Q&A: Hybrid working at Edinburgh

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The University’s Hybrid Working Programme is looking at how working practices might evolve as we transition out of the pandemic and how best to support all staff whether working on or off campus. Here Gavin McLachlan, Vice-Principal and Chief Information Officer of the University, explains more.

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Can you briefly introduce the hybrid working programme and its aims?

Perhaps one of the biggest changes for employees in many sectors, including our own, coming out of the Covid-19 period was the wide scale emergency adoption of home working. For some home working has been a struggle, for others it has been tolerable and for some it has been very successful. The Hybrid Working Programme was established in November 2020 to bring together academic and professional services colleagues from across all areas of the University to plan a managed return to work post Covid-19. The programme has developed a hybrid working framework to guide discussions and support decision making about hybrid working, taking account of the needs of the business, team and individual staff members. The programme has an emphasis on people and wellbeing and looks to create robust and flexible work processes to support staff to perform at their best whether they are working off or on campus. The hybrid working framework is available for all staff to use now: Hybrid Working Framework.

What is hybrid working and how is it different from flexible working?

Hybrid working is a way of working that is not constrained by one specific location, for example an office or home workplace. To work in a hybrid way means to operate safely, securely and effectively from an appropriate location; this could be on campus, off campus or a mix of both. Flexible working is a more fixed way of working, for example reducing your hours, having later or earlier start and finish times, working compressed hours, job sharing or working annualised hours. For more information, please see the Flexible working policy.

How will a hybrid working framework support hybrid working?

The hybrid working framework brings together guidance for managers and staff on how to approach decision making about hybrid working. It supports and enables conversations and signposts to useful guidance, information and resources. The framework is a tool that can be used by managers and staff to support interim decision making about hybrid working. It is not prescriptive and can be used and applied to multiple work scenarios and contexts.

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Is the hybrid working framework fixed or is it adaptable over time?

Given that times are still uncertain and the easing of restrictions is fluid and subject to adjustment, the programme is supporting a period of collaboration and co-creation throughout 2021 to give us plenty of time to test the hybrid working framework in different contexts in real time and support ongoing discussions.  The hybrid working framework is available now for all to use. It will be updated and evolved over the course of the next year.

How can I find the Hybrid Working Framework guidance?

The guidance available in the hybrid working framework can be found via SharePoint. Here’s the link: Hybrid Working – Home (sharepoint.com)

What timescales are you working to?

The University is not planning to make permanent or finalise any new working patterns this year as circumstances are likely to fluctuate as the pandemic runs its course, new legislation is released and our use, understanding and best practice for hybrid working evolves. We are working collaboratively to finalise the co-created hybrid working framework by May 2022, when we hope to have more clarity and certainty about post-pandemic working.  This will provide the University with an institution-wide approach to hybrid working that will form part of our future business as usual operations.

Is this work a direct response to the pandemic? Or are there other aspects and causes?

The question of how and where we work has been around pre-pandemic and some areas of the University had begun to explore how they could be more flexible with work patterns. There was however, no University-wide view of ‘hybrid’ –  that came with the pandemic. So, yes, the Hybrid Working Programme is a direct result of the pandemic, but there are other reasons for considering hybrid. These range from more flexible and sustainable working patterns for staff that facilitate healthier work/life balances; the ability to extend services beyond the ‘9 to 5’ working pattern; and sustainability in the wider sense. In addition, recent technological advances such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and online collaboration tools like Miro have now made hybrid working easier and effective. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of the technology and accelerated experimentation with possible new working patterns that we would have considered over time.

How will it affect staff as we slowly return to campus (if at all)?

The hybrid working framework is a tool that can be used by managers and staff to support interim decision making about hybrid working. It is not prescriptive. The framework can be used and applied to multiple work scenarios and contexts. The resources that can be found in the hybrid working framework can help managers and staff to have productive conversations about hybrid working and make decisions based on the needs of the service, team and individual. This may be especially helpful during this period of transition.

Can you explain a bit more about the research that has taken place/will take place to examine different approaches to hybrid working?

The Hybrid Working Programme has a group of top University of Edinburgh researchers lead by Dr Lila Skountridaki of the Business School. They have used in-depth methods (focus groups and interviews); two all staff surveys (in July 2020 and June 2021); additional research they have done; as well as external information to help inform us about your concerns, challenges, wishes and preferences as well as sector and wider evolving best practices. Some of their survey and research results are available in the Research Insights section of the hybrid working framework: Research Insights (sharepoint.com)

Can staff feed into this work with their own thoughts and experiences over the past year?

Yes indeed and it is vital that we get your input to improve the framework and advice. We are encouraging staff to provide us with their feedback, especially on the framework and how useful this has been, if anything was missing, or ideas for new content, via this form: Hybrid working feedback form.

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What does this mean for equipment provision?

This is a year of exploration as we work together to try out different approaches to hybrid working and identify what works best. The IT equipment you need is determined by the type of work you do and influenced by the amount of time you spend at each location. The University does not have a fixed menu of IT equipment setups, but we do provide recommendations on best practice. For more information, please see the IT equipment exemplar section of the hybrid working framework: IT equipment exemplars (sharepoint.com)

Will the framework provide guidance to support hybrid meetings?

Yes, we have developed some guidance that we will develop over the coming weeks and months as we test different approaches: Tips and hints on how to run an effective hybrid meeting.

What do you hope to achieve out of this year of exploration and development?

This will help us to really understand what we need to deliver the high quality staff and student experience that is expected of our University. The insights gained from feasibility studies, focus groups, workshops, research and the use of the framework in real time, will enable us to evolve our best practice. Our principle objective is to use the period of the coming months as we navigate interim working patterns, to develop and agree guidance which will act as a basis of our practice for hybrid working, providing the University with an institution-wide approach that will form part of our future business as usual operations.

For the latest updates on progress with the University’s Hybrid Working Framework you can subscribe to the Hybrid Working e-Bulletin.

Photography: Sam Sills/Douglas Robertson