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Apocalypse Working with Simon Upstone

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Simon Upstone from the University of Sussex talks to Allegra Chapman about leading a team through an apocalypse, including making the (rather speedy) shift to remote working, how the culture of an organisation impacts its working practices, the importance of understanding and responding to a variety of individual needs, and the importance of caring for the mental health of your staff. Simon also shares insights on measuring staff responses to new approaches to working (and discovering that 80% of university staff want a hybrid way of working), and advice on building cohesive teams and fostering genuine teamwork.

Plus Zoe Thompson has this month's What Fresh Hell Is This? report. 

Hello and welcome v re imagination atwork hoka. This is the podcast where we challenge everything you think you knowabout the world of work and ask you to reimagine a new way of doing business.That includes everybody. I really please today to be joined by bimana,who is the senior corporate accountant at university of sufic and head that pacorporate reporting to so i a thank you so much for joining me. It's good to behere and in the interest of full transparency. I should say that thereason that i'm speaking to women today is because he is actually my husband'sboss. My husband sits on on time corporate reporting team and the reasonthat we really wanted to to chapter you today is because i have witnessed firsthand ten, the change that's gone on im at the university suffix, which i'msure, marriage and organizations around the country, and that set from you know quite a sort of you know, standard way of working tohaving to be flexible and it it's definitely. You know, had a real impacton me personally. The way that you have been have been to business becausewe've been we've been sort of watching all that, so it really good to to speakto you in her a bit more about to show everybody else. The the way to look ido on doing things and that before we get into one of that, hell us a littlebit about yourself and for the people he are obviously thereintimately aware, as i am. The thing is what you see what you do. I i aboutthat. Okay, so i work at the university of sussex and in the finance division. Corporatereporting is about it's pulling together the university'sfinancial numbers for the regulator, the office of the students for makingour annual reports and also for the for the governance of the university. Youknow it's i've just this morning been finishing off the third quarterlypapers for our for one of our committees, so i'm the manager of asmall team of that we look after treasury and financial reporting andtax as well. Hey you don't mind me, saying, i think, bat finance and a higher educationsector. I think of both to areas that have been quite had quite traditionalapproaches to work in the past. I think it's best to say pre pandani before the apocalyps hit.You know what was what was the universities approach to prefect working and remote workingwithout something that you did a lot so...

...the university a couple of years agonow lost a flexible by default sort of program where the university decided a decided thatto be an attractive employer in the twenty first century. Now you know, weneed to recognize that your staff will have different come from different backgrounds, havedifferent requirements and that offered flexibility. Some flexibility in theworking hours and working patterns means you can maybe attract and retain a widervariety of people. So you know as a recruiting a manager.I was sort of brought into the program where all employees and potential employeesyou know do have. They have a right in the in the university's eyes to ask forflexible arrangements in their working. So we're asked to look at even ifyou're advertising a full time role, you know, could it be done in four days?A week could what a really are the hours that need to be worked, so we had already adopted that you knowi had someone joined my team a couple of years ago on what was a full time role and this person said well. You know ineed to go and pick up my children from school at three o'clock in theafternoon. So i'd like my hours to be eight thirty, two three, and that wasfine and we adjusted the job role so that that fitted the salary is prorated for the r changed hours and it's good because you can see we're making workand life fit together. You know if people want to come in earlier andleave earlier, they can people to come laterly lake. They can there's someflexibility there. What the university wasn't quite sogood at and geared up for was remote working. I was interviewing a recruiting, an interviewing in january and february of two thousandand twenty so just before the pandemic really hit, and the question came upwhat about flexible approach to working remote working, and i remember sayingthat the university wasn't really geared up for remote working. Our working files are kept on. A filewere kept on a file wall behind you...

