Soon it will be three weeks since the shift to lockdown and working from home was first signalled by the Prime Minister. I’m sure that for many people, as for me, it seems much longer and it is becoming hard to imagine what it’s like to be able to pop out to the shops without a thought, or go for a meal or any one of the myriad things that are temporarily suspended. Clearly, there will be an end to the lockdown at some point but it will be a while yet. Because of that we do need to adapt as far as possible to a temporary but quite protracted form of everyday life with which we are now all too familiar. Below I will say more about what we plan to do as a university to help make that a bit easier to deal with.
But first let me express on behalf of everybody at Cardiff University our huge gratitude and admiration for those of our colleagues, students and alumni who are working so hard under such difficult conditions at the clinical front line or in a close supporting role. I know that students — soon to be graduates — will be stepping up sooner than they anticipated, and I know that many clinical academic colleagues are focussing on their NHS role on the wards and in critical care. It is very much the case that our lives — and those of our loved ones — are in their hands and we are acutely aware of that. We thank them all profoundly and will offer whatever support we can.
In fact we all need to support each other at this time of national emergency, and we as a university need to play our role too. I’m conscious that working from home can be very intensive and that it can be difficult to unwind from screen time. For that reason we have decided to introduce Wellbeing Days during April and May. These are days that are not annual leave, but on which colleagues will have the freedom to decide how best to structure their time in order to look after their own wellbeing. No remote meetings will be scheduled and there will be no requirement to read, answer or compose emails. If the best way to promote well-being is to catch up with some work activity that it’s impossible to fit in otherwise without encroaching on free time so be it, but equally it could be socialising (remotely or within the household of course) exercise or indeed whatever helps. I would encourage everybody to use this time in the way they see fit, and it’s important that managers recognise and support that approach. Nobody should be directed as to how to spend their time on those days, or to account for it subsequently.
Of course there are areas of the University where activity cannot be suspended for a day and where staff are needed in order to carry out critical work. In such cases and by arrangement Wellbeing Days can be taken at another time. Those people who are in essential roles and must come on to campus will also have the opportunity, by arrangement, to take Wellbeing Days if at all possible. In addition, and in recognition of the particular role they must play at this difficult time, we will be paying essential workers who come on to campus an extra allowance of £300 to cover the period April and May in the first instance. Those colleagues face particular challenges and it is important that we recognise their efforts too.
I hope that these measures will support the recognition that working from home in the way that most of us are presents particular challenges and that we have to adapt our practices accordingly. On that note, I have heard some excellent examples of good practice where Schools have adapted to the new conditions in striking ways. The School of Mathematics, for example, proceeded with a seminar with an invited speaker and a much broader range of attendees than would normally be expected, and holding it online proved perhaps unexpectedly successful. Another School is planning a virtual awards ceremony for students, and I know that many are holding virtual coffee drop-in coffee breaks. I’d be happy to share any examples of good ideas to make the best of the situation if you want to let me know, and meanwhile here are some suggestions from the Dignity and Wellbeing staff network.
Our policy of no disadvantage to students as a result of Covid-19 has gone some way to assuaging fears that this very difficult situation could have a negative effect on their prospects or their academic performance. Clearly, as with everything else we are having to compromise but we are working hard on the details of the ‘no-disadvantage’ approach, the aim of which is to ensure that students will not fare worse in terms of their overall mark as a result of the crisis. The detail needs to be thought through and there are different issues across different Schools, so we have said that the full guidance will be available by April 17. We will bring this forward if we possibly can because we know that both students and staff want clarity as soon as possible, but it is important to get this right.
Finally, can I express my appreciation for the excellent work that our colleagues in IT have been doing over the past few weeks. Without them and the systems they support we wouldn’t be able to continue our activity at all. I’m particularly grateful that IT were able to set up a Zoom site license and all the associated support so rapidly, even though we already had other systems in operation. Lots of people wanted Zoom and were using it anyway and I thought it important that we should support them by setting this up in a more secure way. A big thank you to everybody who worked so hard to make this possible.
With best wishes,