teams have been using this time to connect with clients across the spectrum of higher education institutions and have seen some themes and trends emerge:

  • Depth of functionality and flexibility to meet new requirements is the high-level requirement for any solution moving forward.
  • The demand for a single system of record with real-time visibility into every campus location is only going to increase with the need to make health and safety decisions based on real usage data. It will be critical that the entire campus – academic spaces, event spaces, self-service spaces and workspaces – be represented in a single system.
  • Two-way integration with Student Information Systems is now a must to keep schedules and spaces in sync, despite rapid changes.
  • Campus Health and Safety and Risk Management staff will be key stakeholders in the campus scheduling landscape moving forward. They need a real-time view into all activities and all locations to plan, monitor, approve and make data-driven decisions.
  • Integration with applications across departments – like space scheduling and work order management systems – will bring a necessary efficiency to operations. For example, immediate notifications for cleaning, room closures, safety updates, etc. will enable custodial and facilities staff with instant information to act when a space requires cleaning, keeping “down time” for spaces to a minimum.
  • The likely increase in restrictions on how and when space is used increases the need for student engagement solutions to have direct integration with the scheduling platform. This will allow students, Risk Management and other key staff to stay informed and work together efficiently on requests and approvals.

A Renewed Focus on Campus Workspaces

One of the bigger changes on campus will be related to employee and faculty workspaces. Workspaces and departmentally-controlled conference rooms have always been an outlier on campuses.

Historically, there has been no visibility into occupancy and utilization of these spaces. This will be a different story moving forward. They have had several meetings recently on best practices moving forward related to workspaces and his observations included:

  • The concept of employee open seating (or “free address” locations) will not be part of the new landscape. Scheduling platforms need to provide robust hoteling features to make these shared workspaces reservable and will need to include features like check-in/check-out, floor maps and wayfinding to provide healthy workspaces and drive important sanitation activities. Hoteling features will also address and enforce safe distancing requirements. This will start with employee spaces but could also roll into study spaces and other self-service locations on campus.
  • Many departmentally-owned conference rooms and auxiliary spaces are booked in Microsoft Outlook. These spaces and the associated activities must be in the campus scheduling platform moving forward to provide the ‘one system of the truth’ view for campus safety. The scheduling platform must have a bi-directional integration with calendaring solutions like Microsoft Outlook to allow seamless booking from within those applications.
  • Remote work – that is, working from home – is here to stay in higher education. Every meeting will have a hybrid element moving forward. Platforms will need to have out of the box integrations with collaboration tools like Teams, Zoom and Webex to provide a frictionless experience for all on-site and remote participants.
  • Usage of digital signage will be expanded to help communicate when high traffic spaces are needing cleaning, awaiting cleaning or closed for cleaning activities. Visual indicators will play a huge role moving forward.

Looking Forward

No one has a crystal ball to see the future, nor can we predict where additional challenges may present themselves. Having access to the right tools and data will be paramount in this evolving landscape. Unlike the basic room scheduling solutions, EMS remains an even better partner to higher education institutions in this landscape because of its robust capabilities.

The same room resource scheduling platform that is utilized by over 800 higher education clients is also utilized by the some of the largest corporations in the world, including several of the largest consulting firms that are leading the charge in workplace strategy, technology and personnel engagement. Our corporate clients have developed best practices for the ‘great return’ with standard functionality in EMS and will provide immediate value to our higher education clients in helping to address expanded use cases for your campus spaces.

The COVID-19 response needs to be about people and providing everyone – employees and students – with a soft landing when they return to campus. I would love to hear your ideas and learn more about how your institution is preparing for the return to your campus. Please reach out to me or your account executive with any additional ideas, comments or questions on your approach.

We will be hosting a series of webinars over the next few weeks to discuss best practices and trends that are developing. Click here for additional details and to register to attend.