Universiteit Leiden

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Eelkje Colmjon

5 questions to the Faculty Board on the digital communication code of conduct

This month, the new digital communication code of conduct came into force. Why did this code need to be in place? And what do we gain from it as a faculty? Dean Mark Rutgers and vice-dean Mirjam de Baar explain.

More and more people are experiencing work pressure due to digital means of communication. Media like e-mail and Signal (WhatsApp) ensure that we can be reached day and night, which can cause an increased sense of work pressure and always being 'on call'. The digital communication code of conduct therefore includes tips on reachability, availability and conscious communication.

Why do we need the code of conduct?

Mirjam: 'We started working from home more because of the corona crisis, so there is also more and more digital traffic. You used to send a letter and then hope to have an answer within a fortnight. Nowadays, you have an answer before you get to the coffee machine. If you also communicate in this way in the evening or at weekends, the recipient may get the impression that he or she is being called on at that time. We want the code to convey that nobody can be on duty 24/7, that it is also important to take a rest.'    

What is the purpose of the code of conduct?

Mark: 'Our aim with the code to make people think about the effect of their mail behaviour on the recipient. You may want to know something or communicate something to the other person, but is this the right time to do that? If you send that extra mail at 3pm on Friday afternoon, you have to realise that colleagues will start thinking about something over the weekend that they can't do anything about at that time. Our message with the code is, "Then send that mail on Monday morning."'

To what extent is the code of conduct binding?

Mark: 'It's not a regulation, and you won't get a pay cut if you send a mail after 7pm. In fact, I can imagine that sometimes it can be a relief if a colleague is waiting for a message and you call in the evening. We especially hope that the code of conduct will easier to call each other to account if things aren’t working properly. It would be nice if people could say at the coffee machine: "Boy, I often feel rushed by those e-mails late at night."'

The code of conduct is now being implemented. What can we expect after this?

Mirjam: 'The code is still very much aimed at colleagues among themselves, but it is also important to make it clear to students that lecturers are not constantly available. If you send an e-mail, it doesn't necessarily mean that you’ll get an answer the same evening. We want to start communicating that clearly to students, so they also know what to expect.'

Mark: 'That expectation management works both ways. Students know where they stand and at the same time teachers feel supported. If you communicate it clearly to your students, it's fine to say, "I check my e-mail on Monday morning and one hour prior to lecture, and that’s it."'

As managers, you have an exemplary role according to the code of conduct. What do you yourselves do to make your e-mail behaviour pleasant for the recipient?

Mirjam: 'If I've had a day with lots of meetings and conferences, I like to clear my mail in the evening, but I don't expect a reply then. For that, I find the 'Send later’ button ideal. My mailbox is then empty, while the recipient doesn’t feel he has to respond immediately to an e-mail from the vice-dean.'

Mark: 'I often use that button too. Or, I send a WhatsApp or Signal message before calling someone to gauge whether it's convenient. I also try to keep e-mails short and to the point and not put everyone in the cc. E-mail isn’t a medium for sharing fifty A4 sheets with a group of people.'

The English translation of the Code of Conduct can be found here.

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