Looking beyond the pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic erupted in March 2020, many organisations had to change their ways of working. Familiar approaches and practices had to be revised in order to adapt to the “new” normal, where meeting customers, stakeholders and colleagues happened exclusively via teleconference tools.

NeIC is an organisation distributed not only across the Nordics but also Baltics, other parts of Europe and US, and was relatively well prepared for the changes caused by the pandemic. Majority of our meetings were online even before COVID-19, and none of our operations require face-to-face interaction. Still, some adjustments had to be made on all levels of NeIC organisation. For example, the NeIC All-hands meeting - the physical meeting dedicated for the people working in all NeIC projects - had to be arranged online.

Even though there is no certainty yet about when the pandemic will end, traveling and face-to-face meetings will at some point become possible again. Is there something that has changed regarding ways of working during the pandemic, or are people looking forward to going back to the “old” normal? The NeIC project managers and project owners were challenged by the NeIC Director to look beyond the pandemic and consider the NeIC ways of working after COVID-19.

The post-pandemic proposal

A survey was conducted to find out how the people working in NeIC projects see the pandemic’s effects on their work. The goal was to provide background and ideas for a proposal on post-pandemic ways of working. The survey response rate was 38 out of almost 190 people working within NeIC activities, and all but one of the activities were represented. Based on the survey, the proposal was divided into two sets of actions: some to take place during the pandemic, in Spring and Summer 2021, and some to take place after the pandemic, in Autumn 2021 and Winter 2021-22.

The survey shows that even though NeIC personnel were accustomed to working remotely and using online collaboration tools, some improvements could be made. NeIC should work on improving well-being in remote work by, for example, providing more opportunities for people to meet online. If needed, NeIC could also support project personnel in discussions with their home institutions regarding well-being while working remotely. The amount of video meetings has gone up for most of us, and to respect all of our work time, video meetings hosted by NeIC should be improved and made more efficient. This could mean emphasising the importance of meeting preparations, responding to calendar invitations and respecting everyone’s time by being on time. In addition, NeIC could also try out new initiatives that would activate the personnel while working remotely, such as walking meetings.

According to the survey, it is clear that there is a constant need for face-to-face meetings, and such meetings will be arranged as soon as the restrictions are lifted. Personnel should be encouraged to already start planning these meetings, with reasonable cancellation policy, to take place in the autumn. Some respondents prefer video meetings to physical ones, some vice versa, and therefore discussions within the project teams might be needed to find out what works best for them.

No surprises or golden bullets

Most of the survey results came more or less as one could anticipate. People look forward to meeting colleagues in real life, but not necessarily more often than before the pandemic. In the absence of face-to-face meetings, online get-together events are seen as a good solution. The amount of traveling and face-to-face meetings has decreased while the amount of video meetings has increased. Before face-to-face meetings are possible to be arranged again, video meetings could be made more efficient.

The survey shows that our distributed way of collaborating was functioning well before the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic struck, there were no major actions that needed to be taken, and the people working in NeIC projects have been able to carry on their everyday work despite the restrictions. Still, the pandemic has provided a great opportunity to recognise and rethink our ways of working. Receiving so many answers to the survey proves that NeIC personnel are interested in improving the practices and contributing ideas.

As it says in the proposal, the survey provides a good baseline for discussion on the NeIC ways of working after the restrictions are lifted. While no single right solution exists, continuing as before the pandemic, with improvements in video meetings and more get-together events, seems to be the way forward.

The NeIC post-pandemic proposal can be accessed here.