4. New/Normal? – Future flexibility

Working flexibly in the future?
I think maybe one thing that has come out has been around allowing people flexibility and what that does in terms of productivity and all of that. I know Gavin Williamson today was talking about academics have to get back to work and there’s this big drive isn’t there across all areas of equality, it has an impact doesn’t it if you’re saying that to people. I mean I like to think universities will be able to move past that and think a bit more creatively now about how people work and what work actually means.   #2

A more efficient way of using your time?
I think there are loads of things that we could have brought forward to the return that would have actually made it more comfortable to feel that you were being encouraged to use some of the things you had learnt. Like, I’ve got a practical job, but there are lots of parts of my job that can be done from home and during teaching time. Obviously, I need to be in the lab if we’ve got students coming in, but, planning, organising, timetabling, scheduling, all those things could be done at home once a month or whatever as a catch up with little distraction which is a much more efficient way of using your time.   #26

A definite silver lining
I began a new role at a different university in September 2020, but so far have still not been there at all, nor met any of my colleagues in person. Seen a lot of them over Teams though! When I first took up the role, everyone was still fairly optimistic about a return to ‘normal’ by the end of 2020, and the agreement was that I would commute Mon-Wed, and then work from home Thurs-Fri. So far, although the campus will be reopening this coming September, there has been no specific talk of whether this expectation will now remain for me, given all that has changed in the world. I am anticipating that the expectation will be reduced, given that most people are now seeking more home-based working arrangements. This is my hope – that I can go less often; maybe just once a fortnight – since it will save me lots of money and make it much easier to carry on balancing family life. The culture shift to more homeworking is a definite silver lining of the pandemic for me, given that it shelved the commuting thing for a whole year, and has probably meant it will be much less expected in the long run too.   #22

Cake and eating it!
So in some ways it’s better that it’s thrown it open and that now there is that flexibility – and I don’t want it to go back to expecting me to sit at my desk for eight hours a day because it’s not the most productive way of being, is it, just sitting at a computer. So yes, I am full of conflict over it, I’d like my cake and when I’ve eaten it, I’d like there still to be a cake there, please. So I’d like all the flexibility, I’d like my evenings and I’d like my kids to be happy.   #13

This juggle of… “Well I’ll be more efficient if I do this piece of work at home and then I come onto campus but then the kids are going to be home from school so how am I going to juggle making sure that they’re doing what they need to do after school?” This kind of spatial differentiation has… yeah, it’s just taken on a whole other level of complexity, just trying to juggle that time and space that we’re not factoring in movement between places. That sense that you can have back to back meetings was fine when you were just sitting at your desk all the time, but even today having to move from a cafe on campus to my office for another meeting, I hadn’t factored in the fact it’s ten minutes to walk from one place to another, I’d certainly not factored in it was going to take me thirty or forty minutes to drive to campus. And so having to reprogramme to think about time and distance and space in a different way again is going to take a wee bit of adjusting to.   #21

How do we get back the good bits?
I don’t know how we get back the good bits but make it more inclusive for people and for women and for people with caring responsibilities. I mean it would be nice to see more conferences with creches and childcare facility, and universities who were willing to pay the child travel costs as well as the parental costs of going. So, I don’t know how we deal with the mobility issues in a way that is fairer. It’s really highlighted that for me. In the same way with, you know, timetabling and when they expect people to be on campus. It’s very much this is what we need to do, this is what you’re doing when, with very little consideration of what if you do have health issues or you’ve got caring responsibilities. As ever, it’s rather one sided.   #1



Participants’ accounts
What the university did
The return
Future flexibility