2. Work/Home – The Pivot: online

The Pivot: online

Mothering Sunday
Dear Diary – Mothering Sunday 2020– Quite ironic as this is the day to acknowledge what mothers do, a day of rest for mums! Not for me and this day reflects how little respect my job offers me and how much they expect us to go above and beyond.  On the Thursday before, we were told to work from home, then on the Friday an email came to say we would be teaching live via Teams and it was work as normal. I had no idea how to use Teams to teach from home and my own laptop was slow. How was this going to work? Our manager then emailed us to say she had a cough so would be isolating for two weeks. She put an out of office message on and disappeared. Great! So Mothering Sunday was spent with my team of teachers trying to test live lessons, how to display PowerPoint during a live lesson and telling each other how annoyed we were at the lack of support. We worked it out, we always work things out in our team.  We said right, let’s set up a little Teams stream, we’ll have regular little Team chats with each other and actually we became very close online.  We became more friends online.   There was a blurring of professional boundaries but we learnt so much about each other, you know, and about our families and we made sure that we had regular catch-ups, we called ourselves The Dream Team. #8

A slow-motion Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
My home broadband is dismal.  I found it incredibly frustrating that, when I reported this to my employers as a reason for my failure to engage fully in Teams meetings, I was offered a new laptop.  BT came out, dug up the back street, and then acknowledged that there is a problem but not one they can fix.  The picturesque tree-lined streets of my part of town are supported by a network of underground roots that seem to create havoc with telecom cables.  The best I can do is to move from my study at the top of the house to the dining room, which is where the router is located.  The table isn’t much use for anything else during interminable lockdowns, and the view is rather restricted.  To mix things up a bit, I move around the table to a different seat every now and then, like a slow-motion Mad Hatter’s tea party.  #12

Managing the team
We were trying to work together to pivot our provision and to work out how to solve this problem. And a more different bunch of folk you couldn’t gather together. Some people were quite energised by the technological challenge, and really got stuck in and rose to it, and were very positive, and didn’t want to cancel anything, so, you know, “We’ll just do it all online.” And I was like, “Hang on a minute, what if one of us gets ill? We need to have cover plans in place.” That was certainly something in my thoughts at the beginning, that we might have to accommodate greater absence. I’ve got two colleagues with primary aged kids, who are also married to other academics, so was mindful of what was going on in those houses around who’d be picking up the slack, you know, sharing that. And I was aware that people have different speeds at coping with change. So yeah, just trying to accommodate that.   #7

Hours of failed attempts
At the start, official guidance encouraged us to “do what we can” and that “live recording of lectures” is acceptable, but for me as someone with teaching in their job title, I felt like I really had to follow the pedagogical research. Unfortunately, the only examples to follow were those online – from teachers whose skills in production quality far exceeded my own. This meant hours of failed attempts and what felt like a lowering of my expectations throughout the module. I felt a great pressure than ever before to ‘perform well’ in module evaluation questionnaires (which were in the end very supportive of the module) and – when promotion in teaching is aligned very closely with awards and ‘recognition’ of good teaching – it felt that ‘doing what I could’ would be falling very short of expectations of me as an ECR with a desire for promotion. Over the summer, part of me thought I should be making hay whilst the sun shines – so pre-recording videos, preparing for writing for talks, creating supporting documents for changes to teaching if needs be. But then when do we fit in research and writing? Last summer was almost entirely spent on teaching. This year, I’m was looking forward to spending time on research. Now, the first day back (at least nominally) and I’ve not achieved any of the writing goals I set at the beginning of the holiday.  #14

Make-up and a ‘teaching shirt’
I used a flipped-classroom technique. This meant videos – lots and lots of videos. By time the 11 weeks of the module were over there were over 70hrs of recorded classes (some live seminar style, some pre-recorded lecture format). The focus on videos meant hours spent learning how to record quality videos; purchasing of specialist equipment, finding the best spot for lighting and sound, learning about captioning and accessibility requirements, not to mention redeveloping lecture material from 2hr classes into 3 short 15 min clips (the research recommendation). I also bought makeup and a ‘teaching shirt’. I became aware of my appearance in a way that I wasn’t when teaching ‘live’ – suddenly my face was up close and personal and I felt I needed an eyebrow pencil (something I’ve never owned).  #14

