At the first works council of this academic year, an agreement was reached between VUB and the trade unions to increase the telework allowance to €50 a month. VUB is the first university in Flanders and Brussels to introduce this as an employer. This is not a bonus: employees are only reimbursed for the costs they incur at home, such as internet, lighting, heating and furniture.
An agreement has also been made for extra leave for campus workers – people who are unable to telecommute because, for example, their job does not allow them to do so. VUB compensates their compulsory presence on campus with half a day’s extra leave each month during the crisis.
Extra training and challenges are also provided for staff and students, such as digital Pilates training courses each week. We are also going to encourage the Millionaire Team Step Challenge, to reach one million steps in four weeks with a team of up to five colleagues. Those who have a sedentary job are often stuck at around 4,000 steps a day, while those who work from home will see the number of steps decrease further. Three sessions of mindfulness and meditation will also be organised each day in November and December 2020.
Finally, the babysitting app Bsit will be rolled out faster at VUB. Since July 2020, this has allowed staff to leave their children safely with a certified babysitter in complete confidence. A night out might not really be an option for the time being, but the babysitter can take care of the children if parents need to concentrate on work. VUB is giving a €50 voucher to all parents on staff. In addition, students are invited to register as a babysitter via the app and earn money: a corona-safe win-win.
The new way of working
The corona pandemic has accelerated the renewal of operations at VUB. The “New World of Work” is about making work more flexible, both in time and in place. This involves the use of ICT solutions for mutual communication and collaboration and requires a change in four subjects, the four Bs.
- Bricks: how are we going to redesign our buildings? Buildings on the campus will mainly become meeting places to do activities together.
- Bits & bytes: how do we provide adequate support in the field of IT and dealing with new programmes and systems? We now know how it works, but there is still a long way to go to deal with it efficiently.
- Business: we are investigating how we can optimise support for the core tasks (education, research and social services). In the future, for example, should there be as many full-time support services as before?
- Behaviour: what do we expect from employees and managers when working remotely? How can we offer a flexible mobility budget that meets today’s needs?
Director of People&Organisation Raf Devos: “We assume that we will only be on campuses half the time in the future. Where and when one works will depend on the activity. Teleworking offers many advantages, but also disadvantages. We will have to maximise the former and minimise the latter. Employees, for example, must also be given the right to be offline. And managers should no longer assert themselves through a controlling presence on the work floor, but remote support based on trust.”
Investment that should pay for itself
Many measures cost money in the short term, but these need to be offset by less expenditure. So they are an investment, but VUB is working hard on a new plan to equip the offices of the future. This should lead to occupying less space, lower operating costs and more sustainable use of materials, light and energy.
Raf Devos: “In January 2021, a number of services will move to the renovated spaces of the Braem building by the architect of the same name. This was designed in a visionary way as a meeting place in the 1960s and is now being restored to its former glory. It will become a laboratory for staff, students and visitors to work in the same space.”