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How UCL can help you find the best work/life/plus blend during lockdown

10 June 2020

Fiona Ryland, Chief Operating Officer, shares her thoughts in this blog.

Lake and trees

Since lockdown began nearly three months ago, the ways we are working have changed. While some of these changes are improvements that we may want to keep as part of our “new normal” post lockdown, others present new challenges, which may not seem straightforward to overcome.

UCL has always supported flexible working as a way of helping our staff to achieve the right work/life blend; but the additional difficulties of the pandemic add an extra dimension that may throw things off kilter and which we’re calling work/life/plus. With Government advice on restrictions changing all the time, even when we feel we’ve found a workable harmony again, we need to continually tweak things to keep them balanced.

While we are facing restrictions on our movements, many of you, whether you are a clinician, an academic, a teaching fellow, a researcher, a member of professional services staff or in any other role type, are now facing challenges that weren’t there before.

  • Many of you have additional caring responsibilities: caring for vulnerable relatives or loved ones who are shielding in their own homes and unable to collect medication or groceries; or for children who would normally be at school, nursery or with a childminder.
  • Some of those with extra caring responsibilities, are facing the additional challenge of doing that as a single care giver or where partners are essential workers and so not able to share the load.
  • You may be struggling with weak or unreliable WIFI signals, or finding a comfortable place to sit and work for extended periods of time. This can be especially challenging for those of you who share your home with lots of other people, and there are many researchers who require access to campus facilities such as labs who aren’t currently able to visit them.
  • Some staff who live alone (though not all) are finding it difficult without having regular face-to-face interactions with others as they are used to at work.
  • Some colleagues are facing financial hardship if other members of the household have lost income during the lockdown, and while they wait for Government grants to be paid.
  • I am also aware of those members of staff who may be experiencing mental health issues that have either been brought on by or amplified by the crisis or by difficult personal circumstances.
  • And there are those colleagues who may be at risk or more vulnerable in their home environment, a situation which could be exacerbated by the current lockdown.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; I hear about new challenges that members of staff are trying to deal with almost every day, and my team and I are doing our best to understand these difficult circumstances, so we are best able to support our people through them.

Please be assured that we want to support you to find an effective work/life/plus blend. And where you are facing challenges that you are struggling to navigate, your line manager will be able to support you.

UCL will continue to monitor Government advice and we are already putting plans in place for a phased and measured reopening of campus (which we know presents its own, different set of challenges). But before we do return to a more normal way of working, here are some of the ways your line manager might be able to help you find the best work/life/plus blend. Please be assured these adjustments will not affect your pay that during lockdown:

  • Agree changes to your work routine for the duration of the lockdown
  • Reduce the number of hours you work in a given day/week if other options are not workable
  • Review your objectives to ensure they are still achievable
  • Grant authorised absence if you are unable to work in the current environment
  • Schedule meetings to check any changes are working as these may be needed for the duration of lockdown and whilst transitioning into the new normal
  • Consider whether you are eligible for furlough leave

It can feel like things are moving at a hundred miles an hour right now, with new, often fast-moving projects popping into our schedules at short notice. While you might not want to say no to these opportunities, here are some other things you might want to consider:

  • Ensure you keep your Outlook diary up to date showing any changes in your availability
  • It’s as important as ever to take regular breaks from your desk, especially if your home set up is less comfortable (or if you have children to look after). Consider whether you are able to block out regular breaks, schedule time in your Outlook calendar to have lunch or to go for a walk, giving you some time away from your screen
  • You might find it helpful to restrict the length of meetings you attend (allowing time between meetings to check in on kids or adjust your workstation)
  • Ask to discuss objectives and deadlines for work to ensure they are realistic in the current environment
  • If you’re asked to take on new duties, consider which other tasks you might need to delay and discuss this with your manager
  • Remember to allow yourself time to relax (as well as work and dealing with your new challenges)
  • Add information on your new working pattern to your email signature so others are aware of your availability
  • Visit the Remote, not Distant at UCL website, which includes guidance and wellbeing resources that you might find useful
  • Your line manager is the best person to go to if you need support since they are best placed to understand your unique situation. If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel that you are able to talk to your line manager about your circumstances, you can ask your HR Business Partner to help you access support (you can find out who your HR Business Partner is on the HR website)

My colleagues and I will do everything we can to help you look after yourself, your family and loved ones throughout this difficult time, so please speak to your line manager about your situation and how we can best support you.