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Ombuds work in times of Corona

We have been working from home for a couple of months now. Everyone, be they staff or student, will have had a completely different experience. Before the coronavirus pandemic, most people (90%) viewed working from home as an opportunity to cut back on commuting time, or to improve their concentration (by eliminating distractions) to finish a particularly difficult job*. But what is it like now that we are forced to work from home and have had to manage without our colleagues for the past few months?

The UvA's crisis monitor has revealed that, for half of students and staff, work and study pressure has increased. Fifty percent of students and staff indicate that they are worried about their own health and well-being. More than ever before, working from home may become a fixed part of our working culture.

I wonder what this new way of working will do to our working environment. It is comforting that there are more and more signs to show that a crisis can bring out the best in people. We have seen many examples of this in society. We are helping each other, connecting to neighbours we did not know before. And this rings true at work as well: we are understanding when delays happen, we are prepared to make compromises in our work and we accept that holding meetings, studying and teaching online is not ideal, but we can make it work. There are so many great initiatives, from medical students who are volunteering at care institutions in Amsterdam, to alumni raising money to help students with financial issues through crowdfunding.

However, we should not assume that unacceptable behaviour and bullying end at the physical boundaries of the office environment. A good team is certainly resilient enough to withstand some adversity, but how does a team that faced an unsafe situation before the pandemic function now? Are they feeling safer now (as team members can withdraw from the team dynamic), or is the unacceptable behaviour continuing in the online environment? In the coming period, I will be trying to answer that question, so that we can continue to work on maintaining a safe and positive working and studying environment in the future.

Of course, I am always available to staff and students who want to talk about any problems, complaints or ideas they would like to discuss. If necessary, I will take action, either via telephone, email or Zoom. Even now, please don't hesitate to contact me!

T:+31 (0)6 1186 0520
E: ombudsfunctionaris@uva.nl

*Reader survey by Intermediair magazine, June 2018