Tales from the Lockdown #1: a conversation with Kai Peters, Coventry University
27 April 2020
‘It’s like we’re running a family – albeit a rather large one!’.
In this series of conversations, our guests talk to Senior Consultant Claudia Monteiro about what they're learning during the pandemic and what future they're imagining.
Tell us a tale about one of your local heroes, a person or a group within your university who have pulled out all the stops to help at this time of crisis.
It’s been really nice to see our vice-chancellor at Coventry ensuring we’re getting as much support to students as we can. Together with the senior team, he’s been working from dawn till the early hours – suddenly, it’s more like he’s running a family – albeit a rather large one!
As a team leader how has your focus changed? What are you more mindful of these days?
I’ve found myself creating a number of Whatsapp groups to build that day-to-day experience of being close to my communities - from our senior team at Coventry to our alumni in my previous role at Ashridge Executive Education. We keep checking in with each other. A lot of it has been about establishing a community virtually – turning up for drinks on microsoft teams for example, is a joy. Some of the meetings I’m having serve no other purpose than jollying each other up, and that's important right now.
I’m on the board of a technology healthcare company in Germany. They’ve developed an amazing online piece that uses cognitive behavioral therapy so patients can manage their levels of depression and anxiety. It’s produced amazing results with cancer patients, for instance. This notion that positive thinking and mental wellbeing can really heal at times of crisis it’s something I’m very aware of these days.
Name one change that you or your organisation has been forced to take that you’d like to carry into the future?
I have a whole list on the go – we're brainstorming new entities and looking at what more we can do with the public sector. Could we create some sort of virtual school for teachers, the police force, healthcare workers? How can we contribute to the good of society? How can we contribute to global public healthcare? How could we share our knowledge in engineering tool-making here at Coventry to the benefit of less developed markets where they could then manufacture with those tools? There’s a willingness to really start thinking about these things in a more thoughtful manner.
I believe collaboration between universities will have to kick in – for instance why are we all creating our own online support separately when we could be collaborating and sharing content?
The pandemic has forced us to have conversations about the sustainability of universities. That’s really welcome; the disruption we’re seeing now might just become the new normal and we need to adapt to that.
Can you reflect on one area that you might let go of, going forward?
We’re talking a lot about how we travel. Can we fly less? We have hundreds of student trips every year – can we apply a different paradigm to the way we organise destinations and modes of transport? And how can we make travel to our international campus really count?
We’re also learning that this sort of distributed type of working is alright – we just need to offer good homeworking environments. Do I have to get on a train every day to sit in an office on my own in Coventry? Probably not. One of my old colleagues at Ashridge did a great piece of research on managing remote teams that basically concluded that if one person isn’t physically there, then ideally everyone else is remote too to ensure equal access to information. Of course, turning up to work in an office won’t go away; you need that contact to get to know each other, to develop trust, to understand what’s going on. But in the “new normal” we’ll be more thoughtful about organizing meetings (do we need that many?) and more comfortable with remote work.
The big question is how we're going to be structuring an economy that is more sustainable. Everyone needs to get their act together. As a society we really need to rethink endless consumption.
What collaborations really came into play when it came down to it?
It’s all the outreach stuff really. Mental health and wellbeing became a priority. We have faculty members who are away from their country, away from their families and living on their own. The same applies to students. We’ve developed this natural cascading order of caretaking: senior management are checking in with faculty and faculty have been really good at checking in with students.
Kai Peters is Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Business and Law at Coventry University
Photo: Suzy-Hazelwood from Pexels.
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