Home-working during COVID-19

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Harriet Shortt

Harriet Shortt is Associate Professor of Organisation Studies at The University of the West of England, Bristol. Harriet’s research focuses on organisational space, artefacts, the materiality of work, and visual methodologies. Her research has been published in journals including Human Relations, Organizational Research Methods, Management Learning, Visual Studies and the International Journal of Work, Organisation and Emotion. Harriet has led research projects in both public and private sector organisations, such as the Environment Agency, the NHS, Stride Treglown Architects, and ISG Construction. This is a guest blog from Harriet. 

We are all currently experiencing a situation we have never been in before where society has had to change and adapt beyond recognition, and one of the biggest changes we have had to make is the one associated with our work spaces. Many of us are now working at home and this has meant a complete shift in where we work and left some wondering how to cope with these changes. I have been asked to put together this blog with some thoughts and reflections for those people who have found themselves unexpectedly working from home.

Before we think about space, it’s worth thinking about work more broadly first. I have seen the use of the word ‘productivity’ floating about a lot recently. Be cautious of using this word (and this goes for employers/organisations/team leaders as well as us as individuals!). Whether it’s to ‘prove’ you are being productive at work or being productive in other ways – like taking up a new hobby or learning a language or suddenly taking up running – we need to remember we are in the middle of a pandemic and we are not out of it yet. Trying to set never-ending targets for how you are going to self-improve and working to unrealistic expectations is not good for your mental health or work – it is known as ‘toxic productivity’ and we need to recognise when this creeps into our working lives. Productivity does not look the same as it did before Covid-19, so adjust your goals, your boundaries, and your breaks from work to reflect this challenging period of time.

Let’s now turn our attention to home spaces. Our homes have now become a complex shared space. It’s an office, a gym, a place to relax and for many of us, a classroom. This can make it hard to find a ‘dedicated workspace’ that also encompasses everyone else’s needs in your household. Even for those who are used to working from home, this will be a new challenge as the routine of perhaps working at home alone will have likely changed and you’ll be sharing your ‘work’ space with others. This is going to require negotiation and open conversation about how, where and when we work with a house full of people. Be mindful that everyone’s boundaries have been broken and need to be re-established carefully.

Finally, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this is going to take time. We have all been dumped into this situation and working from home is more complicated than just finding a dedicated workspace, so don’t expect to get it right straight away. Try working in a particular space and if it doesn’t work, that’s ok – try somewhere else. Some work activities may work well in some home spaces, and others will need alternative spaces, so don’t feel you need to stick to the same place every day.

So, some thoughts on creating and thinking about our ‘new’ home-working spaces:

Free up different spaces for different tasks

This might mean adapting or re-appropriating your home spaces at different times of the day, for example, currently my dining room is a classroom by day and a family area at the weekends. I often take work calls in the kitchen or the garden so I can keep an eye on daughter, but my work that needs concentration is done is quieter spaces.

Think about your space creatively

Could you use liminal spaces (these are spaces ‘in-between’, like landings, hallways, stairways) in your house as a make-shift office, a place to take private calls, or as a place to find a few moments of quiet and reflection? I recently wrote a blog for Work Wise UK that explores this very topic and how the liminal spaces of our homes can provide some important and unexpected uses whilst we’re working at home during this crisis.

‘Own’ your space

Wherever you do choose to work from, make sure you make it yours, even if this is just temporary. Research shows that the more you are able to have a sense of ownership over your workspace and create a sense of identity, the more positively it will impact your sense of wellbeing and connection to your work.   

Re-claim your ‘normal’ spaces

If you are having to appropriate a ‘normal’ space (like a kitchen table) into a workspace, try to turn it back to a ‘normal’ space at the end of the day. This might help you to manage the boundaries between work and home, and with your sense of work/life balance.

Visual communication tools and ‘being on show’

For many people, technology has enabled them to make this transition to working from home easier. However, this still comes with its own problems. It has been clear since the majority of UK businesses have adopted remote working, that being ‘visible’ and ‘on show’ in our home spaces has brought many advantages and disadvantages. So, it’s worth reflecting on some of these issues as an individual or as an employer; having your camera on for meetings is a great way to connect socially with your colleagues and the backdrop of your home can be a conversation starter! Lots of people have been commenting on the backgrounds of their colleagues’ homes, the pets that accompany the meetings or even the children that might make a brief appearance. Having spoken to a lot of people about home working spaces over the past few weeks, there is a real sense that this has made us all more ‘human’. Seeing inside other people’s homes has made them more ‘real’ and people have enjoyed seeing this informal/ private side, rather than the typical traditional/formal interactions we are used to in the office. It is this that has brought people together.

