Tales from the Lockdown #6: a conversation with Rob Angell, University of Southampton Business School
15 May 2020
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.
Rob Angell, Director of Internationalisation at University of Southampton Business School
What aren’t we talking enough about during this crisis?
I want to hear more about the positive work business scholars are doing to have an impact during the pandemic, in particular on the lives of our organisations, markets and social structures. At Southampton Business School colleagues have been really quick to pivot, undertaking research in areas like panic buying, opportunistic selling, and calling on the modelling and simulation community to come together to solve the right problems around Covid-19. It is clear to me that business scholars will play an even more crucial role as we move into a period of recession.
Tell us a tale of one of your local heroes, a person or a group within your university or school community who have pulled out all the stops at this time of crisis.
In our curriculum and School value we place huge emphasis on ethics and sustainability. I am really proud of how our students are living those values. Two weeks into the crisis I received an email from a group of undergraduates; they’d set up a buy-one-give-one fruit and vegetable box scheme which they were selling around the city while donating boxes to families on low incomes.
I want to acknowledge the work of Professor Samu Padmadas, our Associate Dean (International), for the duty care he has shown to so many students. As a professor of demography and global health he has been so busy advising governments and international bodies during this pandemic and yet he is constantly coming up with solutions for students who require support.
What’s surprised you the most - either positively or negatively – once normality disappeared and your organisation had to adapt to a different reality?
The late Harvard professor Clayton Christensen famously predicted that half of colleges and universities would close due to digital disruption. One of his less-quoted statements drew on the importance of relationships between faculty and students, which is something a machine can’t replicate. And that is really standing out for me; that is, how critical contact has become for both students and faculty. I have students who have regularly been reaching out to me, simply to ask about my wellbeing and that of my family. This really speaks of the symbiosis we experience as a community.
Name one change that you or your organisation has been forced to take that you’d like to carry into the future?
They say necessity is the mother of innovation and I’ve certainly seen more ideas thrown into the ring than ever before, and senior leaders are being open to new ways of doing things. For example, we’ve created a series of elective digital lectures and one-to-one coffee mornings with faculty, so that prospective students can understand who we are as a school.
It’s the sort of thing we’d do before, but on a much smaller scale, for instance through a single ‘trial lecture’. But we’ve been learning a lot through that direct dialogue with students, what their needs are, where the bottlenecks to them joining us might be. Most critically, it has allowed us to forge personal relationships with students before they even start their programme. I hope that’s something we’ll continue.
What partnerships and collaborations really came into play when it came down to it?
Me and a few other colleagues were noticing how a few weeks into the pandemic undergrads were struggling with their productivity and mental health. Part of that was about a sudden change in environment, either because they were going back to their parents or because they had no contact with friends. I joined colleagues in three other UK business schools to produce a ‘Question Time’ zoom format for final year undergrads who are busy with dissertations. It’s packed with tips, hints and best practice and it’s now online for anyone who wants to use it. We’ve had amazing feedback from students and it’s one of those collaborations that grew organically through the pandemic.
What have you learnt about yourself?
I’ve confirmed that I truly love my job! I’ve also learnt I’m quite creative, which is something I wouldn’t have thought before. I tend to see myself as an analytical brain and yet there are so many ideas and activities I’ve created as I go about finding solutions to the obstacles we’re facing.
This crisis has brought on more of who we are into the workplace – the daily clutter of our home life is lurking in. How are you experiencing that?
One of my colleagues delivered a seminar earlier in the year which highlighted variances people experience in their productivity. Her argument was that productivity goes through peaks and troughs depending on factors affecting you outside of work. I think it makes a lot of sense for us to evaluate our own productivity, but let’s do so over a longer period rather than just at an intersection in time.
We are all experiencing a lack of balance right now. Someone might be ill with the virus, someone else might be managing childcare and worrying about loved ones. Others may have a partner or close family member who is a frontline worker and at greater risk than the rest of us. These experiences will naturally leak into our work and that is OK! What I find important is that we’re really accepting and embracing of that reality, which is a big step in a positive direction.
Photo: Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels