It is now over a year since the pandemic began and like many individuals I have taken time to reflect on what has changed during the past year, and how they may affect our future work. This current blog presents some of the topics that I think merit consideration based on this reflection.
Never before has the scientific community been in the media spotlight so intensely. Researchers are now regular and trusted commentators on current affairs. This puts an additional pressure on researchers both socially and academically. However, this also represents an excellent opportunity for us to engage with the press and the public to champion our research whilst they may be in “listening mode”. Whilst this may appear challenging at first glance, the Faculty now have a champion for public engagement Dr Lucy Green to help with this endeavour.
- Dealing with uncertainty
The continually shifting external environment has made regulating the internal environment much more challenging, particularly the importance of clear messaging. Nevertheless, the Faculty have endeavoured to tread the fine line between guarding personal safety and the ability to continue with productive working on the non-COVID projects that were ongoing prior to the pandemic. Setting up routine saliva testing for COVID has been a huge boost to delivering the strategy, and although is no substitute for social distancing, at least provides a measure of reassurance that our current working practices are effective.
- Teams etiquette
Many of the activities that we undertook at a face-to-face meeting now occurring over Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Participating in these meetings requires a subtly different skill set, and a different etiquette. The “hand raise function” can generate a strict order for people to speak in, however it can also make the flow of a meeting more disjointed. Teams also begs the question as to when it is worth raising hand or simply commenting in the chat line. The use of the chat function allows instant feedback. By using emojis such as the thumbs up, it is possible to garner approval from the whole audience almost instantaneously and thus gain a rapid feel for how comments have landed. However, my feeling is that overall it is more challenging to gauge the feel of the room using videoconferencing. In addition, the pre- post-meeting chats that can be used to nuance key points or iron out minor difficulties amongst individuals are largely lost. These have been replaced by a rather awkward hiatus at the beginning of the meeting when people re-joining and one individual is conducting a social conversation with another in the presence of an uninvolved audience.
- Team working
Rising to the challenge of the pandemic has mobilised the team working abilities of The Faculty to an amazing level. Research groupings have coalesced to tackle COVID-19 related questions, technical staff have mobilised to make the environment safe to continue research work, and the common purpose of keeping The Faculty going under enormously difficult circumstances has been unanimously supported. Additionally, individuals have stepped up to volunteer and help the NHS through both the vaccine effort and in day-to-day matters associated with PPE and patient support. I was fortunate enough to participate in one of the proning teams on ITU, in which one leader expertly directs the activities of four individual team members with military precision to achieve the common goal of turning an unconscious patient. The cohesion of this group was a graphic illustration of how a great team could and should work.
- The new normal
Finally, we are all going to have to adapt to a new normal. Things are unlikely to be the same again and so I’m going to take some learning points from the current situation and apply them to improve my future working practices. One thing that has become more apparent is to recognise how much we value the day-to-day interactions we have with all our working colleagues, such that I am looking forward to the day when we can have a return to face-to-face meetings, and informal discussions over coffee.