Background Noise | How to Zoom When This is Over?
Background Noise is a column devoted to conceptual ideas of interest to the research administration community. This month, we want to share with the larger community our thoughts on what both synthesis and work-life balance look like in practice, and how we can define the work-balance to which many aspire but only some seem to achieve. If you have an idea for a future Background Noise article, please submit your idea here.
A year into the pandemic, we’re finally starting to look toward the future. Amidst all of the fun planning for seeing friends and taking trips, what work will look like in the new normal is also on our minds. After research administrators have proven their ability to work remotely for over a year, it is increasingly likely that many institutions will support a hybrid model for research administration after it is safe to return to the office. In this type of model, on some days we will be in the office in person, and on other days we would work remotely. One big question is how a hybrid schedule will work. Will staff in office time be staggered so that we can reduce space needs? Or instead, would everyone come in on the same days to network and meet in person? This leads to a secondary question, if we’re working from both the office and home, what will meetings look like? By now we’ve all mastered Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms, but in a future where some amount of us would be able to gather together in an office, how will we continue using them? Will we default to in person meetings, mixed meetings with some participants on Zoom and others gathering in person, or entirely virtual?
We touched on these questions at the session titled When This is Over offered to the research administration community at Tufts University under the umbrella of our training and knowledge development program called PARTs (Partnering in Administration of Research at Tufts). Our pandemic curriculum is called PARTs at Home and was designed to cultivate a sense of connection between staff working remotely. As most often is the case with research administration related questions, the answer to the questions raised here seems to be “it depends” – on the meeting, on the participants, and on other circumstances. We’re not sure this is the right approach however, as “it depends” leaves open the potential for misunderstandings, anxiety, and ineffective meetings. Instead, we argue that in the post-pandemic future any meetings where any of the participants are not participating in-person should be virtual only, rather than hybrid. In our experience pre-pandemic, in hybrid meetings remote participants were less engaged and discussions were mostly driven by those who were in the room in-person. Having a set meeting approach also lessens the possibility for misunderstandings, or the pressure to change one’s schedule to be able to fully participate. As we see the end of the pandemic approaching, we suggest making a meeting plan for your organization now.
||Zoya Davis-Hamilton, Associate Vice Provost, Research Administration and Development, Tufts University
||Sarah Marina, Assistant Director, Research Administration and Development, Tufts University