The coronavirus pandemic has turned all of our worlds upside down – but, it’s not all bad news. Certain aspects of the SBL role have been forced to modernise, overnight, and many hope these elements of the ‘new normal’ are here to stay
Working from home has been on the rise for years but, in light of the pandemic, it’s become a necessity. This is the first time many people have had to work from home – and the first time a lot of organisations have had to embrace flexible working. While some workplaces will want employees to head back to the office as soon as they can, others are more likely to encourage flexible working arrangements.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that only 1.7 million people in the UK worked from home prior to the COVID pandemic, but now an estimated 20 million people have relocated to home offices. In April 2020, 46.6% of people in employment did some work at home and, of these, 86% did so as a result of coronavirus.
This seismic shift in working environments has been welcomed by most employees. According to research by McKinsey, 80% of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home – in fact, 41% said that they are more productive than they had been before. Many employees are now liberated from long commutes and have found more productive ways to spend that time, enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives, and have decided that they prefer to work from home rather than the office.
This sentiment is also echoed by many in the SBL community. When EdExec took to Twitter to ask SBLs how they felt about the change in the way they were working, many reported positive experiences. @sbmcoventry summed it up by saying, “I think there have been more positive outcomes, on reflection. It has made me more productive and I would prefer to work from home more in the future.”
For many years, having the option to work from home seemed unattainable for many SBLs. Now, COVID-19 has forced working from home practices to develop quickly and become well-established in the education sector. It seems likely that, now it has been proven to work – and that productivity doesn’t waver, but in some cases actually improves – that the home office is here to stay, at least some of the time for SBLs.
The zoom revolution
In December 2019, Zoom had 10 million daily meeting participants. Just four months later, in April 2020, more than 300 million daily meeting participants were using Zoom. Each month, Zoom calculates its annualised run rate for meeting minutes. For January, that figure was 100 billion; just three months later, it was two trillion meeting minutes based on April’s annualised run rate!
Whether your virtual conferencing platform of choice has been Zoom, or one of the many others available, it’s fair to say that most of us have spent time over the last few months looking presentable from the waist up whilst we battle technical issues and laugh at one of our colleagues inevitably being interrupted by a family member at some point.
But virtual meetings shouldn’t be a novelty that we all eventually move on from. There are many valuable lessons they have taught us which can streamline and modernise working practices. Previously, SBLs may have generated ideas by convening a meeting, brainstorming on a physical or digital whiteboard, and assigning someone to write down the resulting ideas. A new, post-COVID, process may include a period of asynchronous brainstorming on a digital channel and incorporating ideas from people who can add them in their own time, followed by a refinement in an open video conference.
Gone are the days of needing to schedule meetings weeks in advance to make sure everyone’s diaries line up. Using virtual software means people can collaborate and add their input in their own time which means that meetings no longer need to be restricted to just include the ideas of those able to make it at a specific time – they can become more of an open process which ensures everyone gets to contribute their ideas when it suits them.
Virtual meetings also feel less hierarchal. Instead of having someone sitting at the head of a table, or standing up next to the board, everyone is more equal, which allows for more collaborative and open conversation, rather than the traditional meeting setting when you might speak only when you are invited to by the person who is leading the meeting. This way, everyone gets to be heard and feels like their opinion is valued.
As virtual meetings can be recorded, brainstorming collaborations saved and ideas written for all to see in real time, virtual meetings also save the time normally spent on the admin required in traditional meetings – and, as all SBLs know, any reduction in time spent on admin and bureaucracy is to be welcomed with open arms!
Although it’s hard to imagine right now, the COVID crisis will end, and things will get back to a new sense of normal. But there are a lot of changes which many hope will stay. The modernisation of the SBL role could have taken months, or even years, to realise. Now, in a matter of weeks, certain aspects of the role have gone through a complete transformation which may remain with us way into the future.