...know behind a fire wall in theuniversity's servers, not in the cloud the finance system itself, which isfairly fundamental to what my team does. That's well protected behind a firewoman security we did have. We we had some contingency plans in theuniversity sector. We've had some industrial action over the last fewyears and actually the official picket lines civilized and legal affairs. But whatwe've tended to see as well is students who come out in sympathy withthe trades union and can be more disruptive in their protests about thisand in no circumstances some university stuff have then have to be geared up for wo, workingremotely or in other locations. So we, but we had tested the waters alittle bit with it, but really our it solutions, weren't up to the level where you couldjust go, i'm working from a home and just sort of pick up senless from wherewe were so. Yes there. There was a lot to do in those firstcouple of months of lock down yeah yeah, so that must have been a very stressfulsituation, then to suddenly find it having to be implemented on the fly asit were. Yes, yes, yes, so many organizations, you could sort of see it coming and we were starting to prepare. You know the university as a businessis. It is an usual situation because a lotof his customers live on its property, the students in the halls of vesanas,the thought of well. If we reading the news about the pandemic, what happensif it comes on to campus? What will happen if it goes through the alsoresidence? Can we carry on teaching? Can we carryon with people in halls? I rememberwalking into on to campus in sort of february of two tsanda twenty big. Wehave a large number of asian students and there were specific notices ifyou're coming from moan the province. You must sell, isolate to two weeks allthis stuff. So yes, when it when it happened,...

...there was a lot to work out in a shortspace of time. A lot of it revolved around itequipment, making sure the people had the right stuff at home. You know the first, the first few weeks there was a bit of a scrabble to sortof grab equipment from the office, and we borrowed some equipment from some ofthe student facilities as well sort of study areas, but there was quite a mixed bag. If youthink about it. As some people borrowed computers from the university, somepeople were trying to work on equipment that they already had at home. Somepeople have got decent laptops. Some people have got laptops that they'vehad for six years and they've still got windows. Seven, it's all you know is a real mixed bagand our it infrastructure. Wasn't there on day, one so yeah hat's off to our itcolleagues, they really is a good job. Getting the getting the gateways into the into the network and everything sorted really quickly, really spectacular,work, yeah yeah! I can bout for that. It was. It was a quick turn around itwouldn't from very quickly. You know not being able to do anything toactually having you know well to from the outside. In a way i look like hewas in the up to dere. You need to see which was which is great and, as yousay it, you know gone from having not having the itam prostrator really thereto ee, not having access to the things that you need to remotely to don me.Having everything so ad am sure many many organizations found actually whenit had to be done. It could be done, but it's interesting that the universally taken such a kind of positive approach to datableworking- i mean we really want to do this. What you day before they have tobut roommate working with of bat bernes a well. You know we don'thave the inficiat, not it not possible. Do you think that was a sort of youknow? Do you think people were, as you know, and osasti about the idea ofa right working as they were about pectable working pope? Wasn't the same?Will there for it to happen, or was it just? You know genuinely notthinking it was was possible until they have to find a solution. What why doyou think there was the difference in that kind of approach to placable vestis remote? I think the university values people being on campus. Itvalues the face to face interaction. It values having people together in the same room,even though we have delivered successfully dove teaching remotely forover the last year, we're very much looking forward to having all thestudents returning to campus and...

...recommencing face to face teaching. Hopefully next turn in the autumn to touch wood to figure situation,allows it everything, yes and because, i suppose, the principaldelivery, what the university does in the way of teaching and research doeshave to happen on campus and the fact that a lot of the servicesthat support that therefore also have to be on campus. That was kind of thedefault now. Yes, some functions may be finance.Maybe h, you know, can do quite a bit of their work remotely, but i suppose it's as the culture ofthe organization that that didn't didn't promote it. I wouldn't say it was impossible. We were. There was a cloud platformavailable before the patanes that some people were using, but it's up take was patchy. I wouldsay- and, as i mentioned earlier, some of the key systems that we needed quitesort of locked down behind fire walls so difficult to access, and, of course,at that stage, sun calls and team calls in this heatsort of river domestic video conferencing wasn't really on the radar.Not really laptops will not standard issue at theuniversity. Most of us had desktop pcs at our place at work, so you don't getcameras with those by default. A few of my finance colleagues and other stuff for the university did havelaptops, but they were kind of honor needs must basis in what play theyweren't the standard issue, so that was that was one of the things as well,that canceled bit against home working in the old days and the now that we'vekind of gone through the hell process, and it's been over a year now thatwe've all been working from home and you're. You know your team and you'restill working rebate, everybody still that remises a ii- and you know how is that experience being?And you know how would you sort of found that that sistra working and isthat something that you want to stick with in the future that somethingthat you want to continue? Or are you all really just get back into theoffice and go back to the kind of pre pandemic time? It's different for a differentindividuals? How has it been? It's been...

