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Taking the time to redefine our office

19 Jun 2020

UCC Academy considers holistic staff supports and makes plans to return as a paperless office

When we consider the enormity of the changes underway in the workplace over the past 3 months, the lockdown may have inadvertently changed the way we work overnight.

Conventional work practices have given way amidst a global remote working experiment.

In a relatively short space of time, technological laggards became office innovators, emails were replaced by in-app messages and focussed conference calls replaced the traditional hourlong meeting.

Rather than knocking on office doors, staff have fully adopted the traffic light system that signifies availability on so many platforms.

At UCC Academy, we are finding that any time lost during the initial transition was more than made up for by gaining efficiencies elsewhere. For example, the accelerated and complete adoption of cloud-based platforms allows for much greater collaboration among team members.

In fact, for staff who may have been slow to fully embrace cloud-based resources, MS teams stopped being that irritating application that popped up on their laptop and quickly became their central focus.

The transition has been so successful that IT services at UCC have chosen UCC Academy as the location to trial a wireless project that will see the office go paperless.

Although staff successfully overcame many of the immediate technical challenges presented by remote working, it’s also clear that some of the more nuanced aspects of working from home during a national lockdown present significant obstacles.

For many staff, their domestic and professional lives suddenly began to overlap, particularly for those that have caring responsibilities.

Consequently, if UCC Academy was to keep staff motivated for the entirety of the lockdown, we understood that the company would also need to adopt a holistic approach.

As such, our HR response has been both proactive and responsive, considering individual circumstances and the company as a whole.

From the start, we have worked to anticipate the needs of staff by providing them with the training and the tools necessary to work remotely.

Early on, we circulated a wellness survey in order to learn how we might shape our response. Through that, we began to appreciate the unique challenges that everyone was facing.

It also became apparent that staff didn’t want to be bombarded with emails or messages. People who were working to tight deadlines didn’t want to attend group chats or catch-ups for the sake of it.

We recognised that traditional wellness supports gave way to a more nuanced understanding of work-life balance. People don’t want to be asked to run 5Ks or attend wellness webinars if they are struggling to give a toddler the attention they deserve.

Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with binge-watching Netflix while eating half a packet of biscuits. That’s why we posted a crowd-sourced a list of organic vegetable delivery services, and an ever-expanding list of TV show and podcast recommendations on our MS Teams.

To provide some balance, our monthly Bite-size Learning session this month was on Nutrition, with record attendance from staff eager to learn more from Research Project manager and nutritionist Dr Jackie Lyons.

Having learned a lot about how we are all adapting to the unique challenges presented by remote work, we’re now focussing our attention on creating a socially distant workplace.

 Because of the nature of the virus, it’s a huge challenge, and we will contine to put the interests of staff first. That’s why we circulated the “return to workplace” survey, which will allow us to interpret people’s preferences to working from home and returning to the office as restrictions are lifted. 

 Despite the challenges, we should not lose sight of the fact that this has been an inadvertent opportunity to redefine the workplace. Office work will no longer be confined to an office, it will go beyond the physical structure of a building, where any number of factors will influence the design of a hybrid office.   

 Whatever the scenario, we want to enrich our open, inclusive and supportive culture so as to allow everyone to excel.


Katelynn Butler

Niamh Hodnett

Annemarie Sheehan

UCC Academy

UCC Academy DAC, University College Cork, Western Gateway Building 2.02, Western Road, Cork. Registered Charity Number: 20141431 ,