Our residence front desk team in Vancouver is a critical part of our support for residents 365 days a year.
Operating ten residence front desks, which provide services for 15 residence areas and over 13,000 students, front desk staff support residents by answering inquiries via phone, email and in-person, assisting residents who are locked out of their building or room, managing games room equipment, sorting the mail—along with an increasing volume of packages—and through a variety of administrative services. Plus, they call for emergency assistance and connect residents with on-call Residence Life staff when needed.

The challenge

Alongside, and exacerbated by, the immense challenges of COVID-19, this team has experienced additional challenges over the past several years maintaining consistent service and staffing levels.

For many years, Residence Life and Administration (RL&A) has operated in-residence front desks 24 hours a day, seven days a week—a rare service among student housing operations across North America.

However, with our significant growth to meet student housing demand, the changing labour market, the housing crisis across the Lower Mainland, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a variety of other factors, the current service model has become less sustainable over time, sometimes resulting in unplanned overnight front desk closures or reduced staff on shift during peak daytime periods, plus an increased burden on our current staff.

“A change of this size and complexity is not easy, and I appreciate the hard work, understanding and contributions of everyone involved. With this new service model in place starting in August, I am pleased that we’ll be able to start off the upcoming year in a position to provide more consistent, reliable support for all of our residents.” — Carol Young, Associate Director, Residence Life, Service Development & Operations

The solution

Staff in RL&A have worked hard over the past year to develop a thoughtful and sustainable model that will continue to provide services to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but without the escalating challenges associated with operating in-person front desks overnight.

The new service model involves the introduction of overnight mobile teams, plus a compressed four-day work week for the front desk staff.

Exchange residence at night seen from the terrace level

Overnight mobile teams

Starting this August, mobile teams of staff hired specifically to provide services between 11 pm and 7 am will be available to students living in all our residence areas. These overnight mobile teams, led by a new Manager, Overnight Mobile Unit Services, will maintain an active presence in and around residence areas on foot and by vehicle.

Residents who need overnight support will be able to contact our mobile staff via dedicated phone numbers and, if needed, a mobile team member will be dispatched to help the resident out. For example, if a student locks themselves out during the night, an overnight mobile team member will drive over to let them into their residence.

Campus Security will also continue to patrol residence areas overnight and, alongside University RCMP, is available in case of emergencies.

In certain circumstances, as before, students may also reach out to the Residence Advisor who is on overnight duty for their residence. Residence Advisors and Residence Life Managers are trained in addressing issues of student wellbeing and can respond appropriately in cases of concern.

Ahead of these changes taking effect, we will be communicating with current and incoming students, including providing more detail about the situations in which they might contact either the overnight mobile team or their on-call Residence Advisor. Of course, in cases of confusion, a student will be redirected or transferred in a timely and professional manner.

A residence front desk staff member helping a student in qʷta:yθən leləm̓ (Sturgeon House) at tə šxʷhəleləm̓s tə k̓ʷaƛ̓kʷəʔaʔɬ student residence.

Compressed four-day work week for front desk staff

The introduction of overnight mobile teams means a change for our current front desk staff, who are on a regular shift rotation that currently includes overnight shifts.

As of August 1, our residence front desks will begin operating from 7 am to 11 pm each day, with commonsblock spaces and front desks closed overnight, and our current front desk staff will only be asked to work shifts during those daytime and evening hours.

Front Desk staff will also move to a new schedule of compressed four-day work weeks, with 10.5-hour long shifts each day, rather than five-day work weeks with standard eight-hour long shifts.

Consultation and approvals for these changes have been extensive, involving significant consultation with CUPE 116, UBC HR and UBC executive. Additionally, Residence Life has discussed the changes with our current front desk staff.

Importantly, as part of this change, we will see a significant increase in the number of full-time ongoing positions for front desk staff—from 26 to 60—and we will also maintain eight regular part-time positions, in addition to the eight new full-time overnight mobile team positions.

UBC is one of the largest providers of student housing in North America, and we take pride in being one of the few university residence teams to provide 24/7 services to students, which will be continued under our new service model.