National Work Life Week takes place from 11 – 15 October 2021. It is Working Families’ annual campaign aimed at getting both employers and employees talking about wellbeing at work and work-life balance. Remote working over the last eighteen months has seen dramatic changes in the way we work. This in turn has impacted wellbeing and work-life balance. Numerous research projects have explored this topic particularly in relation to equality, productivity and wellbeing. More recently, this exploration has focused on how we work going forward, including specifically in the Higher Education Sector. In this blog we will share some research highlights and reflections from working families at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
The impact of Covid-19
In terms of academic research, the impact has been multifaceted and impacting most researchers in some way. However, some groups have been disproportionately impacted. This has, for example, exacerbated gender inequality in academia particularly in terms of research outputs. While the Sharing the Caring report, which focused on professional services staff and how unpaid labour had been split between co-habiting partners, highlighted potential differential impact on career progression. There has also been differential impact in relation job security particularly, for example, for those on precarious contracts.
Some of these themes have been carefully and visually represented through this #5SurviveLockdown graphic novella; the culmination of research conducted into the experiences of university staff living and working through the first UK COVID-19 lockdown.
There have been some positives!
Increased engagement and productivity levels through remote working have been reported – though again differentially. For example, women experienced increased engagement in meetings (internal and external), conferences, and career development activities. Men were more likely to report that remote working had helped them engage with their research. Further, experiences were context dependent. Factors such as adequate workspace significantly contributing to how respondents rated the opportunities presented by remote working.
During the last eighteen months, an active Parent and Carers network has developed at the LSHTM. Some parents and carers share thoughts below on the positives from remote working and what they’d like to see continue.
“Being trusted by my team and line manager to get the work done in my own way/time and being judged more on outputs rather than arbitrarily having to be ‘present’ from 9-5.”
“Being able to see your kids before and after work. (Seeing the kids during work alongside home schooling is not something I would relish again though!).“
“Being able to facilitate your child joining after school activities or not have to worry about the fact that there is no local after school care after 5pm…. alongside worrying about train delays or cancelation. Essentially greater flexibility in balancing work and life”
“Being able to attend webinars that are often late afternoon / evening – and family being able to join too!”
“It would be good to keep some of the caring and support feelings that we experienced during lockdowns. Working across different time zones to connect and collaborate with colleagues overseas and being able to still network with colleagues, just in a different way”
“As we have had to work remotely (Microsoft Teams) has facilitated being able to join groups of people that we would not necessarily have thought of doing while at Keppel Street, e.g. Greenfingers to share knowledge and stories, it is across all levels and adds to well-being.”
“Staff may have previously worried the badge of carer would adversely affect how they’re perceived professionally, but the newfound flexibility for many hopefully means you can be both a great carer and a great employee without having to compromise your work or home life”
Looking to the future – new ways of working
The research findings, also reflected in these comments, all implicate on considerations going forward, in order to support greater inclusion. Suggestions include adopting a hybrid approach to meetings, open and transparent communications regarding grant, presentation or media opportunities and promotion processes and provision of workspace adaptable to staff needs.
In response to sector demand, Advance HE’s Hybrid Higher: Hybrid working and leadership in higher education report explores ‘hybrid working’ questions that many of us are asking. It provides food for thought on how we approach this with intentionality to ensure fairness and equity.