Working during the COVID-19 pandemic

A NetIKX seminar, 18 March 2021

Woman using laptop, wtih dog beside her
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This NetIKX seminar, in a departure from the usual format, addressed the subject of adaptation to life during the COVID-19 pandemic through a series of ten-minute ‘lightning talks’ given by guest speakers and members of the NetIKX committee. We have all been affected by the events of the past year, in some cases personally, but one common theme we have all had to tackle is the ‘new normal’ of remote working. Even for those of us who routinely work from home, there have been new challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic. This event was an opportunity for us to share experiences of ‘what we have liked, lacked, learned and longed for’ in the words of Ian Rodwell.

First up was Paul Corney, who spoke on ‘virtual watercoolers and orchestrated serendipity’. When working remotely, it is important to have (and stick to) daily routines, but also to build in time for meaningful connections – the ‘watercooler moments’ which are characteristic of office life, but are often lost in the virtual world. Paul suggested ways of recreating these connections, including showing and describing objects or food, sharing our ‘most proud of’ moments and scheduling regular ‘coffee chats’. Listening is more taxing in a virtual environment, so practices such as these are important as they enhance participants’ listening skills. Dion Lindsay then gave an insight into changes in recruitment practice during the pandemic: interviews are increasingly being held via video link and in some cases applications are in video format. There is a trend towards ‘portfolio careers’ and a shift towards online working which was already apparent, but has been accelerated by the pandemic. Edward Jewell, Chief Librarian for Jersey, spoke on the challenges of reopening a library and the lessons learned during lockdown. This brought up issues of the limitations of both physical and digital working, as well as the need to reevaluate our practices to identify what in-person services we should continue to provide.

Sophie Sheinwald, a photographer with a particular interest in storytelling, spoke about the 2020 Vision project,  which involved photographing healthcare workers during the pandemic. This was a collective project, in which over a hundred photographers in the UK participated. The result is both a tribute to the contribution of healthcare workers and a valuable social document of this specific period in history. Sophie’s contribution reminded us that knowledge is captured in many ways outside those which we traditionally consider to be ‘knowledge management’. 

Several NetIKX committee members also contributed with their own experiences: Perrine Guy-Duche on carrying out a major platform upgrade and migration to SharePoint during lockdown, Yasmin Dubash on starting a new job during the pandemic, Melanie Harris on moving departments and Conrad Taylor on experiences of remote working since the 1980s and how advances in technology have enabled improved use of video and audio communications for collaboration. The common theme in these reports was the importance of mitigating the sense of isolation inherent in remote working: things which participants found helped with this included scheduling ‘knowledge exchange’ sessions for the team, Zoom calls where everyone works individually but knows their colleagues are there, and ‘moving in’ interviews for new starters.

The breakout group sessions provided further opportunity for sharing and covered issues such as missing the ‘down time’ of commuting (there were mixed opinions on this!), the psychological implications of the eventual return to the work environment and the use and misuse of video conferencing facilities. One participant noted the phenomenon of ‘over-sharing’ during lockdown and the blurring of professional and personal life: while some find it unsettling to see colleagues’ children and pets on Zoom calls, others view it as a humanising influence and an opportunity to show more of their true selves at work. We all agreed that, whatever the ‘new normal’ turns out to be, there are some valuable lessons we have learned from this difficult time which we can use to transform our working lives in the years to come.

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