Nonetheless, let’s be conscious of privacy and visibility when using these audio/visual communication tools. Others I have spoken to feel they are inviting people into their home spaces that perhaps they would not choose to. The blurring of the work/home boundary has been emphasised by our current use of technology. So, be respectful of asking colleagues to turn on their videos during meetings – there is a case of being social and connecting, but there is also a case for privacy and managing boundaries so that we keep some of the sanctuary of our homes to ourselves.

Capturing this experience in photographs

Apart from workspaces, my other area of research involves visual research to explore the everyday lives of workers. I use an approach called ‘participant-led photography’ and this includes asking people I work with in my research projects to take photographs based on a brief e.g. ‘what work spaces are important to you and why?’ and then they talk to me about their images. This method elicits rich stories from participants and gives them the opportunity to talk about what is meaningful to them at work. Over the past 8 weeks for so I have seen so many images being shared on social media that picture what its really like to work at home. Social media platforms are a rich source of data at the moment and images captured and posted by workers all over the world depict the complexities, the joys, the difficulties and the juggles of working from home. I think this could be a great opportunity for organisations and employers to do their own visual research:

  • Organisations can collect data about the complexities of employees working remotely. Ask your team to take pictures of what it’s like working at home, where are they, how are they sharing their workspaces, what do they enjoy and what are they finding difficult. This could be a creative way of engaging your team, but also getting feedback. Remote working is here to stay in some form, so the more information and data we have about how people are doing it and how they experience it, the better.
  • During the current crisis, these images could be part of weekly catch ups and individual conversations with your line manager or be part of a PDR session. Or, they could be collectively posted on a virtual team noticeboard and discussed as a group. Either way, it might help people to reflect and share, and for organisations to sense-check how their employees are coping with working from home.
  • Post Covid-19, these images could also help us learn from this experience, as part of our recovery – teams or organisations could hold an exhibition of people’s images that document what working from home looked like for them. We will, at some point, need to come together to reflect and heal from this experience and a good way to do that might be through the eyes of employees and their photographs.

If you would like more information or to get in touch please email bbec@uwe.ac.uk.

Guest blog: Mental Illness and COVID-19

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Blog written by Laura Collett, Project Officer, UWE Bristol.

Thanks to Laura for writing this honest blog as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

I have never written a blog before and, me being me, I know my self-esteem will doubt every single word I write; however, I wanted to write something about my experiences of mental ill health during this period of lockdown. I live with depression which is inexplicably linked to self-esteem issues. The main outcome of this is that I am immensely self-deprecating and generally dislike myself (I have got slightly better, a year ago I would have said hate myself). As with most mental illness conditions, it can be really tiring and is a journey I manage every day, through exercise, counselling, medication, lots of reading (I love a crime thriller) and support from family, friends and colleagues.

Bringing the COVID-19 pandemic into this picture is an interesting one. In January, I was on a facetime call to my family and my niece was talking about her teacher going on holiday to China. She was (as the loving and sensitive six-year-old she is) concerned about her teaching becoming poorly, because there was news of a virus outbreak in the city of Wuhan. As adults we reassured her, but never in a million years did we think we would be in the position COVID-19 has put us in today.

I had the week of the 16 March off as leave, so wasn’t in the office when home working started, but in anticipation, I had my laptop with me. The first week was, well… challenging! This wasn’t because I was working from home (although the state of my kitchen was horrific and six weeks on still needs a clean). No, the real challenge for me was connecting with colleagues, loneliness and my feelings of self-worth.

My self-esteem makes it hard for me to connect with people because I think I am bothering them. Whist my job isn’t affected (because working and progressing projects gives me a reason to connect), I am usually able to combat the social side to this by saying hello to people whist walking around the building or meeting people for coffee in the Atrium. But being at home and acting upon the message ‘look out for each other – connect’ has been really challenging. I always want to contact colleagues, but in March, I knew people were experiencing the pressure of dealing with the fallout from this unprecedented time. I couldn’t just bump into someone and therefore the first few weeks were horrible for me and resulted in me doubting myself and my worth daily. The only solution was to  massively push myself out of my comfort zone in order to hear that part of myself that says ‘I am not bothering people’ and ‘I am allowed to show colleagues that I care’.

