Roseanna Cross and Kathy Purdy, School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
In the Faculty of Life Sciences, a common complaint from staff was the overwhelming number of meetings that they were expected to attend. This was a problem even before the pandemic, but it got worse when online meetings took over. It was true of University, Faculty, School and group/team meetings, as well as one-to-ones with staff, and all the teaching commitments academic staff have, too.
The Faculty was keen to address the issue by introducing a day when no Faculty or School meetings took place, and all Schools were asked which day would fit in best for this. In the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine we had already reviewed our committee schedule to reduce the number and length of meetings wherever we could, and we had trialled a year of ‘meeting-free Fridays’, where we avoided admin / committee meetings on Fridays wherever possible. We also ensured that no committee meetings took place in school holidays or outside the hours of 10 am – 4 pm, to help staff with caring responsibilities.
This meant that staff could carve out a space in their diaries for valuable thinking time, and it was then up to individual Research Groups or Admin Teams to decide if they wanted to use this ‘free’ day to focus on research or specific project work. Since 2020, the Faculty has joined ‘meeting-free Fridays’, which has further reduced the meeting load on Fridays (though teaching commitments can still pop up).
The impact of these initiatives has been that many staff have taken the option to block out their calendar on Fridays as a ‘meeting-free day’ and are able to benefit from the opportunity to have some much-needed focus time without the interruptions of meetings. Positive feedback from staff has been that they really appreciate being able to sink their teeth into a meaty piece of work without being interrupted, and they feel less stressed in the week because they know they can catch up on Friday.
The Faculty has also encouraged meetings that were previously booked for an hour or more to be reduced by 10 mins (to 50 minutes, or 1hr 20 minutes) so staff can have a break from the screen, go to the loo or grab a coffee, or so they can catch up on emails or follow up on actions resulting from the previous meeting.
We’re keen to look at other ways to improve the wellbeing of our colleagues on an ongoing basis and are always open to suggestions.