Last Monday was my first day in a new job. It’s fair to say that moving from one place of work to another has not turned out precisely as I had anticipated.
I had been with my former employer for the previous eight years and that final Friday was all planned. A bit of a leaving do at college, then off to change into black tie for the glittering Tes FE Awards with high hopes of a win or two to celebrate. Instead, I sent a "thanks for everything" email to all the staff on Friday, and that was it.
I’ve been so excited, looking forward to my new role as principal of the South Central Institute of Technology, but nobody wants to leave a job they’ve loved with such a proverbial whimper rather than a bang. It gave me an insight into how all those poor school and college students must have felt, building up to the big leaving day with proms and parties. Instead, they’re cut off at a moment’s notice, never to see again so many people they’ve grown up with.
Coronavirus and colleges: all you need to know
Background: The first 12 Institutes of Technology
Day one at my new place of employment meant...staying at home. Right now, I should be finding my way around the myriad corridors of Milton Keynes College, getting to know the people who serve in the canteen and run reception and security, meeting students, having meetings with my new colleagues in the leadership team – all that shiny new job acclimatising stuff.
Instead, there has been this all too seamless transition. Home on Friday. Home on Monday. Only the employer and the people on the end of the video conference calls have changed.
And boy, am I one of the lucky ones. I have a job I love and will still be paid. My family are all safe and well at this point. The world is changing for everyone and it will never be the same again. How we work is already transformed out of all recognition.
Working from home
After all this is done, it will be unthinkable for employers who’ve resisted staff requests to work from home to stick to what today feels like outdated policy. It’s as if our use of technology has accelerated to encompass 18 months of progress in only a few days. How many people have taken their first halting steps into Zoom or Microsoft Teams? How many of those who’ve tried to avoid such technologies have been left with no option but to embrace them?
By way of example, I had arranged a networking event around the Institute for Technology for local business people which obviously had to be cancelled. I invited the same group of people to join me in a video conference and was amazed to see that almost 20 per cent more of the invitees joined than had said would come in person. They knew precisely when it would start and finish and didn’t have to take up time travelling to and from the event – a perfect example of technological disruption, creating efficiency.
On the other hand, I’m a great believer that you should bring your whole self to work. Sometimes, we’re tempted to play a part in our jobs, but I don’t see how leadership can be authentic if it hides parts of one’s real personality. If you’re more comfortable in yourself you’re likely to be more productive. It’s not the same if you’re on the end of a phone line or video link so there will always be a place for the face-to-face, albeit potentially a significantly diminished one. This week, I have not been bringing whole self to work, I have quite literally been bringing whole work to self – the comfort of my front room to be precise.
If there’s one thing this unwanted confinement at home does, it allows us all time to think more. The flipside of this is that as thought accelerates, actions can diminish, because actually doing stuff becomes somewhat more challenging.
One thing in particular I’ve been thinking about a lot is the values the new Institute of Technology will hold at its heart. Inclusion, diversity and collaboration are central to all our plans for the future. When we start to pick up the pieces in a post-coronavirus world, it will have to be a case of all hands to the pumps. We will all need each other more than ever before.
Alex Warner is principal of the South Central Institute of Technology