The University of Toronto is fortunate to have many dedicated faculty, librarians, and staff who have prioritized the needs of our students and colleagues over themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a new year and we are taking precautions to protect our health and the safety and the health and safety of our loved ones. Wearing a mask, washing our hands and social distancing have become part of our everyday routines. The practice of self-care and looking after each other’s well-being is increasingly important as the pandemic continues to have far-reaching impacts on our work and home lives.
Last year was a challenge for our community. I want to encourage you to think about how to care for yourself, whether working at home or on campus. Leaders should continue to prioritize the well-being of their teams and colleagues, while being mindful of the fact that are many staff are not simply working from home but working from home during a pandemic with an unusual mix of distractions that are out of their span of control. In particular, we must support our colleagues who are struggling to balance family responsibilities and homeschooling during this time of uncertainty. Please be as flexible as possible in permitting flexible hours, vacation time, lieu time (if applicable), staff wellness days, and unpaid leave if necessary.
Senior leaders at U of T have compiled a series of workload and wellness suggestions below. Managers, Deans, Chairs and Directors can share these ideas with their colleagues and are encouraged to find the right balance for their units and the type of work they deliver. As a reminder, the pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on the health, and well-being of Black, Indigenous and racialized communities. Having a thoughtful and equity-minded approach to the needs of your team is a necessary component of inclusion.
Best Practices and Suggestions
- Consider booking meetings for 20 minutes instead of half an hour and 45 minutes rather than a full hour to allow for people to stretch or transition between meetings
- When booking a meeting, consider if a meeting is required or if there are other ways of sharing the information or getting input
- Invite only the individuals who are required to meetings
- Check calendars before booking meetings, and don’t book over blocked time without first consulting
- Wherever possible, provide a meeting agenda with time designated for each topic and end on time
- Consider phone calls for one-on-one meetings rather than video calls so people are freer to move and be away from their computer screen
- At the beginning of each meeting, establish that it is fine to participate with cameras off, or to stay on mute. Let your colleagues with children know that they don’t need to apologize for any background noise and allow them to participate as best they can.
- Consider introducing walking meetings, where you and your team can step outside and get exercise during a call
- Where possible, reserve one afternoon a week free of meetings for focused and uninterrupted work
- Keep emails succinct and clear
- Use the c.c. line thoughtfully
- Delay email delivery when possible – while some individuals need to work outside of regular business hours, non-urgent email correspondence can be sent using the delayed delivery function available through Outlook. This reduces the pressure to respond after hours or on weekends.
Prioritization and Workload
- Consider ways to lighten workloads, including rethinking due dates where possible
- Prioritize your team’s work. Try to gain clarity from colleagues or supervisors about what work is urgent and what can be deferred. Treating every task as critical can lead to overwork and feelings of being overwhelmed
- Determine team capacity and bandwidth before beginning a new project proposal
Calendars & Scheduling
- If possible, try to avoid scheduling meetings between 8:30 am – 9am and 11:30 am – 1:30 pm; this will provide time away from desks for all and especially those who are parents of school-age children. These times are often needed to get children online for classes or provide lunch for elementary school children.
- Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for uninterrupted time to focus on work
- Block a lunch break in your calendar and block any time needed for family obligations
- Respect time that has been blocked off by your colleagues and co-workers
- Determine core meeting hours for your unit and try to adhere to them, except for urgent time-sensitive issues
Build a supportive culture
- Keep the lines of communication open with your colleagues
- Familiarize yourself with the supports available, such as the Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP) for confidential counselling and other wellness services you can find on the HR & Equity website.
- Take vacation time, even if you don’t go anywhere. It is important to have time to rejuvenate. Encourage your team to do the same
- Set up regular check ins – determine the best methods to connect with your team
- Be flexible and willing to modify past practices to work more effectively in a virtual environment
- Be flexible and open to discussing temporary alternative working arrangements when possible. Varying obligations may create challenges for some – encourage flexibility and creativity wherever possible
- Have open conversations to create a more inclusive and collaborative work environment
- Find ways for your team to have some informal, online fun/social time together
Thank you for continuing to share your wellness tips and suggestions with your teams and colleagues, for your ongoing commitment to the University of Toronto, and for supporting the health and well-being of members within our community.