At the beginning of each academic year the Personnel Committee meets to consider the areas that we need to focus on for the year ahead. This year each of the Strategic Priorities included a section indicating the “COVID-19 response” – generally including near-term practical considerations. At times,coping with the response to the pandemic seems all that we might achieve and the pressure this puts on colleagues has certainly focused the committee on which issues need to be considered in this academic year and those we can return to later. This blog aims to outline some of the issues that we decided were a priority for action this year.
COVID-19 has provided opportunities to learn. With this in mind, an initiative has started to reflect on alternatives to office-based work. In March, we were suddenly all forced to change the ways in which we work. Home-working became the new normal, we shifted to being completely reliant on technology and digital tools, and over time we have had to establish new ways of communicating, meeting and getting things done. This experience presents a unique opportunity for us to review expectations about what good working practices mean for us at the University. The aim is that, through broad consultation, we will develop and embed new principles and revised policies for the future that reflect the advantages and opportunities that lockdown revealed.
In her Oration earlier this month, the Vice-Chancellor announced the creation of a new Race Equality Taskforce and I am very happy to be its Co-chair, with Martin Williams, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education. While the Taskforce will bring a new focus to the continuing development of equality, diversity and inclusion at the University, it will build on a breadth of experience and activity already underway. With the help of the Advocate for Equality and Diversity, Rebecca Surender, we will, in the first instance, draw on the existing race equality frameworks across the collegiate University. In due course we will reach out to colleagues to hear your experiences and understand where further change is required. There is much to be done and our aim is to deliver a set of recommendations and a business plan to support their implementation to Council by their strategy away day next September.
Of the other priorities discussed by Personnel Committee, the top slot was held by staff wellbeing, and in particular mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more focus on issues of mental health and the introduction of the Togetherall (formerly Big White Wall) service. A review of existing capability and capacity is planned, together with consideration of best practice from elsewhere. The work on wellbeing started last year and continued through the pandemic; that work now forms the foundation of our plans for action this year. Again, there are many excellent initiatives in this area already across the University and understanding these different approaches and how they have worked in departments so far will help us to identify activities that really make a difference, so we that we can share best practice and focus on areas that need more attention.
As I write this blog there is blue sky outside and beautiful autumnal weather – may it last, if only for a few more weeks.