Loneliness is another big part of my depression and many other people have experienced this due to COVID-19. I am lucky and live with my partner, but his health-anxiety has been (understandably) exacerbated and talking to him about my concerns isn’t always possible. My life outside of work isn’t exactly as social as I would like it to be and I experience loneliness daily. However, during this crisis, family and friends struggle with their own personal circumstances of home-schooling, working and finding time for themselves, let alone finding time to talk to me.  As a result, my self-esteem and lack of self-worth has had something to feed on.

Mental illness is hard for everyone and all I can do is work on finding out what helps me (pandemic or no pandemic). So, what has helped me to keep going during this crisis that I don’t normally do? We all know that exercise is good for our mental health, well I have gone crazy!!!! I run or do HIIT exercises most days at the moment as it helps me work through my sadness, anger and frustration. I set up my working space in my dining room on a Monday morning and at weekends pack it all away so I can litter the table with rubbish on Saturday and Sundays. I have a candle on most days that I work which helps relax me. I have also watched the odd movie whist working. The two biggest achievements for me have been starting to bring art back into my life (Greyson Perry’s Art Club – Channel 4,  has helped evoke this passion) and I am becoming more aware of my thought patterns to the extent that my depression has areas of improvement. Some of my self-esteem triggers are diminishing and the projects I work on at UWE have gained momentum which helps me focus on what I want to achieve on daily basis, but also what I do that supports the faculty.

Mental illness is painful, no matter what anyone says, when its bad, it really does hurt. My journey has been a long one and will continue after the COIVD-19 pandemic has faded. Everyone’s experience of mental ill health is different and I hope by sharing my personal experience it might help at least one person in some way. There are so many good blogs, articles, books and websites that can offer different alternatives to help support mental health, you just need to keep trying to find what helps you best.

Ask yourself:  What do I need right now? And be kind to yourself x

Creative ways to take a short break

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As a result of the coronavirus outbreak many of us have been asked to work from home if possible. Whilst we have hopefully all been able to adapt in some ways to our new lifestyles, it’s important to remember to take short breaks for our well-being. This notion was definitely pushed out to us from every angle at the beginning of the UK lockdown, however, we wanted to see how people have actually been able to implement this into their new daily lives and share some of our tips for making the most out of working from home whilst staying physically and mentally healthy.

Breaks give much needed time to rest your eyes, stretch your stiff muscles, to unwind and take a fresh outlook on your work. They are a great way to rebalance, refocus and recharge so that concentration and energy levels don’t waiver. To make sure you remember to take a break, it’s a good idea to have it planned for a certain time of the day, so you don’t forget to give yourself some well-deserved rest.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the ones that work the best. We’ve pulled together a short list of ideas and how they have been implemented by our UWE colleagues.

Stretch out stiffness by doing a 10-minute yoga or fitness session

Getting up from computer to do some stretches is always a good idea. Not only will you give your body a rest but your mind also. There are countless benefits to practising yoga even for just 10 minutes each day and you can find plenty of short yoga sessions to follow online. You can also find live fitness sessions like these run by UWE Bristol Sport.

“I’ve dusted off my fitness hula-hoop from the cupboard and find this is a great way to take a short break whilst working from home in the middle of the day, or when I feel tired and in need of an energy boost. I just do 10 minutes at a time whilst listening to my favourite radio station” said Rose Adderley, Communications and Events Officer at UWE Bristol.

Studies have shown that getting active, even for 10 minutes, can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which in turn can improve your overall health. Yoga also improves your flexibility, strength and posture, increases your energy, improves concentration throughout the day and so much more. So, if you haven’t thought about including a short yoga break in your daily routine, why don’t you give it a try?

Make a delicious smoothie

A lot of people like to snack while they work and sometimes it can be difficult to not give in to temptation and eat something that might not be that good for us. Taking a break to make a smoothie that’s delicious and also gives you nutritional value is a great way to take a break from working. We are also seriously missing the delicious smoothies we used to be able to grab at the Atrium Café in Bristol Business School so this is a perfect way to get your smoothie fix!

There are plenty of great recipes out there for you to choose from like peanut butter and banana to berry to green smoothies, whether they’re packed with vitamin C or protein rich, taking a short break to make yourself a treat like that will definitely help boost your energy.

The Atrium Café ‘Love Yourself’ smoothie is a tasty way to get your fruit in. They use mango, pineapple and passionfruit mixed together with coconut milk and raspberry sauce.

Listen to your favourite music

A good way to take your mind off work for a short break is by kicking back and listening to a few of your favourite songs that get you excited and your energy levels pumping. It’s known that listening to certain genres of music can affect your mood, so choose something that you know will lift your spirits up and will have you feeling refreshed to continue working.