(Not) stretching my legs
First on the calendar today was a 7am meeting with one of our sites overseas. I don’t mind getting up at this time to do my fitness classes, which are followed by a nice coffee that sets me up for my work day to start at 8:30. However, starting the day off with a meeting, which kept me up the night before worrying that I hadn’t prepped enough, knocked me out of kilter for the rest of the day. I also had another 3 meetings coming up later on in the day, and unfortunately they were also meetings that I couldn’t just turn my video and mic off and trawl through my emails. I understand now when people first started to use the term ‘Zoom fatigue’ as I felt myself losing motivation hour by hour throughout the day. I have found it hard today to keep a healthy work/life balance as I haven’t not been able to give myself the regular breaks where I would get up and go for a walk, so no time away from the screen. I totally understand that work will throw these curve balls and that what I love about the job that not everyday is the same. I just wish I could cope with them better. If I was in the office I would have face to face meetings (no screen), walking to and from each meeting (time away from my desk and getting to stretch my legs), and being able to be around people that are also going through similar days so you don’t feel like you’re doing it on your own.  #17

Speaking out into the ether
When you’re talking to people, you get energy from the other person’s reactions, and if you’re getting no reactions then it’s unbelievably draining, I found. And I think others that I’ve spoken to have found that too, that talking at a blank screen is just – somebody said to me halfway through last year, “You should think of it like a radio show.” And that helped a little bit. But otherwise, it’s just like speaking out into the ether and you’re like, “Where is this going? Are they understanding? Are they not understanding? Is this interesting? Is it not?   #14

Seen and heard?
You have to communicate differently on this medium. In a meeting, how do you make yourself seen and heard?  I think I have to be even more concise and to the point, and know what the intention is, what the point is I’m trying to make and get to it pretty quickly  So, we have lots of check-in meetings with the external funders and it’s very different, you know, the politics of that, what you can and can’t say, when you can’t say.  So, I’ve done a lot of observing and watching how my colleagues handle that space as well, and that’s been really useful.  I’m one of those who intuits by being around people.  I get way more information than what people are saying.  So, that’s how I work.  It’s trickier on this medium, but, again, you’re more conscious that it’s quite a powerful medium as well, a lot more to the point, and I feel like I have to say more than perhaps I would have to say if we were sat actually around a table.  #15

Missing random chats
I struggled with sudden removal of the support I had been getting from the PGR community on campus.   Although I attended online sessions that were provided by the Doctoral College and spoke to fellow PGRs via email, text and Zoom, I missed the casual interactions I had been having with friends and colleagues on campus. As time went on I found that other people had struggled with the same thing, missing “those random chats that you have at the water cooler or whilst you’re waiting for the photocopier”. I found it hard to adjust to a working life where everything had to be timetabled, even if you just wanted to chat to a colleague it had to be planned in and a Teams invite had to be sent.  #28

Collegiality and community building
With the move to online working, or remote working, it takes a lot more effort, and that’s echoed in the teaching – it takes a lot more effort to design teaching that is suitable for an online setting. It also takes a lot more effort to be a good colleague, so to turn up to things, to engage in things, to ask questions at events, to be willing to present your research at events, to just create a sense of collegiality. Even like Teams, to post on Teams little updates, to make, you know, questions to your colleagues, or responding to questions to colleagues – and I can definitely see a gender difference there. And it’s much like with other service roles, women are taking on the bulk of that collegiality and community building, and also the responding to students– so, the number of women who were at the teaching meetings we held were much, much higher than the number of men. The people that come to coffee mornings or come to breakout sessions tend to be women. And it’s not necessarily that they don’t have stuff on. It’s that they’re coming to these meetings.  In our school as much as with lots of schools, definitely women take on the bulk of the service roles, and service has been a big area of increased workload.  #14

Ongoing pressure
With my own research I have been through a very turbulent and challenging year, attempting to collect data. Initially, naïve though it might have been, I was under the illusion that as long as I moved my data collection online I would be able to continue as planned. I had no idea of the continued closures and the impact this would have on me trying to recruit participants. My project has had to go through multiple changes as more and more avenues to recruit participants were closed off to me and this resulted in three amendments to my initial ethics application. I have finally got to a point where, though the data I have collected is by no means a perfect data set, I have enough to be able to begin working on the analysis of it. There have been many times where I have lost faith in the project and considered the possibility that I would not be able to finish it but, as a fully funded student, I had the ongoing pressure of needing to produce something for the university to justify the funding at the end of it.   #28