Sian Minett is Director, Estates Portfolio & Business Services at UCL [University College London] Estates, where she leads teams with responsibility for supporting business transformation and day to day services for support services to estates professional teams and customer services across the university. UCL Estates manages all aspects of the organisation’s estate and facilities infrastructure, from strategic to the operational, and is embarking on an extensive building and refurbishment programme to transform the estate. This transformation aims to create sustainable spaces that meet UCL’s world-class aspirations and inspire the entire community. Sian is a member of the university’s Estates Leadership Team, and she was recently nominated for a UCL staff award, which was recognised at an event held on International Women’s Day.
“…There is much more of a buzz about the office now and – acknowledging that there is still a little way to go – the environment feels much more collaborative…”
My career in estates
I began my career as a town planner but rapidly came to the conclusion that this wasn’t the right career for me. By chance I moved into general management in the higher education sector and have worked in a variety of roles in academic departments, faculties and most recently within UCL [University College London] Estates. Most of my roles have involved an estates component – client side building management; managing operational building services; overseeing refurbishments; space strategy development. My first role in UCL Estates was a combination of building management and change management which was right up my street!
Varied and challenging
My role is extremely varied and challenging and no two days are the same – which I love. My directorate includes Business Support Services to the professional teams in the division; portfolio and programme management functions; planning and governance, along with the customer facing activities of UCL’s Helpdesk function, timetabling, room bookings and event management.
As part of the Estates Leadership Team a lot of my time is spent leading change and improvement projects and programmes: UCL is embarking on a £1.2billion+ capital programme and – as a division – we are part way through a programme of strategic transformation initiatives to professionalise the way we work for the benefit of our customers.
Agile working and the way it is used at UCL
Agile working at UCL means removing desk ownership and giving people the tools to work effectively at any location – be it in the office at a desk or breakout area, at a café or at home. Agile working is at an early stage at UCL. It was introduced across UCL’s Professional Services divisions in 2015 with the acquisition of a new building. Teams moving in to the building adopted agile working practices and procedures.
The benefits for individuals and the division include the ability to work flexibly (in terms of space and time) and to improve interactions between staff – for example, the ability to bring together project teams or simply to get to know colleagues in other departments better as a result of no desk ownership.
There is much more of a buzz about the office now and – acknowledging that there is still a little way to go – the environment feels much more collaborative. The benefits for the institution include improved space utilisation which has improved incrementally without anyone really noticing as our headcount has increased!
Smart Cities shaping the agile working agenda
The estate is UCL’s biggest cost after staff and we continue to grow, with further growth in both our core Bloomsbury Campus, at our new campus at UCL East in Stratford and at a number of other sites around London.
Overlaying property costs in London, along with challenging carbon reduction targets for higher education institutions, means that it is essential that all space is optimised and used as efficiently as possible. For us this includes a whole range of measures including building on agile working, improving space utilisation, delivering infrastructure projects to reduce carbon, ensuring that refurbishments and new builds strive for the highest sustainability ratings and that this can be sustained over the building lifecycle.
We need to work across the institution to reduce or minimise the carbon impact of academic activities – particularly given the amount of science, engineering and biomedical teaching and research at UCL, which often need lots of space and power hungry kit. We also work in close partnership with local authorities – as well as with academic departments – in respect of traffic management and cycle parking initiatives.
Changing the male dominated culture in estate management
Estates is a male dominated environment although there are differences between disciplines. For example, women are well represented across project management and estates strategy but still in the minority across engineering and maintenance.
I’ve been the only woman on a leadership team for some time. However, throughout my career I have benefitted from having a number of fantastic female line managers who have been both great role models and an inspiration to me. As you’d expect from the university that was the first to admit women on equal terms with men back in 1878, UCL has a range of initiatives to promote and work towards gender equality.
Participation in Athena SWAN is significant across UCL and there are some really good ‘grass roots’ initiatives such as UCL Astrea, which is a network for women in professional services roles at UCL. Leadership comes from the very top at UCL with the Provost [university head] highly visible and driving the equalities agenda.
I was proud to have been nominated recently for Presence and Absence, which was a collaboration between the UCL Equalities and Diversity team, The Girl at the Door and the UCL Institute for Women’s Health, which explored the presence and absence of women at UCL. To mark International Women’s Day 2016, an exhibition explored what roles and spaces the first women at UCL occupied,and how this has changed since 1878. We celebrated the diversity of UCL’s current female staff and students today. I was one of over 200 women – and one of three from UCL Estates – nominated for encouraging or inspiring others.
Ambitious and unprecedented
My current priority is a major programme of work to transform UCL’s approach to timetabling and room booking, and to improve the quality and quantity of teaching space to ensure that the services we provide best support the student experience.
This is also a major priority for both UCL Estates and indeed UCL. More generally, delivering the ambitious and unprecedented capital programme – along with a broad range of transformation programmes – are a key enabler to the successful delivery of UCL’s 2034 Strategy.
UCL image credit: LordHarris at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons