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'Especially in busy times, we have to keep seeing each other'

How do you ensure a healthy work balance when the workload increases exponentially overnight due to a pandemic? Head of IT and Facilities Marjana Rhebergen and Information Manager Rob Goedemans, together with their colleagues, had to manage the sudden switch to online education. They talk about their experiences.

Marjana Rhebergen

What changed in the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Rob: ‘Last year around this time we didn't get any sleep. No, that's an exaggeration, but we had to work fast to set a lot of things up. Fortunately, the lockdown was declared during a week without education. So we didn't have to launch software for distance learning overnight. Another stroke of luck was that the launch of MS Teams had already been scheduled for that period.'

Marjana: 'Still, I didn’t always get a proper sleep during those nights, also because my daughter got sick and schools closed. I think we were busy from early in the morning until ten o'clock at night. Not only did we have to have everything ready IT-wise, the Arsenaal building also had to be moved in. That first Monday, moving LUCAS would begin. We texted with Menno (Tuurenhout, former Director of Operational Management, ed.) and Real estate about whether we should go ahead with it. In the end we decided to do so.' 

How did you guys manage?

Rob: 'It helps that we are a very project-oriented department. Flexibility is in our genes and we have quite a lot of experience in introducing new things. That increases the chance of success if digitalization has to be implemented in a hurry. In addition, we saw that we succeeded in getting everything done. That feeds the team spirit. Success energises and ensures that you are able to continue, although a period like this should not last too long, of course.’

Rob Goedemans

How have you gotten the team through all the changes?

Rob: ‘In part we have the organisation to thank for that. In the first weeks I was still on campus a lot. Menno Tuurenhout visited, together with Suzy (Sirks, Tuurenhout's successor as Director of Operational Management, ed.). He said things like, "You are the underpins of the faculty." It does people good when you let them know. That is also why we shared a lot of praise from lecturers in Teams.'

Marjana: 'Sharing things like this doesn't reduce the amount of work, but it does make it more manageable. I regularly said: "We're putting this project on hold now." Otherwise it will keep weighing on you and you will keep thinking "I'm not going to get to it." Here too we noticed the support of the organisation: there were never any discussions about such decisions. We were supported in our choices, were really seen.’

Rob: 'We also organised a lot of game nights. We had already been organising those, but we continued them digitally. That also helps for the team spirit. The people in our department had to move mountains. It's nice when you can do that as a close-knit team.'

How are things currently?

Marjana: ‘Things haven’t calmed down yet, but our work is more structured now. However, there are still a lot people who are doing things that they were not hired for. We are trying to create a situation where people can be more engaged in their own work, but sometimes it suddenly turns out that, for example, more exams need to be entered. Then we try to continue to provide light at the end of the tunnel. Is there perhaps a course that is fun, so that people can take a break and get inspired? Furthermore, we do our best to properly distribute the workload. What works for me, for example, is to block half an hour in my calendar when my children come home at three o'clock, so that you don't have to be in two places at once.'

Are there elements from the past year that you would like to embed in a future routine?

Marjana: ‘All of the groups in this department talk regularly with each other, sometimes even every day. It may take five minutes, it may take half an hour, but there is contact. If someone is not present, we ask whether that person is okay. It's annoying when you're in your room with internet connection issues and you feel like you're being forgotten. In this way we make sure that everyone is seen.'  

Rob: ‘Last week I heard someone say, "One time when you weren't here, we tried not doing that for once, but by 10:30 we knew that that was not a success." They called after all. Even if you don't have anything to discuss, it helps if you see each other for a while and maybe talk about something non-work related.' 

A balanced Faculty of Humanities

This article is part of a series on work balance at the Faculty of Humanities. In the coming months, colleagues from all over the Faculty will be interviewed about work balance. What are bottlenecks both within work and within the faculty, what are good solutions and what can we learn from each other?

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