...a bit of a roller coaster. You know.Initially, there was the scrabbling around making it work phase and then we sort of got into no, not only. Of course, is there theteam work element? You know i'm turning up. Can i do my job? Can i speak to mycolleagues on the phone? Don't forget, there's also the whole i'm working fromhome and the schools are closed and were supposed to be home. Schooling,children and you know some. You have houses where maybe both partners are working andthey're both you know having to really juggle things so yeah. I remember thatsection of the pan back with with the pain that was that was far yes. Youknow that that was really that's where the flexibility and thatthe personal aspect really started to show through the fact that we realize that everyoneis working on a very different and often difficult situations, so expectations had to be adjusted. This is reality we're into somethingunprecedented that none of us have worked through before the university. Very much you know it's it's mindful ofthe mental health and the will be of its staff. Takes that seriously. Wehave a school of psychology, a we have experts, content or able to advise andstudy what was what was happening. So we will recognize the extra stressesand strains that this change is causing people and there were kind of it. I cut tomyself, i'm just talking about people who are making a transition. My parentshave dealing with children, but there's also a pandemic. A life threateningpandemic people are becoming ill, some gravely ill. You know so. Society wasthat rather yeah unsettled position no way,so we do have to be mightful. We do have to help help our people to get to get throughit. Yeah. That's a really interesting, really interesting ploy actually is howmuch because it's been have been in a...

...very intent yeah i mean it's beenincredibly stressful. Whether you've been, i mean, you know, home schooling,children or you know, i'm lucky that i didn't have to deal with homegoing yet,but we did have to share a toddler, be be trying to work for a time which waswith her an jess, and you know if you've had elder relativesthat you've been worrying about what you know if you been in yourself, butyou know even just that to the big essential threat of this thing. Hangingover yes, it's a very inn, imation experience, so i mean you know assomebody who manages a team and he could have it talked about it. You knowhow the have us are going about supporting your team through that kindof checking that everybody's okay, particularly when you can't sit down ina room with them. True. Well, you know the like it al lows: it zoom and teams isour lifeline. Isn't it i i it's our communication medium now, soat least we can see each other try and make each other laugh. Yes, you know you owas put that message out at thebeginning that the university is concerned for your well being and your welfare. We knowthings a tough talk to us. You know talk to each other.If, if you're struggling that it's fine to put up your hand, we will we need to help each other out underthese circumstances and that that sort of em, you knowflexible approach, i think, help without saying much because you you know, i know i know damalay, u knowif you mike perfect experience doing it. It's so helpful. If you know okay, youknow all of this is going even even now that nursery a open, and you know iback my todo some of the timebut. You know we still got a baby to thecostumes, all this and stuff, the fact that we know okay well, we've got todeal with this. So actually my husband needs to you, know, take an hour offand take the baby somewhere or you know, do some thing to knowing that you'vegot. That makes you, i think, feel so much moresupported, and so much more you know relaxed, because it's not thissort of consent, strassof or are we going to do caspeta du all these thingslike? Okay, it's fine, because we can just move that around and you know ifyou have to work in the evenings or whatever to make it up. You will bon.You know move things around and i think you know for men to have pity thatthat's really helpful because it takes on the pressure in the stress off, butalso, i think it contributes to that environment, where you feel that youcan put your hands up and say i'm having aretinal. You know you can talk about it because you sort of feel like actuallyyeah. You know my my employer. The organization has got my back. They docare, they are looking out for me and i think that's probably a reallygood place to put because we need to...