Kat Branch, Music Enrichment Strategic Leader at UWE Bristol, has put together a playlist for her couch to 5k journey with songs that inspire her to get up and moving. You can check it out here.

Alternatively, why not delve into the world of podcasts? This way you can take a break and learn about something new. There are hundreds of podcasts on Spotify, plus UWE Bristol have a host of different subjects on their SoundCloud, including the Bristol Business Engagement Centre’s first episode of their Future Impact Podcast series

Step outside

We all know that stepping outside to get some fresh air is great for your energy levels and also for your mental health. It’s good to change your surroundings to refresh your mind and going outside for a short walk to help your mind and body to relax and recharge with new energy and a fresh perspective. Use the hashtag #UWEStillActive to share your walks and fitness journeys whilst in lockdown, or to find inspiration and motivation.

The UWE Bristol Wellbeing team are here to help if you need it. You can get in touch via the website.

Updated Guidance on holding AGM’s under COVID-19 Restrictions

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Moon Executive Search, Faculty of Business and Law Advisory Board member, have published a blog outlining guidance on holding AGM’s under the restrictions of coronavirus. Originally posted on Moon Executive Search.

The Quoted Companies Alliance is a high-profile membership organisation that champions small to mid-sized quoted companies.

To enable their membership to address the practical challenges of holding an annual general meeting (AGM) during the COVID-19 pandemic, the QCA supported the production of guidance by The Chartered Governance Institute (ICSA) alongside a collection of legal firms, the Financial Reporting Council, the  Investment Association, and The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who all reviewed and contributed to the guidance.

Businesses and organisations must continue to make the crucial decisions.

Vanessa Moon said: ‘This is a relationship that we greatly value, particularly as many of our clients are listed. We have found their resources to be extremely relevant and timely and we were delighted when Tim Ward their CEO shared this new guidance with us.’

Tim Ward, CEO of the QCA, said that: “The QCA has an impressive membership group and together we have strong collective influence – these are unprecedented times and at the forefront of our activity is our commitment and capacity to support our members. We are pleased to work with the ICSA and others collectively to produce this guidance on AGMs quickly to provide our members with information on how to navigate their regulatory obligations and make decisions needed to carry out their business.“

The Guidance outlines five options that companies can take:

1.       Adapt the basis on which they hold the AGM

2.       Delay convening the AGM, if notice has not yet been issued

3.       Postpone the AGM, if permitted under the articles of association

4.       Adjourn the AGM

5.       Conduct a hybrid AGM, if permitted under the articles of association

For more information, click here.            

The Stay at Home Measures make it harder to have an AGM but not impossible.

With the increasing impact of COVID-19, businesses are under pressure to transform to ‘the new normal’ but the AGM that is required by law cannot go ahead due to social distancing measures. At a time of great uncertainty, companies and their directors will need to focus on making the critical decisions that will enable them to get through the period with least disruption. One fully attended meeting would put the entire company and their families at risk.

However, chairing a quorate meeting may necessitate just ‘two director and/or employee shareholders of the company attending the meeting, with resolutions being passed by the proxy votes of those who have not been able to attend in person’.

The Stay at Home Measures make it harder to have an AGM but not impossible. Appropriate social distancing measures should be observed by the small number of attendees at a physical meeting and shaking hands is obviously off the table.

Whilst we must all take the utmost precaution in preventing the spread of COVID-19, businesses and organisations must continue to make the crucial decisions to survive and thrive in theses testing times.

For more information about how to safely conduct an AGM click here for the guidance from ICSA.

Quoted Companies Alliance
Quoted Companies Alliance

The QCA has also created a new COVID-19 hub (“The Lockdown Lowdown”) on its website to help QCA members. The Hub includes information on regulatory updates, government support schemes available for companies and the work the QCA is doing on behalf of its members. The Hub also bring together content from member advisory firms to help small and mid-sized quoted companies. Members can access the Hub here.

Quote from Tim Ward, who is the Chief Executive of the Quoted Companies Alliance since 2009.

“The QCA and our members are committed to playing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We are proud of how our members have responded by innovating and adapting their business practices and continue to make the difficult decisions to ensure their companies are sustainable in the long term. The role of the QCA to support and act as the voice of small to mid-sized quoted companies is more important than ever and we are committed to doing everything possible to support our members through COVID-19.”

