Remote Working Stories – Elaine Hickey from UCD Estate Services

By Michael Sinnott, UCD Agile

With the campus in Belfield now largely inhabited by locals out for their lockdown exercise, what about the people who are not there?  How is remote working… working?  I caught up with Elaine Hickey, Facilities Manager in Estate Services, to hear how she and her Room Allocations team, busy with the University timetable, manage. 

We Zoomed (that new verb) on the Monday of our 10th week of remote working and Elaine’s main news was that, with everyone working remotely, the business of the room allocations team continues pretty much as normal.  That is good to know and true for many of us, but what are the mechanics of this?

Hers is a small, closely knit team, which keeps connected by gathering online twice a day for regular, but largely informal, meetings – “one of the key things is having that interaction, because people can get quite isolated at times like this.”  Regular contact helps support and shape the team dynamic, building and sustaining the strong relationships that help colleagues in their day to day work, especially new colleagues.  For Elaine, online check-ins are not about scrutinising what folks are doing but checking they have what they need to do a good job.

The team has three new members who are being brought up to speed on the business of the team, including their  Central Management Information System (CMIS) timetabling and room allocations system.  Training new staff remotely is “a little bit of a challenge”, Elaine notes, but they are doing very well.  A test environment was setup for the new members of her team and they have been doing 2019-20 timetabling as an exercise, learning through following what was done last year, then getting to apply this themselves to a test dataset, experiencing the whole timetabling process for themselves.  UCD Registry Administrative Services  helped with the creation of the test environment and test dataset, CMIS is being used remotely..

In terms of day to day office life, there is usually a lot of informal contact between colleagues – you ‘normally’ just look across your desk for a colleague’s wisdom or pop in and ask a question.  Does remote working make this more difficult or just different?  “Just different”, but Elaine notes the need to think a little differently about how you keep contact.  She and her team use Google Chat for the informal chats and quick questions that pepper most working days – this is about finding ways to make sure the human interactions can take place and remain part of day to day team life.

Summarising the technologies, they use a lot of Google – Google Hangouts, Google Chat, Google Meet, Google Drive, Gmail – as well as Zoom and some WhatsApp. 

For Elaine, “the only thing that the lockdown has brought with it is a greater tendency to use online and face to face meetings”, with lockdown technology, in the end, being about keeping people connected, supported, and working well together. 

With Elaine captive in my Zoom session, I also took the opportunity to ask her about one of the impact areas of the virus on UCD – social distancing and lecture theatres.  The implications of the two-metre rule are significant, with lots of analysis of campus teaching spaces already happening and planned for the next couple of months. 

The preliminary rule of thumb seems to be that capacity is reduced by between 80 and 90% for classrooms and between 75 and 50% for lab or practical spaces and this is being validated in all shared teaching spaces by the Room Set-ups team led by Pia Polotto.  (Rules of thumb are subject to change, expecially ones relating to social distancing and the evolving nature of external advice).  Capacity assessments are carried out on a room by room, theatre by theatre, lab by lab basis as the configuration of the room is a significant factor. 

There is a lot of work ahead for our colleagues in UCD Estate Services as we head towards the 2020/21 academic year.  Elaine and her team seem well setup to play their key part in enabling ‘20/’21.

With our Zoom ending, we got talking about spending so much time on Zoom, the risk of developing ‘Zoom voice’ at the end of a long day, whether or not to use a Zoom background, people who do not use their video in Zoom meetings, the impossibility of eye contact on Zoom… the need for lockdown haircuts (!) and the challenges of getting a good screen shot to remember our conversation by.  We got there.  Twelve attempts.  (I’m so particular!)

Many thanks to Elaine for her time and insight, and the best of luck and success to this cluster of our colleagues as they help shape and support the ‘new normal’.