Working at the UM new style
MAASTRICHT. Are we going to return to our familiar work spaces at the university? Or will we continue to mainly work from home after COVID-19? It will most likely be a combination of both, the Taskforce The Future of Working at UM expects. Before we get that far, a lot has to be sorted.
The future of working at UM, a report from the same taskforce, led by the dean of the Faculty of Law, Jan Smits, sketches the contours of hybrid working, a combination of the office, home and at different times (i.e., not just office hours).
“We now have to work this out,” Smits emphasised during the latest University Council meeting. This will be done, among others, on the basis of the results of the survey being held among employees. It runs until 30 April and is looking for reactions to questions and statements such as: ‘I am capable of effectively working remotely.’ ‘I maintain the balance of work and private life best of all when I ...’ And: ‘What would you like to say to the UM with regard to sustainably organising hybrid working in the future?’
A few things are clear, Smits explained to the University Council: having confidence in staff is the key to success. There is no shortage of that among managers. “This last year has (once again) shown that the UM has a dedicated workforce that will take responsibility and co-operate even when the going gets tough.”
Not unimportantly, working from home is not a right, nor is it compulsory. It is an option; it is always an agreement between employee and employer. That is why it is important to make clear university-wide agreements about when working from home is possible and when it is not.
Furthermore, the UM will have to invest in digital resources – such as a laptop, mobile telephone, a good Internet connection – as well as expertise (training from a beginner’s level to advanced) so that everyone can work remotely. In addition, it is of great importance that the feeling of being a community is not lost when members of staff (continue to) work from home. This is an important task for the managers. “A manager must permanently work on team development,” the report states. In many cases, a greater appeal will be made to the bosses’ communication skills. Those who need training in this area, should be able to get it.
University Council member Jenny Schell feels that, “a cultural change will need to be made.” She pointed out that supervisors often only see the people who are present in the office. How can you ensure that people working from home are also visible? Smits: “It is high on the agenda; these are important leadership topics.”
At the same time, employees will also have to take responsibility. The memo states that they can, for example, do the following: “Let people know when and where you are working, stay in touch with colleagues, be flexible.” The taskforce feels that a handbook or manual with guidelines for employees could be helpful.
Obviously, these home offices must be safe – health and safety-proof – and a good balance between work and private life is a must. It has become clear this past COVID-19 year that such a balance is difficult to achieve for those working from home.
What is it allowed to cost?
Another point: a lot of stuff is needed to work from home. Laptops, mobile telephones, office furniture maybe, and that costs a pretty penny. That is why the taskforce says: give employees a fixed amount for one or more years, which they can spend on their “remote work facilities”. Also, enter into a contract with a supplier who has the right things and can deliver quickly.
Aside from that, “It is important that there are clear rules that apply to the whole of the UM. It shouldn’t matter if someone works for a faculty or a service centre. Everyone has the same advantages and obligations.”
Another not unimportant issue is legislation in the field of working from home. Both Dutch and foreign workers. Working from home for border workers (living in one country and working in another) in normal times (not during COVID-19) has consequences for things such as social security. It was hammered upon in the University Council that this must be looked into properly.
Last but not least, it is imperative that the UM not only investigates the long-term financial impact, but also the effects on the use of university buildings. Will the university need this much office space in the future? In some organisations, the number of square metres was reduced considerably (up to 60 per cent) when the change was made to hybrid working, the taskforce writes. And could part of the current office space not be turned into teaching or meeting rooms?
As soon as the plans have been finalised, the subject will again be discussed by the University Council.