Alta case study: the importance of mentoring platforms

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Due to Covid-19, we are all facing uncertainty and change in our personal and professional lives. It is more important than ever to stay in touch with people in your professional circle and get support from mentorship programmes. We recently spoke with Susan Durbin and Stella Warren who are founding members of the alta mentoring scheme, a bespoke industry-wide mentoring programme designed for women/by women, in the aviation and aerospace industry, and also Rosalind Azouzi who is a key member of the alta Steering Committee, also offering administrative support for alta, on behalf of the Society. They have answered our questions about the platform, the importance of having a mentor and their advice in these unprecedented times.

Susan Durbin is Professor of Employment Studies/Human Resource Management, at Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol. She specialises in researching women’s employment in male dominated areas. She has published her work in a number of leading academic journals and is the author of, Women Who Succeed: strangers in Paradise? (2015) published by Palgrave Macmillan. Susan works with organisations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, to improve gender equality and support for women. She is also an active member of the Bristol Women’s Commission Women in Business Task Group, a Trustee with Fair Play South West, the gender equality network, and a member of the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Women’s Committee at the Royal Aeronautical Society. She is a Chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Stella Warren is a Research Fellow in the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre with a background in applied social research. She supports a wide range of research project teams within Bristol Business School and also teaches research methods at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Her expertise includes social marketing and the understanding of psychological pathways for behaviour change in health; gender and inequality in organisations; the gender pay gap; and women working in male-dominated industries. She is a member of the British and European Sociological Association and on the board of the Research Network ‘Gender Relations, Labour Markets and the Welfare State (RN14).

Rosalind Azouzi is Head of Skills and Careers at the Royal Aeronautical Society. Rosalind supports the talent pipeline into the industry, from outreach programs for school children, to careers advice and support for early career professionals. Rosalind has a remit over the wider skills agenda, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. She sits on a number of committees and groups, including the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee, The Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter and the Aerospace Growth Partnership.

What is the alta mentoring scheme?

Launched on International Women’s Day (8th March) in 2019, the alta mentoring platform is the first scheme of its kind operating in the global aviation and aerospace industry. It is the result of a one year, ESRC-funded Knowledge Exchange project and the matched financial and in-kind contributions from the industry partners (The Royal Aeronautical Society, Airbus and the Royal Air Force). The year-long project involved research led by Professor Susan Durbin and Stella Warren (UWE Bristol) and Dr Ana Lopes (Newcastle University) to design and launch a mentoring scheme designed, ‘for women/by women’. The aim was to provide a mentoring scheme for professional women across the industry, based upon what women wanted from mentoring with an industry wide mentoring platform, to provide career and social support and build a community of women across the industry.

In practical terms, any professional women in the industry wishing to join alta, registers to join with the Royal Aeronautical Society and the request is moderated by RAeS staff. Once the applicant is accepted, they will receive an email and asked to sign in (creating a password) and complete a series of matching questions. The in-built algorithm sorts through the mentee’s answers to these questions and comes up with the top three mentor matches (mentors also complete the same set of matching questions). The mentee then decides which mentor to approach and makes a request through the system. Once the mentee and mentor are matched, they decide how and when to meet. Alta is a safe and secure environment, through which communications and meeting dates can be organised. There are supporting materials, such as an alta handbook, videos and mentor/mentee training.

What are the benefits of having an online mentor/what does online mentorship usually involve?

There are a number of benefits to having a mentor, especially for women who work in male dominated environments, such as the aviation and aerospace sector. The sector has a skills shortage, which could be partly addressed through the recruitment and retention of more women (women comprise just 4% of pilots and 10% of engineers in this industry, with very few occupying senior leadership positions). Mentoring can therefore be a key retention tool as women who have mentors can feel a sense of belonging, feel more valued, gain the support they need to progress their careers and make use of a ‘safe space’ where they can talk to a trusted mentor, about personal and work related challenges. Despite these benefits of mentoring, it is a rare resource for many women in male dominated sectors, which alta was designed to address.

On-line mentoring platforms, such as alta, have several advantages in comparison to face-to-face mentoring, including the exchange of knowledge, development of individual capabilities and sharing of identification with the mentor’s expertise. There is a body of academic research that highlights the benefits of on-line mentoring platforms. These include online mentoring transcending organisational and geographical boundaries, making it widely accessible and a benefit to under-represented groups; increased interaction between mentors and mentees; easier access to information; and feeling supported. It is also important to note, however, that online communication can be more impersonal and if mentoring is provided solely online, the support provided by the mentor can be less useful. This makes blended mentoring schemes that combine face-to-face and online facilities, such as alta, ideal.

