Building on our Pandemic Experiences: Isobel Hughes

Isobel Hughes with quote 'Covid allowed us to think in a different way because we're working in a different way.'

Throughout Trinity term we’ve asked colleagues who contributed to the University’s COVID-19 response to tell us about their experience of working during the pandemic.  

In the last of this series Isobel Hughes, Director of Operations at Oxford University Estates Services, discusses looking after more than 250 buildings across the University during the pandemic – and revaluing our space and the ways that we work together. 

Teams within Estates were one of the few groups that remained on site while the lockdown was in progress. Along with providing support to ensure that systems were working effectively for the groups working on the vaccine, we also ensured that the University’s mechanical systems were running and that buildings were reopened efficiently. Estates’ Security Services team were also working to make sure that buildings were kept secure.

The Estates teams were all fantastic. People were brilliant at adapting to difficult circumstances very quickly to deliver new services. As an example, the Facilities Management team were suddenly tasked with setting up testing sites, vaccination centres and managing a PPE store – and managed all of this very efficiently and effectively. 
One of the key things we achieved in Estates was facilitating the reopening of all the buildings. This involved a huge amount of work right across the University to ensure that each building was opened safely, and that people were confident that we had carried out everything in a careful and measured way.

Collaborative working

The pandemic has allowed us to review some of the quite siloed working approaches that we had – with people quickly becoming particularly good at working collaboratively.   

For example, our teams carried out a lot of work with the Safety Office during the pandemic. This collaborative approach has now helped to support other initiatives, including the new safety management system which the Safety Office has introduced. Estates is now a key integral part of that system, helping to illustrate that some structural issues have been well supported by the fact we're now working together in a different way.

Being back together

We're all social animals, aren't we? We like being together. For a lot of people, particularly if you were on your own through the pandemic, it has been a lonely experience – so it's good to come back together and remind ourselves what it's like to work in a team.   

I've got quite a lot of new staff and I think it’s really important to have one-to-one interactions to help build these new relationships. It's great to be back in the office, so that I can bring our new team members into the heart of the team and introduce them personally to the rest of the University community.

Working in a different way

Post-pandemic, I think there are real opportunities for us to review quite how much space we've got. Is it the right kind of space? Is it in the right place? COVID-19 made us think in a different way and because of that, we're now working in a different way.

When I’m working in the office it’s great if there are others around to create a collaborative environment and to enjoy a bit of a buzz. It’s good to be in an environment with interesting things going on around you and other people to interact with – something I now appreciate even more as an outcome of the pandemic experience.