Staff at Coventry University have had an easier cultural transition to home working than some organisations, thanks to their long-standing habit of holding virtual town hall meetings over Microsoft Teams, following a move to O365 two years ago.
Steve Humber, CIO at Coventry University, told Computing that these meetings finish in an unusual way.
"At the end of the presentations we tell everyone to unmute themselves and clap one another," said Humber. "When you hear 175 people clapping online, it's pretty uplifting," he added.
Humber also tells his direct reports in the IT department to ensure they persist with 1-2-1 meetings with their staff.
"And I tell them to make sure the first five to ten minutes is non-work chit chat. Everyone has something unique that they do, and it's important to find a common bond. I insist that my executive staff know their people, that's part of the high-performance cultural agenda."
He explains that this isn't a common philosophy in the higher education sector.
"It's not something that's always there. It's about understanding others' perspectives and what their filters are. It's about working well with others and fostering teamwork. Do you truly understand the shadow a leader casts over the team, and how that makes them accountable?"
He explained that part of the agenda is also about focus.
"I also talk about being here now. If you're at work, be at work, and make that your focus. If you're not, focus on your family or social life, don't think about work.
"It's also about managing your energy, especially when you're working from home. It's not about the number of hours you're doing, it's energy not time management. And working on Teams all day can be sapping."
With the introduction of O365 came a whole suite of new tools. Humber said that some staff joked they were too old to learn how to use them.
"Some people made a joke about their age, saying they were too old to use new tools. So I pushed back and explained that this is the way we work now, and it's not difficult. You do need to coach some who are uncomfortable with the new tools. But they do have to use them, and use them properly."
Humber puts the relative ease of the transition to remote working in part down to his history as a competitive speed skater.
"As an athlete you plan a race six months ahead. You have a long training programme, with lots of ups and downs before you reach the long-term goal. You have to respond to those downs to get back up, and keep focusing on that race or competition.
"But also in my sport once you get to the competition it's held over three days, and you race 16 or so times. If you screw up on the first race you can't go and lick your wounds, you have to respond immediately at the next race. So it's all about rebounding quickly. Things will happen, it's how you respond and keep focused on what you're trying to achieve that sets you apart."
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