Online women’s spaces can be less of a challenge as they offer a ‘virtual’ and convenient means through which women can connect and support one another. They can help address marginalisation, isolation and exclusion and ensure that they are comfortable expressing their needs in a ‘woman to woman’ environment. They can also be a means by which to challenge the male dominance of workplaces.

Given the current situation with many people working from home due to Coronavirus, how can a mentor best be utilised?

The alta mentoring platform offers mentors and mentees the opportunity to connect via the platform and to join the alta ‘community’, thereafter leaving mentors and mentees free to choose how they conduct their mentoring, e.g. face-to-face or virtually.  Alta members are, in this time of unprecedented crisis, able to enjoy the benefits of the alta on-line mentoring platform. It enables alta members to stay connected and to reach out for help and support when it is most needed.

The value of on-line mentoring has never been so important and it may also become a time for mentors and mentees to take stock of where they are in their careers and where they would like to go; a time for reflection and a re-assessment of where they are and where want to be. Mentoring is a great way to do that. It also gives mentors the opportunity to reach out to other women and even take on some additional mentoring, offering help to those women who most need their support. Mentors can therefore best be utilised via the alta platform, at a safe distance but offering comfort and advice to women who may be feeling especially isolated, vulnerable or lacking confidence if their roles have been furloughed. Or they may simply want to reach out and turn the current situation into a more positive one.

What successes has alta seen?

Alta is embedded into the Royal Aeronautical Society’s careers service and meeting its commitment to achieving gender equality throughout the industry. It is now part of the mentoring ‘offer’ of the founding partners (Airbus, The Royal Air Force and the Royal Aeronautical Society) and in addition, just over 300 individual women have already signed up as mentors and mentees from across the industry. A number of high-profile industry organisations have also joined (e.g. GKN, Safran Landing Systems, Collins Aerospace, Airbus) each making a financial contribution to the scheme, to support its associated member networking events and activities.

A number of additional high-profile organisations are also in the process of signing up. Alta is gradually bringing together competitor companies in the industry, as well as professional women who would otherwise not be in contact. A number of alta networking events have also been held since its launch, including a ‘speed mentoring’ session and a social event in London and an alta promotion/networking event at the UWE Bristol. The team feel it is also important to retain face-to-face mentoring and networking events when the current lockdown is lifted as this enables women to re-focus on their career and personal development as well as make new friends and contacts.

What challenges has alta come across?

During the research phase of the project, the project group, comprising academics and industry partners, operated mostly by consensus, but some challenges between the academic and industry worlds were inevitable. For example, one of the main challenges arose from assumptions around timeframes that needed to be negotiated. While the academic team were used to developing long-term projects, the business partners were used to implementing projects in a matter of months. There was also an on-going process by which participants came to understand – and shape – the role of the researchers within the project as a whole, as well as their own role as project co-owners. As it was the first time most participants engaged with this type of project, finding one’s own role within the project group was a process rather than a given. While the researchers were mostly accustomed to doing research on people, the other participants were accustomed to having people (e.g. consultants) provide a service for them.

Since its launch, the challenge has been to roll alta out to the industry, without saturating the market. The decision was taken to approach a small number of industry employers at a time and open up the scheme to their female professional employees, without inundating the system. This approach has proved fruitful, but it has meant that alta has grown more gradually than we would have liked. Other challenges have involved the initial pilot roll out of alta, to the founding partners, and realizing that more work needed to be done. For example, after piloting, some minor changes were made to the matching questions.

There is a need to gain further funding support for alta, going forward, which will prove to be more of a challenge due to the impact of Covid-19 on the sector. In spite of this, the aim is to maintain the platform, with its free access, to individual women and to encourage organisations within the industry to offer their financial support at a time when their female employees really need it. The alta platform is cost-effective and offers a safe and secure site for women to support one another.

Is now a good time to become a mentor or seek a mentor?

During the current pandemic, the restrictions on movement and new ways of working remotely have resulted in a physical disconnect from family, friends and colleagues. For those who already have an established mentoring relationship, this can be a crucial source of support, facilitating an opportunity for both mentor and mentee to discuss concerns and keep connected during this unprecedented time.

Any time is a good time to become or seek a mentor but in the current Covid-19 climate, it has never been so important. Mentoring via the alta platform is not only beneficial to the mentees who utilise it, but also for the development of mentors. Even more importantly, alta offers the opportunity to commence and continue safe mentoring, at a social distance, and to help to overcome feelings of isolation. It offers a space and time for reflection and the continued building of the alta community.

A huge thank you to Susan, Stella and Rosalind for their input in this blog. If you would like to find out more about the alta mentoring platform you can watch our webinar on the subject here, and visit the alta website here.

