A Network is made up of People: Why Connection Matters

Uncategorized May 28, 2020

Written by Deborah Sloan, part of WHEN's Communication & Engagement Team

We have a thriving women’s network at Ulster University and I am incredibly proud of what it has achieved. It has an admirable purpose (to inspire and enable women to fulfil their potential), a great mission statement and a very functional website (how much can you expect from a website?). It has well-planned programmes of events organised by four Steering Groups (one for each campus), it is supported by key senior champions and it even has a couple of successful offshoots — a book club and a mentoring scheme. So far, so good.

When our campus doors closed in mid-March, we had the choice to close our network as well. But in the first couple of weeks of lockdown when everything was so shockingly confusing, I realised I was not feeling isolated as I was still hearing from colleagues and joining team meetings, but that I was missing the richness of the connections with people all across our wider University community that made our network such a vibrant place to be.

I remembered what I had shared at the network’s one-year anniversary event back in January before we had any idea what would happen two months later:

“Over the last year, I have felt part of something that matters. Through the network, I have met so many people that I did not know a year ago. I have also experienced so much kindness, goodness and generosity and seen the best of people and people who would give their heart and soul to make the workplace and the world a better place. I have seen people who had given up, come back to life because they realised they had something to contribute and seen sparks light in people as they made a connection with someone else. I have seen those who felt invisible, realise they could become visible again”.

And it is these people who have sustained me over the last few weeks. With our on-campus programmes cancelled, we have continued to meet every fortnight or so for half-hour virtual chats. There’s always been an agreed topic such as ‘Good Habits for the Working Day’, ‘Dealing with Home Schooling’ or even ‘Struggling with Lockdown’ but really, most of the chats have covered exactly the same ground — guilt, failure, demotivation, exhaustion.

Unlike most other meetings which have a pre-defined work-based purpose, these chats follow a simple formula:

We keep them short.

· Most people can step out of the working day for half an hour.

We don’t talk about what we are doing; we talk about how we are feeling.

· But we do talk about what we could be doing to help with how we are feeling.

We don’t have any hierarchies.

· We are, all of us regardless of grade, in this together.

We don’t promise any solutions.

· But we share plenty of suggestions.

In a recent message to staff, our Interim Vice-Chancellor reminded us that “the stronger we make ourselves as individuals, the stronger we become as an entire University”. Through open and honest conversations, validation and a realisation that no-one is on their own, we aim to strengthen each other. These suggestions for managing lockdown have helped us and we hope they can also help others.

1. Structure helps

Get up, get washed, get dressed, get started…. and structure the rest of the day as best you can.

2. Reframe productive

Productive, regardless of your personal perfectionism will not be the same as before. Define a productive which releases the pressure on you. Measure what you have achieved (big and small). Make a list, tick it off and celebrate getting through another day.

3. Manage your energy, not your time

Consider when you work best during the day. Start early if this is when you have more energy but stop when you get tired.

4. Your calendar is your friend

Block out time in your calendar to do more concentrated work. It can simply be difficult to get started if you need to focus on producing a piece of work rather than just responding to emails. By taking control of your calendar, you allow yourself permission to do this. One bonus is a busy calendar means you may also manage to avoid some of those Skype or Zoom meetings!

5. Embrace good habits

Good habits can include stopping for lunch, taking regular breaks, getting fresh air, building in daily exercise and trying to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is the one thing you can do that will make everything seem just that little bit better.

6. Look for the joy in the everyday

Without the option to make plans, we cannot plan in our future joy. So, joy needs to be in the present. Reframe what to look forward to — treat yourself, read a book you can’t wait to pick up again (not one that feels like a burden), eat that cake, enjoy switching your mind off with a good drama. Netflix is full of possibilities! Be kind to yourself!

7. Find a project

Having a project means having a purpose. Try doing something creative that you can get lost in or that takes your mind elsewhere.

Fundamentally, organisations are just made up of people and networks are designed to bring those people together. We don’t have all the answers and it is likely that we will continue to have the same chats over and over again for the foreseeable future but that’s ok — as long as we keep connecting and more importantly, keep talking.


Original published here and republished with author's permission for WHEN. 

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