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Moving into Practice

Moving Into Practice

 

Resolving the answers to the questions posed by Covid is just the beginning of the journey.  In part we should anticipate that this will be a moving target and not a single transition.  Periodic re-adjustments will be vital (especially if Covid re-emerges in secondary peaks or similar disruptions occur more regularly). 

 

This characteristic means that two things are critical:

 

  • a degree of constant vigilance leading to periodic updating of our scenario planning work; and

  • a clear and effective implementation programme.  

 

This combines change and transition support with effective project management.  Teams may need to form and disband fairly regularly to accommodate changes.  Rigid, monolithic structures are unlikely to be able to respond to the inter-disciplinary character of the crisis and its aftermath; nor will they likely be sufficiently flexible to re-adjust periodically.  Dictatorial tactics are unlikely to have lasting benefits; any short-term gains in speed of decision-making are to be welcomed as a necessary response to the urgency of the crisis but they are not sustainable or desirable in the long-run and could actively undermine effective implementation (i.e. they are accepted and given tacit consent during the crisis as a necessary evil, but when the crisis eases, they are unlikely to enjoy uncritical acceptance).

 

This is yet another reason to engage people directly in the transition planning and thinking about the new normal.  It is vital that we anticipate the need for change and adjustment and have the opportunities to shape it.  Without this, the transitions become “pitches” where the change has to be sold to the unsuspecting.  This top down style is a side-effect of crisis management that needs to be avoided.  More persuasive and engaging techniques are vital.  

 

That said, there will be no substitute for clear decision-making and disciplined implementation.  Project management techniques have much to commend them at any time, but they are often more honoured in the breach.  It is unquestionably worth approaching the transition to new normal with an eye on PM methodology; first, because these techniques work and are designed to avoid many of the pitfalls that accompany change; and second because the cost of failure is now so much higher. Organisations that are slow to decide and even slower to act, or act badly, may find the penalties much more severe than before (recall all the costs of the crisis that are yet to be paid).  Efficiency in delivery therefore becomes critical.

 

We suggest the following key steps:

 

  • Set a flexible and supportive policy framework for space and human resources issues to be addressed.  This will cover: physical and virtual working experiences; what the organisation can support now and what it will seek to support in future; how home-organisation boundaries will be navigated; and sensitive management of respective rights and responsibilities.  Accept that whatever the first iteration looks like, it needs to evolve in response to feedback and experience.  If possible, within the economic constraints of the crisis, reassure staff that the organisation will do all it can to protect their livelihoods and jobs and explain that this will be easier to achieve if everyone thinks and acts flexibly.

  • Develop an initial classification of staff by work and space needs and work up a preliminary support offer. 

    • The former should only be a preliminary classification and used to explain the classification scheme and which characteristics are used to arrive at a decision.  It should not be prescriptive or force people into one category (choice will be essential to secure buy-in), but it is necessary to start somewhere.  It is equally necessary to be responsive to feedback and willing to adjust.  Consequences and impacts need to be tested, so the iterative nature of this process should be stressed.  Recall that moving from crisis management to new normal means greater levels of genuine engagement because, as the pressure of the crisis lessens, commitment to change cannot be taken for granted as a passive response to circumstances.

    • The support offer should be a reasonable approximation of what the organisation can genuinely support and afford.  This needs to be wide-ranging in terms of technical and technological solutions (including computers, telephony, printing, stationery, etc).  It should also encompass policy issues around security of data, workstation requirements/furniture/home office layouts and working practices (including leave arrangements and practices to help with motivation, productivity, and well-being).  “Always-on” and therefore “always on duty” is not a sustainable framework.

  • Personal discussions are vital – while the scale of organisational change is vast, the scale of personal change could be dramatic and even devastating.  This is a moment in which line managers have an absolutely critical role to play in supporting and leading their people through a traumatic experience (almost no-one can focus on their work if they are anxious about their own health and well-being or that of those closest to them).  What is done next will be remembered for a long time.  Based on the policy framework and the initial classification and support offer, line managers need to engage in structured conversations with each of their direct reports.  The approach should be personal because it will encompass many aspects of home life as well as the needs of the organisation.  Staff will be affected by the virus, new school schedules, partners working from home, and a myriad of other practical considerations (such as the inadvisability of using public transport).  The list of issues is extensive and sensitivity in handling is critical.  We all need to consider carefully how our working lives are going to be affected and we all need the support of our organisations to transition from short-term expedients to long-term embedding of new working practices.

 

Finally, it is, of course, essential to work out exactly what the virus means for our students and customers.  While personal discussions may not be practical, understanding the needs of student groups beyond simple market segmentation is absolutely critical.  Once staff arrangements are sorted out to a reasonable degree, early and urgent attention needs to be turned to questions about how student and customer groups have been affected and may yet be affected in the longer-run.  Understanding those impacts will almost certainly require further adjustment of the arrangements being developed for staff, leading to an iterative process rather than a simple sequential one.  Questions may usefully include:

 

  • How many different groups can be identified as having distinctly different needs arising from Covid?  Students needing experience in labs will have markedly different needs from those whose experience can be mediated on-line for example.  While it may not be practical to think of “the segment of one”, much greater attention to the nuances in needs of different groups will become critical – again “one size fits none”.

  • How will different groups view the loss of on-campus, extra-curricular experiences relative to the transition to on-line learning?  For some students, the defining characteristic of their experience may not be the course itself.  What impacts might this have on student motivation, mental health and physical health

  • How will the transitions create side-effects and problems that have not yet been anticipated

  • What are reasonable reactions and expectations about differential fees for differential experiences.  It is worth recalling that, whatever the organisation’s cost base, that does not impose a duty on students or any other customers to finance it.  If prices do not seem reasonable, the natural logic is that students will look elsewhere.  Thinking about nuanced segments may enable the University to think very carefully about how to calibrate its responses accordingly. 

 

Much depends on University strategy after Covid.  However, as a matter of pragmatism about affordability and based on principles of effective space management, there is no reason why these ideas could not be developed quickly while more fundamental questions of strategy are also being debated.  They may represent solutions that support multiple strategic scenarios.

Our work has made a difference for the following institutions...

Aston University | Newham Sixth Form College, London |  University of Surrey | University of East Anglia | Cleveland College of Art & Design | Southampton Solent University | King's College, London
National University of Ireland, Galway | University of Oxford

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