Adapting to the new 'normal': reflections and aspirations from working for CoSS in the era of COVID-19

By Angela Storer – Head of Operations, School of Social Policy and CoSS Professional Services lead for People and Culture

Organisational Culture is often described at a very basic level as “the way we do things around here” – but where is “here” now?  And what will “here” look like in September and beyond?

I’m sure that I’m not alone in saying that even at the end of February 2020, I had no idea what was about to hit us. I would never have expected that at the end of June we would only be tentatively emerging from a national lockdown or that we would still be working remotely.  For once, I am glad not to have pre-cognitive abilities.  I think the prospect of knowing what was ahead would have made aspects of the last 3 months much more difficult.  Simply the thought of having to watch the same CBeebies series on repeat to keep an 18 month old quiet whilst I attend another Zoom meeting would have been enough to tip me over the edge!

Every single one of us has faced significant challenges in adapting to remote working. Work aside, we have experienced a vastly reduced sense of personal freedom to do the most basic things that give us those much-needed morale boosts to get us through tough times.  Despite this, we have achieved an incredible amount and have learnt a lot about what we as individuals and more collectively as a College and broader organisation are capable of.  We have responded positively to huge challenges in moving teaching materials online, delivering virtual open day events and research seminars, applying for record levels of research funding, responding to the Educational Resilience Framework, preparing for a vastly different new academic year and ensuring that we are able to graduate students this summer.  All of this and much more on top of delivering the “day job”, and all in the context of significant uncertainty.

Something that I have been reflecting on as we begin to think about phasing back to campus is what all of this means for us in future.   I know for many this has been an incredibly stressful time and there are limits to how long we can sustain this pace.  There are examples of good practice that we will want to take forward and elements that we will not want to repeat. I’m keen to understand what is it that has meant that despite all of the above, we have remained committed to what we do within the University and to supporting our colleagues?  How have we achieved so much in such a short space of time in the midst of so much uncertainty and change? 

Personally, I have found the trust and flexibility afforded to me to balance my work and childcare commitments have supported me to continue to be effective in an extremely demanding role.  I have heard similar reflections from colleagues across the College. Members of the CoSS Professional Services Senior Management Team are keen to ensure that all of the positives are captured and built upon, whatever our physical location may be.  We recognise that it won’t all be positive of course and so would value your ideas on how things could be improved based on your experiences.

That’s why in July, we will be holding three sessions (on Zoom, of course!) which seek to explore this topic in more detail, imaginatively titled “What has remote working taught us? And what does it mean for our Positive Working Environment?”.  There will be an introduction to the “Positive Working Environment” followed by an opportunity for all attendees to work in small groups to feedback and input their ideas.  You can find more information including the dates of the sessions here.  The sessions won’t be about providing all of the answers but will be about using your input to shape how we do what we do in future.

Don’t worry if you are not able to attend any of the sessions on offer.  You can email me directly (a.l.storer@bham.ac.uk) with any thoughts or invite me along to one of your team meetings to talk a little more about this and the People and Culture project more generally.

I’ll leave you with the following questions:

  • What one thing from remote working would you like to see become a part of the “new normal” for the College?
  • What have you learnt about what you are capable of and what will you do differently as a result in future?

Colleges

Professional Services