Six Top Tips for Video Interviews

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Moon Executive Search, Faculty of Business and Law Advisory Board member, have listed their top tips for video interviews in this insightful blog. Originally posted on Moon Executive Search.

We have learned some valuable lessons over the years whilst speaking with candidates and clients via video calls, and we hope that sharing them will help you succeed at your interview.

Interviewing candidates online has become increasingly popular for employers and is now necessary under the current circumstances of near lock down. This method of speaking to potential employees will likely be the future of recruiting.

Video conferencing apps, including WeChat Work, Zoom, HouseParty and Slack have had an enormous increase in downloads recently with FaceTime and WhatsApp video calls being used heavily for one to one conversation too. The use of video calls in work and home life show no sign of slowing down and will become the normal way for our clients to speak to candidates. We have found that there are certain habits and behaviours that will help you impress.

Here are six top tips to help you succeed at video interviews:

1) Smile – Video conferencing can be disconcerting, but everyone is in the same boat so embrace the situation, engage and show how much you want the role.

2) Check Your Tech – Making sure that your devices are charged and that you have signal is paramount to having a successful call. The failure of some connections is unavoidable, but the employer is likely to notice poor administration. Also, the rhythm of the interview could be broken by the interruption and could fluster the candidate. It is always worth considering and informing the employer that you have a back-up method of communication ready, just in case something goes wrong.

3) Clear the Room – Take anything that could be distracting away from the desk. Have your notes, your tech and a drink. Make sure that the door is shut, and the room is as quiet as possible. A clear room and desk will help you think with clarity and focus on the task in hand.

4) Dress to Impress – Just like a normal interview, look as presentable as possible. If you can find photos of the staff on social or their website, use these as a guide to how formally you should dress. The smarter you dress will influence how smart you act, so dress up and carry yourself elegantly, even if you are sitting in your living room.

5) Do Your Homework – Make sure that you know as much as possible; the history of the company and the important people that work there as well as financials, company set up, trading history and supply chain and competitors. Write notes based on the information on the website and try to ascertain everything you can about the culture. This will build confidence and the employer will notice your tone and posture through the lens.

6) Prepare Questions – When making notes about the company, write down 3-5 questions that you would like to know about the company that you can ask either throughout or ideally at the end of the interview. It is also a great idea to have bullet points ready to show case your skills and relevant to the role. The more in-depth your study, the more insightful the questions will be and the more chance that you will be hired. Asking just one insightful question can make all the difference.

Women in Leadership | Women Aspiring to Leadership

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An equal world is an enabled world.

#IWD2020  #EachforEqual

For International Women’s Day 2020 we are celebrating everything UWE Bristol does year-round to promote equality for all, including the ‘Women in Leadership and Women Aspiring to Leadership’ (WILWAL) network fronted by Executive Officer, Amy Rogerson.

The group provides a safe environment for UWE Bristol staff, where women can discuss their leadership journeys, challenges and successes, and is for women at all stages of their leadership journeys. Since re-launching in 2019, WILWAL has hosted four sessions with a range of inspirational speakers at varying points in their careers and lives.

So far, speakers have included Chrissie Waple who spoke about Neuro-linguistic Programming (and also hosted an extra session to expand on the topic due to high demand from attendees), Aimée Sykes who gave a presentation on the celebration of future leaders and the importance of female role models and Yoma Smith who shared her leadership journey and how it has impacted, and been impacted by, her work in the community.

Each session reminded the group of their own unique abilities to become leaders in every aspect of their lives, and that not everyone has the same path – in fact they are all very different!

If you would like to find out more about the network please get in touch fbl.execsupport@uwe.ac.uk.

Course Connect case study: Bluegreen Learning

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“Course Connect can make your learning fit for a future you want. Build your employability, meet good people, and learn about yourself in the process.” – Rob Sheffield, Bluegreen Learning.

What is Course Connect?

Course Connect Partnerships help bridge the gap between academia and industry and contribute to the practice focus of our programmes. Businesses can partner with us to co-create knowledge and help educate our students by supporting a module on a taught programme for two years.

You can contribute through live case studies, guest lectures, co-designing the curriculum mentoring or sponsoring students and student competitions, and providing internships or placements.

What Bluegreen Learning brings to Course Connect

Bluegreen Learning is a Bristol-based workplace learning business that helps organisations grow organically, through building their creativity, innovation, marketing and leadership capabilities. Their interest is in people and learning, working closely with the education, healthcare, energy and professional services sectors. Bluegreen Learning provides the tools for organisations in these sectors to thrive and survive through the significant changes they need to make.

