The new normal in the arms of the old

Diversity of working practices must be one way of improving diversity of participation. It may become a factor in survival.

In the first week of the Covid19 distancing, on a departmental coffee break in one of the popular meeting applications, colleagues maybe uncomfortable with distributed collaboration and diverse working patterns asked what they had to “give up” in order to work in a distributed collaborative mode.

My first thought was, “The nine to five!” But, much comfort shared in well-defined protected time emulating the old normal. Some argued that it was important to maintain routine. Many colleagues dressed for work. There were jokes about not being: “… only dressed from the waist up.” Children and pets presented briefly but neither seen or heard during work.

I have spent my life trying not to work the nine to five. I love working “anti-social hours”. I hate commuting. I do not revel in avoidable shared misery.

I was an early adopter of distributed collaborative working. Never truly a pioneer. In the late 1990s I helped implement Internet Relay Chat for professional development in a global industry. I envied my friends who had “real email” in universities while I made do with CompuServe. I had a”web log” just before they became “blogs”, a LiveJournal, a MySpace, and TypePad (Remarkably still there from 2009).

When I started working in higher education I was 48. I found colleagues similarly motivated by passion as much as reason, who didn’t all think they were doing the day job. Some kept routines in offices. Others lived in tele-cottages on outer islands. Some lived on boats. Some had children. All appeared to be enthusiastically productive, effective and influential, navigating senior corridors in universities and governments. We ran large and small-scale online distributed collaboration learning events. We made a MOOC that was among the first in the UK to be accredited. Some of the things we did have become business as usual. Much did not.

I understand routine. But, I also understand diversity. We declare how important diversity is. This post could become more of a discussion of diversity than I planned. I will observe that diversity of working practices must be one way of improving diversity of participation in the benefits of society, including higher education.