Post-pandemic working

I started writing this post about a month ago when the UK started “opening up” and I also reflected on this in my other post after attending a physical day on campus.

Much has been made over the past few weeks of the UK “opening up” again as pubs reopen and shops. We embraced the first change by having a family day out (the first one really this year and since last October) to London Zoo. Despite the inclination to hide in the house it was actually fun to get out and about. The children loved it, the Zoo was not too busy, public transport was not scary, the weather was glorious. It reminded us all of life “before” and that this will come again, albeit with some changes and adjustments.

I have been thinking and talking a lot about returning to work and what that looks like. Although universities cannot do any on campus teaching (with the exception of practical subjects) until May 17th, there are things that we can do over the summer to support our students. What does this mean for staff? What kind of things do we want do to? Will this be another transition period or a return to “new normal”?

I also attended a webinar run by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership on new ways of working and the return to physical workplaces post-pandemic. The point of the webinar was that unless we handle this return sensitivity and carefully we will increase inequalities in the workplace that have already been exacerbated by the pandemic. The full report is available and issues some salutary lessons for all of us in workplaces, especially those in managerial and leadership positions. This also relates to an article I recently read in the Guardian about the privilege of working at home and how only about 25% of people were working from home over the last year. I was quite shocked by this as the majority of people I know are working at home, this was a stark reminder of the bubble I am in and the difference between this and the reality for many. The webinar from GIWL recommended the following key points for organisations:

  • Have a clear vision of how you wish people to work, what you support and how you will enact it
  • Be inclusive, put this at the heart of your vision
  • Make sure no groups left behind. Relating to the above, how can we ensure that in hybrid working policies everyone’s voices are heard and everyone’s situations are recognised?
  • Think of your mission. What is the mission and purpose of your organisation and then how does your hybrid working policy support this. For me, this is key for universities – our first priority should be how can we support our students, what do they want in terms of hybrid learning? and then how can we create the vision and working conditions for staff that will enable this? It is about partnership and communication.
  • Think of those who cannot work from home – how can we accommodate them? Again this is key for universities in relation to students and their learning environments too.
  • What changes will we need to put in place in the physical workplace to enable hybrid working? Open plan offices may be very difficult for running meetings that are online and there may be a space shortage if social distancing continues. How can we design our workplaces to enable the things that people value in their physical offices eg connection and social interaction, creative space and areas for deep work?
  • Do better for parents and carers. A key message was we must to better for parents and carers, who are already impacted negatively by the pandemic. I would look at this in relation to all groups. What can we put in place that will actively support the lives of our staff in a positive way. Flexible working can be great for parents and carers but we need to listen and be responsive.

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