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Our hybrid working approach

Our team has been experimenting with a hybrid approach in working for the last few months. This has involved combining working from home, as we all have been doing for about a year and a half, and a gradual return to work on campus, mostly in Argyle House. We took this opportunity to openly discuss how we can make the best out of this transition, and shape how we would like this hybrid environment to be.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, or was it?

Rewind to March 2020. A worldwide pandemic had entered our lives, and to safeguard ourselves and others, The University of Edinburgh followed guidance from the UK and Scottish Governments and formally requested from everyone to shift to work from home. Even though team members had been working from home on occasion, it was far from being the norm. Additionally, doing this transition at this scale was unprecedented. Our team managed to do it in, literally, a day or few without any significant loss of productivity or delivery of service. I shared what was involved, how we had prepared for this eventuality and how we addressed “snagging” issues in a blog post.

Our transition to a full home working environment – Blog post by Stratos Filalithis

When the news of moving back to re-open University buildings became widely known, my initial reflection was whether that would be as easy as it was to move to working from home. And my reaction, having monitoring the hybrid working journey of other organisations, was that it would be more complicated than that. What was thought as normal before the pandemic, being in the office full-time, was no longer the everyday reality. On the other hand, working exclusively from home has had its own drawbacks in mental health, and team collaboration.

As we were planning our move back to work from campus, we have pursued a more collaborative approach to ensure we reflect on team member needs and expectations during this transition, while following published guidance and advice.

Moving to back to the campus

Fast Forward to August 2021. After having spent nearly 18 months working from our own homes, the University, again fully in line with the official UK and Scottish Government’s published guidance, issued a plan to start a gradual re-opening of its building, including those that weren’t fully open since the start of the pandemic, like Argyle House. A Hybrid Working programme was established to support colleagues to transition to a new more sustainable way of working. The publication of a Hybrid Working Framework and its guiding principles followed.

Hybrid Working Programme information website

A set of parameters was set by the Learning, Teaching and Web Services directorate to empower the required experimentation in our hybrid working approaches. We need a better understanding of how best to take advantage of splitting working time between home and the campus. For our team, this is not done in an academic context, but in a digital services delivery and support one.

To better capture the team’s thoughts, we ran a session in our August section-wide meeting. 4 random groups were created to share their thoughts in the following 3 questions, which covered our ways of working and office etiquette:

  1. What are the top 3 positive things we want to keep as we move from a full working from home to a hybrid working set up?
  2. Going back to the time when we were fully in the office, what are the top 3 things to improve, fix or stop doing when on campus?
  3. What are the top 3 things we can do as a team to make everyone feel safer, respected and comfortable in the office space?

The outputs were recorded in a Miro board and shared by all groups across the teams. This has generated a lot of interesting discussion, drawing on the similar themes and ideas that were exposed, as well as those that hadn’t occurred to some.

Our initial conclusions and Hybrid Working themes

Reflecting in the team’s contributions, and by grouping similar ideas, it was easier to identify repeating themes. This are summarised, in no particular order, in the following list:

  • Provide flexibility.
  • Trust colleagues, respect their space, time, comfort and health & support each other
  • Adhere to meeting etiquette
  • Use technology appropriately
  • Follow guidance and make use of available support channels
  • Be inclusive

These were shared back to the team in our section-wide meeting in the beginning of October, alongside a series of presentations where colleagues shared their own experiences, tips and thoughts in adopting hybrid working. All of these have been received positevely. What is interesting to note is that these themes don’t promote ideas that are necessarily different to what all of us could be expecting before the pandemic, when working fully in the office. This has supported more the thinking that this is a great opportunity to revisit and reshape positively our working environment, rather than a temporary approach.

In addition, I ran an exercise by creating a word cloud including all the words used in the contributions. Again, words like flexibility, time, work, people, comfortable, accessible, space, respect (just to pick some of the most popular) pointed to the same direction as our themes.

A wordcloud of our findings during the hybrid working workshop

A wordcloud of our findings during the hybrid working workshop in August’s Website and Communications section meeting

What now?

Looking at the worldwide efforts to shift to a hybrid working environment, it is very easy to identify that there’s no set solution or approach. Most probably, there might never be one. There are many different factors that affect these, and they don’t only differ between countries, but between closer localities, organisations and teams. One thing is certain, how we approach our workplace has changed permanently by this pandemic and we need to respond to this.

I strongly believe that our team, and our directorate in general, has been navigating this quite successfully given the complexity of the task, within a changing environment. Surely, this is not the end of the journey, so we will continue to communicate, assess, shift and adopt new approaches where appropriately.

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