The current connection

Over the past 20 years Bluegreen Learning have been involved with UWE Bristol, across faculties, as tutors and students, and clearly have a great understanding of UWE Bristol programmes. They bring a wealth of experience in working with organisations through Europe, the US and Asia, and of launching marketing, creativity, innovation and leadership offerings to different markets.

Currently, they are helping with the Managing Creativity and Innovation in Marketing module, which is being developed for UWE Bristol Marketing students, and starts in 2021.

How this Course Connect partnership works

Course Connect brings together organisations who are working with demanding customers, and learners who want to know the realities of the workplace. With the whole area of design, creativity and innovation growing so fast, there are skills that organisations want in their value chain and Bluegreen Learning enjoys helping people learn them. As a Course Connect partner Bluegreen Learning likes helping learners connect the academic with the practical.  Students say they make learning fun, relevant and personal.

If you would like to find out more about Course Connect or would like to become a partner, please email bbec@uwe.ac.uk.

Welcome to our new Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean, Jingjing Xu

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On 28 January 2020 the Faculty of Business and Law welcomed Professor Jingjing Xu as their Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean for the faculty.

Following her appointment Professor Xu said: “I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to work at UWE Bristol as Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law. I am impressed by the achievements made by the University in the last decade and I firmly believe that its recently published Strategy 2030 will take this University to a more exciting era. This is an exciting time for the University and for me and I am very much looking forward to joining colleagues at UWE Bristol to contribute to the further developments of the University.”

Jingjing joins us from the University of Plymouth where she was the Head of Plymouth Business School.

She joined the University of Plymouth in early 2007 as her first academic job after working as a government official in China for several years and then pursuing further studies in Sweden and the UK.

Within five years of joining the University of Plymouth she was promoted to Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor, and became Deputy Director of a research centre. She then took on the role of Associate Dean for Research at the Faculty of Business in 2014.

In 2015, she established the Institute for Social, Policy and Enterprise Research (iSPER), a University-wide research institute to promote and facilitate inter-disciplinary research. In July 2017, when three previously existing schools in the Faculty of Business were merged to form one of the biggest entities in the institution – the new Plymouth Business School – she was appointed as Interim Head of School to oversee the setting up and development of the new school.

Some five months later, following an extensive external and internal recruitment campaign, she was appointed as Head of School. Since then, the School has made some significant improvements, such as improved ranking positions for nearly all of the subject areas in the School in the Complete University Guide, and subject areas being in the 1st position nationally for overall student satisfaction in the latest NSS.

Academically, Professor Xu is an internationally renowned expert on law and economics in the marine and maritime domain. She has over 100 publications and has won and led numerous national and international research grants. She sits on a number of national and international panels and committees and she is an elected Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation. Her publications inform the curriculum in her field and she is also an Adjunct or Visiting Professor at renowned universities in China, Sweden and Australia.

We are excited for the future of the Faculty of Business and Law with Jingjing Xu’s input and direction.

New Leadership Academy launched with Paradigm Norton

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UWE Bristol are working with employee owned and multi award winning financial planning firm Paradigm Norton to launch a ‘Leadership Academy’.

Designed to strategically invest in the leaders of the future, the Academy will see participants study modules in self-leadership, personal vision, succession, sustainability and legacy and conflict and confrontation. With a maximum of eight Paradigm Norton employees per academic year, the course demonstrates how the firm are investing in the future of their team and the wider business.   

Exclusively available to members of the Paradigm Norton team, the course will focus on management and leadership skills and spans across the normal academic year.

Those who complete the course will receive an accredited level seven certificate of leadership and management from UWE Bristol, as well as credits towards completing a further two years to achieve an MBA at the university.

Barry Horner, CEO of Paradigm Norton, said: “We have launched the Leadership Academy with UWE as a result of a desire to equip the future leaders of the business to lead with excellence. As an employee owned business, we wish to ensure that our ‘Partners’ have the required leadership skills that they need to help us grow and build the business over the coming decade. We have big ambitions and we will need leaders who can drive through change and help us stay current and relevant.”

Lynda Williams, Associate Director at UWE’s Bristol Business School and Bristol Law School, said; “Working in tandem with Paradigm Norton to bring this course to life has been fantastic, to be able to offer their team a sophisticated learning environment and a chance to build on their leadership skills is very exciting.”

Recently, Paradigm Norton was named the 22nd in the Top 100 Financial Adviser list by The Financial Times. The list provides a snapshot of the very best financial advice firms working in the UK today.