Remote Working Stories – The Journey to Hybrid
We need to cultivate an atmosphere of kindness and feeling looked after...
Michael Sinnott, Director of Agile
We started this wave of newsletter interviews in our May 2020 edition, asking Elaine Hickey from Estates “How is remote working… working?” Today’s interview asks Chantelle Guilfoyle of UCD HR “How is hybrid working… working?” That is an unfair question, of course, because it is early days yet, but Chantelle is well positioned to see the questions emerging – she is director of the HR Partners and the People Development and Building Organisation Capability teams.
We managed to catch up on Zoom (still!) last week. If you don’t know Chantelle as well as me…what comes to mind when I think of Chantelle is dancing a Scottish reel in the shadow of Edinburgh castle on the evening of a conference on Lean Six Sigma in Higher Education in 2015… a sentence that becomes less and less likely as it unfolds. But whether as a reel dancer or surfer of the waves of change, any conversation with Chantelle is sure to be interesting and full of energy.
For hybrid working, I wanted to ask Chantelle how we apply lessons from the past to build a better future, looking both to her own experience and her role in HR – the personal and the institutional.
“None of us had been faced with this before”. In early COVID, Chantelle’s first thoughts went to her team and how they could work together
“We just had to get used to this new way of connecting. My first priority with my team was to check in with everyone, to see how they were doing, how they were feeling, they and their family first, work secondary. For that first period of time it was “How are you doing with this, how are you?”
We all have our personal stories of COVID; when Chantelle looks back on UCD at the time, “our whole university community was trying to deal with this together, trying to look out for students to make sure that as best we could we minimized the impact on them and keep the show on the road”.
This theme comes up again and again with Chantelle – that UCD is first and foremost about people.
She points out that the move to hybrid working is not ‘going back’ but a move into a new kind of work experience. I think that for most of us, this will be a radical change, although without the crisis drama of March 2020. The lesson she takes from early COVID is that “we need to cultivate an atmosphere of kindness and feeling looked after, and that we can all turn up in different ways on different days and we’re all going to experience it differently and we’re all learning together”.
The institutional perspective comes in when I ask how we can learn. Chantelle has been asked to head up a Hybrid Working Group – soon to be formed and coming onto all our radars by the end of May – to start to draw the lessons from the hybrid trial. This group will bring together various stakeholders that are really interested in making hybrid work for their peers, digesting the experience of the hybrid trial which started in autumn 2021, was interrupted by our going remote again, then reopened in March this year.
We talked about a lot more. While we all hated the reason for the March 2020 changes, we did a great job at making those changes (with lots of work!) Some really good things happened. How do we capture them and build on them? The inescapable flip of going remote was always going to be easier than a choice-based transition to hybrid. What are the best ways of doing hybrid? What is needed to make hybrid work well?
Chantelle also touched on the purpose of any university “and our raison d’etre in terms of our graduates and that they are the future; I think if we can collectively, focus on that bigger responsibility, we can make how we work part of encouraging our students to be here [on campus] and experience what this shared UCD experience is really about”.
This means having a vibrant campus that creates the overall experience which shapes and develops our students during their years with us. We also want to shape a hybrid working environment which enables staff to balance being on a campus they love with the benefits of working at home too. The great question: how?
Chantelle began this interview with the following but I think it sums up all we talked about and shows the shape of some questions we need to ask ourselves.
At the moment, I think we have all evolved, our culture has evolved. But we haven’t had the space or time to reflect on what that is now, what it looks like, and it is still evolving quite rapidly. You could ask any colleague, at any time, what our culture is and we would get many different answers.
From a personal level, I feel the transition and the evolution, the pace [at which] we have moved and pivoted in the last two years has been unprecedented – as an individual experiencing this, in trying to make sense of UCD and our workplace now, I feel our responsibility for shaping the future of work is huge.
We have a unique opportunity to co-create our experience at work, holding on to how we really lived our university values together through the pandemic and [to] trust each other to get this right, for our students and our peers. No doubt we will need to iterate,evolve and adjust our course, however this is well within our gift. We are a university after all and this curiosity and openness to test and learn is part of our DNA.
It will be great to hear more from Chantelle as this develops. There may be no more highland reels ahead, but there will be plenty of surfing the waves of change. I can just see it now…