...head over for today's what reshad thisreport hi and welcome to this episodes. Whatfresh hell is this report, when schools re open in september, students at johnfendly college in lesters, will need to follow a particular set of rules whichstate that they have to opfer permission to pick up a pen. Never lookout of windows, learn to respond to a series of whistle commands and areexpected to always be smiling. Farms have urged the prime minister toencourage people to return to the office in an open letter organized bynobin, ruben manton. First, who said that working from home should no longerbe the default. What they have overlooked is the fact that people overthe last year and a half how fond way is to work from home and make it work. The necess have been awarded the dorgcross by the queen. The award historically recognizes acts of greatof greatest heroism or of the most encourage and circumstances of extremedanger. Recognition, however, does not acquit to a higher pay check or anybenefits, and finally, is it really coming homehello, i'm a member of the uk government. I spent a lot of timeslapping off the england team for protesting racism and now that they'redoing quite well. I want everyone to see me making a big performance ofsupporting them and that's it for this episode. What press this or that very much well welcome back. I amjoined by sime thing from the university of safi, who is talking tome about flexible, working and changing a prates that we were chatting a little bit firmin about mental health and the kind of theimpact of the panamic and everybody and how we've will been dealing with it andit has it open to you how what's your past experience be e e, my personal experience. Well, yes, iwas reflecting on this just last night. Actually, the lockdown started a week early forme because myself and my wife became ill in thefirst wave in march two thousand and twenty there wasn't testing at that stage, sohe still don't know definitively whether we had it or not. But you know this was still. I was getting the bus to work and itstill rather wintry early march, seeing mask where it wasn't so common. Then it's my wife's helen's birthday inearly march, so we went out on the town a brisen and a few days later we bothstarted to feel unwell and, as i said, we don't know for certain whether wedid or not, but...

...that experience of being unwell, suspectingyou have got coved and knowing the worry that goes with itmore than juster. This i've got a bit of flu on is finein a week that that kind of it makes you realize this is quite serious, isco because you can really have impact people. Fortunately, we both got over whatever we had relatively relatively mildly win about a week and but by then the university had shut. You know, or at least the campus hadshut, was shutting down for activities. Then there was the transition thatwe've talked about children at home, i have my son is eight and my daughter isfor so. Yes, we had to try and do a bit ofhome schooling very tricky very tree and yeah. I think for me a bit of a turningpoint came in the late spring sort of the end of april, because the weatherwas improving and i used to cycle to work cycles to the campus andthen i realized i was really missing. The exercise and the one i needed to dowas get up every morning go out on my bicycle, and that was a bit of atechnic point. Actually it's that it really do have to get that exercise andthe the idea of cycling to work is a good one, because you get out, you getyour exercise, you get your blood and your oxygen pumping a bit and then youcome in and you sit down and just start your work yeah make. It makes a huge difference.I was i was think about this as well, and i think i think we've talked aboutthis on another podcast episode about the difference in my set for me fromthe summer. Look down versus the winder shit huge, because when we you go out-and you know, take the kids the walk and you know get them to be energy of aand get them free, an exercise and like that you know, i felt so much betterand suddenly went to being locked down in the house with so much yes, yeahyeah and add to add to that after the summer gosh it was hot last august fora period after the summer, then the schools went back in september andthere was a few months where we thought. Yes, this is things are getting back tonormal, but then the winter changed all that, and indeed that january andfebruary of this year we gray and coals and a bit miserablethat they...

...very much so yeah. And it's interestingnow. I think the the difference in minds that for people that's much lessabout yeah. We got a fact for normal now approach, because people have muchmore cautious. Now we been it before. Yes, that's that's good. What is sayingat you, haven't been burnt by we've been fooled by this before is to tinand yeah. So what you do, what do? What's the it of em, your response thatyou've heard from from your team to you know to working more remotely. You knowyou have to let to working before, but now that the end of this kind ofcombination- and it is much more ffective approach- man- meaning muchmore open response to work in to work life balance- you know you are you sort of- isuniversally actively measuring people's response to that. An attitude to that,or is it more so about anecdotally? A word of your team and saying you know:what's the kind of feedback that you're getting? No, we are the university. The cult has been poling the peoplethrough the period started a year ago. I think you knowthat we started to think o things might be getting better getting date. Doblewe had got. I get your hopes up for the summer of two thousand and twenty, so we started asking people andcollecting the responses as to did you want to come back full time. Did youwant a hybrid way of working etc? And yes, i think about eighty percent.Roughly of people said they are interested in a more hybrid, flexibleway of working yeah. In those first three months wehad geared ourselves up but found out what was possible. It was a way of working that waspossible that we hadn't experienced before, and people could see and feel some of the benefits, whetherit's about work, life balance, whether it's about avoiding the hassleand the expense of the commute having lunch with your family yeah, sometimes also the quiet concentration.You know, if you're, the type of person who doesn't like busy open, plainoffice to be in a quiet study where you can really concentrate is, as it's abenefit and you have you any sort of seeing kit of tangible benefits. I meanit's difficult to antibes of de pandemic things in a differentperspective, but you introduce that flexible first approach in the prepathetic time, yep with a yes to help, you recruitment, did you see any of it?Did that do what you wanted it to do? I that a tract to la o broker contat? Didit retain more people? And you are you seeing any kind of tangible results interms of eitherthe way that people are workingnow? Do you think it's helping? You...

