Goodbye Leeds and hello Lancaster

Starting a new role during a pandemic

Sabiha Patel

Associate Director (Student Wellbeing and Inclusion) | Lancaster University

I would never have thought to be finishing a much-loved role at Leeds during a pandemic. My colleagues gave me a great send off and I felt incredibly grateful to receive letterbox flowers and additional treats on my last day as I have never experienced that before. I felt quite special but also sad that I was not able to say goodbye to my closest colleagues in person. With only a weekend to switch off from one role and start another, this was going to be an interesting experience, given the circumstances. I would normally have prepared my work outfit the night before and made my travel plans in advance. None of this was needed, my commute was only two minutes (upstairs to downstairs). 

My first day presents (laptop and supporting equipment) from Lancaster arrived at about 11am and I already felt part of the Lancaster team. Like anyone starting a new role, I was keen to quickly get up to speed with systems, developing new and sustainable relationships and contributing to work activities. All this needed to be managed remotely and in my living room, which operates as my office, 8.30am-6pm. I wished I had paid more attention to training offered to me at Leeds to understand the wider functionality of Teams. It is surprising how quickly you learn when you have to though, so within a few days, I grew f­­­­­­­amiliar with One Drive, Teams and certain Lancaster University systems, though I definitely have more to learn.   

Lancaster’s welcome, understanding and empathy has been incredible, and I could not have wished for a more supportive start.  This is week three of my new role and I am continuing to meet all my colleagues and teams remotely. I am itching to ‘walk the floor’ and to see how things work in situ, the queries we receive, the support we offer and how, but know that I must be patient with this. 

I’ve been supported to settle in by my Director, and Directorate Leadership Team colleagues, who have taken the time to help my understanding of the role and to get to know my colleagues (including promoting my existence!). We also have a wellbeing leadership team summit, which is an additional layer of support.

There are advantages to working remotely, like being able to see things with a helicopter view, without being drawn into the politics or the body language you inevitably observe in a full meeting room. I also know I am practicing more active listening too. It’s interesting how quickly a sense of normality has emerged with working from home, how we have settled into a different routine so quickly and the camaraderie that’s emerged in ‘we’re all trying to do our best’.

I am missing the coffee break introductions, the opportunity to just ask colleagues on the next desk along how to do something or who someone is. I often find myself googling names that are mentioned to know what their role at the University is. Most of all, I am missing the campus environment and seeing and supporting students preparing for their futures.

I am also reflecting on the ‘new norm’ that will emerge as an outcome of the pandemic and am already thinking about ways in which this may play out in student services and delivery of future student support. I will be certainly be taking advantage of the opportunities the AUA offers to collectively brainstorm this ‘new way’ with my sector colleagues.  

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