by Angelique Schilder (CWI)
During the coronavirus pandemic, CWI was one of the many research institutes that asked their employees to work from home, which presented challenges for everyone. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) conducted a survey to find out about researchers’ experiences of working from home. Based on the results of the survey, CWI developed recommendations to ease the pressure of working at home.
Since March 2020, most CWI employees have been working from home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In June the rules were relaxed a bit, but since 14 October 2020 we have been in partial lockdown again and since mid-December in total lockdown. Working from home has once again become the norm. For CWI this means a decrease in the number of employees working in our building. At the time of writing this article (early December 2020), about 15% to 25% of employees are present at CWI each business day. Each group leader and department manager decides on a daily basis which staff members will be on site, with a maximum per group.
The second partial lockdown undoubtedly feels like a burden for many. Just as restrictions were starting to ease in the summer, and we could meet a little more often again, we were thrown back into working from home. The big challenge for both management and employees is: how do we stay connected with our colleagues so that we stay motivated and maintain the quality of our work?
In June, a survey was conducted by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) at all institutes to investigate how working from home is experienced during the COVID-19 crisis. We have used the results to develop further recommendations to help home-based employees maintain their wellbeing and optimise their home facilities and communication.
Approximately 20% of our scientific staff scored lower than a six on a scale of one to ten when it comes to job satisfaction when working from home. Finding a work-life balance was also reported to be difficult for more than a quarter of scientists. In addition, over a quarter of respondents said they feel less fit and missed contact with colleagues. To a large extent, the scientific staff experienced more work pressure than the support staff. The PhD students (OIOs), and especially new students from abroad, are seen as being particularly vulnerable: they have come to a new country and a new work environment but are unable to attend it in person. When asked, it appeared that all teams meet online several times a week, both for business and personal contact.
When it comes to promoting the wellbeing of employees when working from home, we offer the following recommendations:
- Supervision meetings between PhD students and their supervisors may take place at CWI.
- A buddy system has been set up in which a new employee is linked with a colleague within the group. This is especially important for new expat employees to help them familiarise themselves with Amsterdam and the organisation
- We will offer more online, such as time management, mindfulness and personal development courses
- We are establishing a more intensive course for scientific staff on the subject of mental strength, with topics including motivation, stress management, concentration and self-confidence. This will be offered in 2021
- Extra coaching and supervision will be made available
- The activity committee for PhD students and postdocs regularly organises online events, such as pub quizzes, chess competitions and movie nights, where everyone is welcome
- We encourage employees to make the time to go for walks. This could also be done with colleagues.
The employees are largely very satisfied with the facilities that have been available to them during the COVID-19 restrictions. Recently everyone has received their own Zoom account. People can borrow office utilities, such as the monitor, mouse, keyboard and office chair, from CWI, to use at home. Within CWI, various extra communication channels are used, such as Slack, Zoom, WhatsApp, and Matrix / Riot. To facilitate internal processes, we are investigating other online improvements for remote whiteboard facilities and digital document signing. A number of meeting rooms within CWI has already been set up for hybrid working: meeting conducted partly live and partly online will be the way of the future.
At the start of the lockdown period in April, we made immediate efforts to increase our internal communication. The CWI@home corona newsletter is published every fortnight and includes all current affairs. This includes, for example, a section in which an employee tells about his or her own home office, with a photo. Personnel magazine We@CWI also features pictures of employees during COVID-19 times. Every three weeks there is an online update meeting where the director gives the floor to employees who have achieved a result such as a prize, award or a project, new employees are introduced and other current issues are explained. And on special occasions, employees are surprised at home with a small present; December is a fun month for that 😉.
Hopefully our measures can contribute to a more comfortable working-from-home experience and better employee wellbeing for the coming period. We see that everyone is really doing their utmost best, but we are deeply aware that this remains a difficult time. Let’s continue to take good care of each other.
Angelique Schilder, head of CWI’s P&O department, at her working place at home, as published in the internal CWI Coronavirus Newsletter of 25 September.
Angelique Schilder, CWI, The Netherlands