The pandemic has made many researchers and universities think about how and where we work.
In a push to lower energy costs and shrink office sizes, many companies and universities are moving towards hybrid work arrangements. Solutions where we work two days a week from home and three days a week from the office are being proposed.
So, what do these solutions mean for us as researchers?
I think the discussion about hybrid work is an invitation for us to think about our various tasks, and decouple these tasks from the location.
For example, as a professor, my tasks are:
- Meetings with students of the courses I teach
- Supervision meetings with graduate students
- Preparing class material
- Writing papers
- Reading the literature
- Carrying out experimental work
- Data analysis
- Administration of projects
- Replying to emails
- Commenting on the writing of my students
- Contributing towards technical documents
- Meetings of committees
- Reviewing papers
- Editorial tasks
- Meetings of journals related to editorial activities
- Communicating about my work and research through social media
- Writing grant proposals
I invite you at this moment to make a list of your tasks. Your task list can be similar to mine, or you may have a different composition of tasks. Just jot down the list of all the things you do on a regular basis.
Now, write down for each of these tasks the conditions you need to work optimally. These conditions can be:
- access to the lab
- quiet space
- a desktop computer with two screens
- videoconferencing software, microphone, webcam
- busy environment
- proximity to colleagues
As a third step of this exercise, write down the different work spaces you have available, and their characteristics:
- university office: shared space with colleague, proximity to colleagues, good desktop computer with two screens
- lab bench: laboratory equipment, basic computer for data logging, proximity to colleagues
- home office: quiet space, laptop
- coffee place close to home: background noise, away from screens (if you go there without laptop), laptop (if you take yours along)
To find out how you can work best in a hybrid environment, revisit your list of tasks and map each task with the ideal place for working.
For example: I prefer to do writing and data analysis from my university office, because it is a large space that I do not share with colleagues, is quiet, has good coffee (because I have my own espresso machine), and there are no distractions of my family or other people that could distract me at home. However, when I am in my office in the Netherlands, the description of my office is different, since there I share office with another professor.
As a final step, have a look at how your tasks are divided over the week. Which days do you need to be on campus for meetings, teaching, or laboratory work? Which days would you prefer to focus on research and writing – either in the library, in an office space that is for you alone, or in another location where you can fully concentrate? Can you group certain tasks to that require your presence at university on certain days of the week?
With this information, you can decide which days of the week you need to work from campus and which days of the week you can work from home, or from another place where you can concentrate well. Arrange your planning of the week in such a way that you can take optimal benefit of the conditions of your various workspaces, and that you map your tasks in time to the space that suits your needs most.