How the C-19 lockdown has affected the work-life balance of BU academics (Part 5): lessons learned

As the week ends, we would like to close this series of blogs by sharing with you some of the lessons we believe can be learned from the experiences of 70 BU colleagues who completed our survey. Many thanks to all who have already contributed to this research. The results we have presented so far are only part of the data. The survey will remain open until the end of May, when we will then analyse all responses to improve our understanding of the impact of the C-19 lockdown on academics across the UK and beyond. If you have not yet contributed to this survey, you are kindly invited to do so here: tiny.cc/acad19, and please do share with your networks. This is a cross-faculty (FHSS and FST) collaboration conducted by an interdisciplinary team with expertise in social sciences (Prof Sara Ashencaen Crabtree), public health (Prof Ann Hemingway) and physical geography (Dr Luciana Esteves).

Lesson learned 1. The complementarity of the quantitative and qualitative data.
The quantitative data helped identifying the factors that are affecting the largest number of respondents and where there are contrasting views or experiences between groups of respondents. The qualitative data provided insights into how the factors have affected the respondents and why, particularly on specific personal circumstances and other aspects that were not included in the closed-ended questions. This research would be deficient without one or the other.

Lesson learned 2. Working from home is bringing compounded benefits to the majority and is something that is wished to remain as an option in the longer term.
You can find some insights about the benefits identified by respondents at the end of blog Part 2. Academics are not alone in wishing for flexibility to work remotely to continue after lockdown and some employers have already surveyed their employees preferences as they start planning for reshaping their office spaces.

Lesson learned 3. Some negative aspects of working from home will subside when lockdown restrictions are reduced but others will persist.
These are some examples:

  • Less pressure from balancing family and work needs when schools re-open; home-care support can resume; when social distancing measures allow some more interaction with family and friends (even if just a small number)
  • Inadequate workspace at home may persist due to space and/or financial difficulties in making adjustments to transform home shared spaces into quiet workspaces.

Lesson learned 4. Online teaching is seeing as positive by some and negative by others (see blog Part 2).
Part of the negative effect was due to the increased workload resulting from the fast pace in which adjustments needed to be made, sometimes under duress of lack of experience/training (including how to use software/tools) and/or inadequate equipment. Considerations of how to provide training and sharing of good practices are likely to be beneficial to some staff.

Lesson learned 5. The increased inequities that are arising from the rapid changes in the academic environment.
Conditions are wide ranging when the workspace is each one’s home. Some are perfectly suited or can be well adjusted, others were never meant to be. Identifying and supporting the staff who need to work from an office outside their home becomes crucial and urgent. Other long-standing inequities have been aggravated during lockdown (see blog Part 4), including but not limited to gender bias, with strong consequences to research.

Lesson learned 6. A fresh management approach is needed to address these emerging inequities.
Providing the specific support that is needed by staff who have been the most negatively affected should be prioritised to reduce inequities. The resulting short and long-term impacts of lockdown on staff productivity, health and wellbeing need to be taken into consideration in appraisals and career progression decisions.

Lesson learned 7. Most are greatly concerned about workloads and work-life balance when lockdown ends (see blog Part 1).
In addition to addressing emerging inequities, there is considerable concern and opposition to a possible ‘return to normal work’, which has been expressed by respondents (and the academic community at large) as working arrangements and demands affecting productivity and the health and wellbeing of staff.

Lesson learned 8. There is a need to improve communication and guidance from managers to staff dealing with students’ requests and concerns, such as programme leaders.
Managing students’ expectations is a major concern for a large proportion of respondents, more so for specific cohorts or programmes.

Lesson learned 9. Many staff are missing the interaction and support from colleagues.
Identifying ways to promote spontaneous interactions 1-2-1 or in small groups is likely to benefit staff.

Lesson learned 10. Staff wish that their experiences inform decisions and help shaping the ‘new normal’ working environment.
A working group with university management, UCU and senior leadership staff could be formed to co-create and shape the ‘new normal’ and the strategies that can be implemented to reduce emerging and long-standing inequalities.

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