After two years of pandemic restrictions and hybrid teaching, BSBI is going back to on-site classes - as are thousands of other higher education institutions and workplaces in Germany.
What still needs to be defined is what normality means and, most importantly, how our school community will shape it to allow each other to reconnect again in the physical world. Organisational researcher, Brené Brown, refers to this return to physical encounters as “the great awkward”, alluding to the uncomfortable moment of meeting one another again after months of hiding behind a screen. Students might experience this “great awkward” coming back to classes and graduates will enter a work environment that is relearning to function again in the office.
The student experience that we design in the upcoming months will define whether or not universities will become spaces that we want to be in, and not just the place we are obliged to go to. How do we approach this turning point?
A quick return to what we remember as pre-pandemic dynamics might seem the easiest way forward — and it is what many of us are looking forward to. However, by doing that, we might forget to recognise and honour the experiences of the last two years. The uncertainty, fear, challenges and pain that have shaped us individually and as a community. We’ve experienced moments of connection, resonance and shared a struggle that created a stronger sense of unity and community. We should acknowledge what we have been through and put into practice everything we have learned.
Reflecting on coming back to work, organisational consultant, Simon Sinek, reminds us that trust is built between meetings, between classes, in the coffee break and by the bathroom door. It is generated through the daily interactions and the unplanned, purposeless conversations. We have lost practice of all of this for two years now, and we need to get used to the small talk that leads to big connections once again. It is now time to say “hi” when we cross each other in the hallway and offer a smile and a thank you when somebody holds the door for you. It is time to rebuild trust with one another, so that soon we begin to feel as safe on campus as we do in our home office or study area.
Digitalisation, virtual tools, and online teaching are all here to stay. Going back on campus doesn’t mean that we are leaving all of that behind. On the contrary, we are making use of technology to make our work and study more agile, flexible, and dynamic. It is not a dichotomy. In fact, they are complementary elements. The balance between connection and independence, and between commitment and flexibility. Let’s not choose either or, but embrace both!
Questions about our peers’ wellbeing went from being a rarity in 2019 to becoming an integral part of a healthy work and study environment, following Covid’s appearance in 2020. As the acute threat of Covid fades away, we must not fall into the trap of ignoring other important societal challenges and individual worries that could potentially be affecting the people around us. We should keep on asking how we are doing and talk about how we can best support each other. We need to continue having conversations about physical and mental wellbeing as a normal part of our work relationships. And yes, of course, let’s have fun, host parties and enjoy fewer restrictions as we welcome back the things we missed. We now have the chance to influence what the future of higher education will look like and show what we’ve learnt from the past two years. Let’s make it the very best that we can.
By Maria Requena Lopez, Head of Student Services