...know? Is that a using positive impactfrom that? I don't have any data from for that,but an ex totally, i would say it is valued by staff, so yeah, i'm sure thatit has helped with recrement and retention. Yes, knowing that those inclocking clock out you know, boss is looking at his watch the work you know people have contracted quantity of ours. Personally, myapproach is that there's a little bit of give and take sort of week by weekin that, but you know most people have got their full time. Jobdescriptions and the work requires a pretty much the foot the full workingweek, but if someone asks a flexible working,the approach is that we would work out how that could be accommodated de tit.Does that require a change of mind set for you as a manager to not for jo thinking. I have to be ableto see this person sit in their feet and they have to be sat in their the o.U nine to five to know that they're getting their work,then know things are happening. You know, but if that benefit a changefor you or is that something that kind of comes out tually to you anyway, i do a bit miss being in the office together where youcan kind of see if people are looking bored or puzzled or yeah. You know they've been talkingabout last night's tv for twenty minutes to as s enough you know so yeah. I do miss a bit of thatoversight. However, i think we've got a fairlymotivated team and we've also got a fairly well defined, set of sort of deliverablesand tasks that have to be done. Email teams, the team, the team work- is still there.The team, ok is still there and i say it's in a finance division, which in away is a kind of a back office function. There might be more leeway for thiskind of flexibility. You know if you are a customer facing. Therefore youhave to be available to your customers. It says on the coin: in all thecompanies, literature on the help line is open from nine till five. Then themanager has got to fulfill that requirement. Yeah yeah absolutely so. Having lifted all this now and hadto oversee this huge shift in how...

...people work, what advice could you giveto two other managers leaders on how to look after a everybit too and, and youknow, a remote, an affectly in quite a large organization, so your team itselfis huge, but you have a lot of different dependencies. A lot odifferent teams that you can act to so ho. You know yeah what advice could yougive to somebody he's managing a team in a large organization in that way,make sure i think, make sure that people know that they are valued andlisten to is important. So it's not a team because you're the boss and there youremployees, it's a team because you're working together at of commongoals, and it's recognized that people have strength or weaknesses good daysand bad days, difficult weeks and great weeks. Take that t. Yes, let people know thatthat is known expected and human. The kind of a monday chicken is veryuseful start the week with the plan. So what iwrite in my diary, sometimes yeah, so it's good to have that monday. Chicken. Having said that, i don't always do it. Sort of by rote. Like oh go, is ithirty on a monday morning, i'm going to have that call it's about communication. Isn't it isabout being clear on the on the objectives it's about having without the personal content, i foundit. It's a bit more important to have my lists of what people are doing. Youknow so i've got a got a list of my different team members, so i knowwhat people are working on and the when i, when their name pops up on my screenand they're, calling me i can quickly just reach it for their list and sayright. This is what we were talking about last time. Let's pick up fromwhere we were that's a great pit. I, like that one,that's yeah you for if you fall that and you can refer back to it, makes abe different and i would be old school. I've got my fileas. I started about eight million differentonline list and kind of you know: product mangal, n, these kind of thingsi end up getting to look at them, but i keep coming back to my notebook. I hadmy paper, my head and my list i writ down like a physical but think bothbecause a yeah definitely the best way that my very work yeah have to be trueto who you are i i and that at. If i i i i we run outof home, i felt like i could talk to you for hours about this, because it'sbeen it's really really interesting, but...

...finding. Thank you so much for joy me.It's been a real pleasure. Looking to you as be great, it's been great and ithank you are very much for listening and if you want any more informationabout sexual working and any more supports with that, you can find outmore on all website. It watch this space dot. Uk. You can also follow iton what of your favorite spacial media channels. We all have to watch this pcand join a set pine to be at sayeret wock. A bye.

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