The strength of USI Services
Institutional Communication Service
11 May 2020
The Dies academicus has been an opportunity to show USI's energy, even under these delicate circumstances. In fact, the recent health situation presented new challenges, and also the staff of USI services had to adapt and carry out their workload and new projects with the aid of new interactive tools and on remote. With the aim of shining a light on the important role of USI employees, we spoke with Cristina Largader, Administrative Director, and Antoine Turner, Adjunct Administrative Director for the Academy of Architecture.
USI responded to the emergency by venturing on a relentless journey, undertaking new travel routes dictated by the situation, all of which was possible thanks to the effort of the staff. "Now that the measures are loosening and the pandemic's commotion is decreasing, we can take stock of the extraordinary results achieved by our staff. They show the strength of USI's services and the staff commitment: their flexibility and strong will in this particularly delicate moment has been most valuable," say Cristina Largader and Antoine Turner.
For the first time a pandemic plan has been implemented, following the provisions shared at federal and cantonal level. The objectives were twofold: to carry on the activities and to ensure the welfare of the employees. From the very beginning, 'planning' has been the key word: "it was essential to elaborate possible future scenarios and to inform employees from the very beginning of the pandemic. In this way we were able to mobilise our human, logistics and IT resources at an early stage to tackle a first phase of teleworking" explain the two Directors. Spaces were organised to encourage office-splitting, hygiene standards were increased, replacement plans put in action, and telework infrastructures were boosted. The latter are just some of the measures taken to deal with the situation. As stressed by both Directors, employees have rapidly improved their digital skills, also thanks to the great work of the IT service and the eLab, and have also learned to carry out new tasks in support of the various teams that were most in need.
The later phases of the emergency were tackled thanks to an important teamwork between the Services, which put their skills to use: for example, the IT Service contacted users to make sure they would deal with the transition to digital work in the best possible way, Human Resources and the Equal Opportunities Service contacted employees with children to offer them support, and again the libraries tried to continue offering their services despite the restrictions. In general, the Service coordinators have also created a constant dialogue with the teams to manage workloads and support those who were emotionally affected by the situation, which underlines the importance of dialogue and interaction. There was also a lot of creativity to stay close even from far away, to name a few: the offer of online sports activities, which became an opportunity to stop and talk with colleagues, the initiatives of digital coffee breaks to share experiences, competitions, without forgetting the commitment of the communication team to tell "stories" at the time of the coronavirus and in creating online events aimed at the wider community.
What lessons can be learned for the future from this emergency, in the medium and long term? "In the immediate future, there will be a need for even more internal mobility. It is enough to mention that carrying out exams online will require the use of ten extra administrative staff for IT services, who will be trained before June. The Quality Assurance Service is also working on a 'Protection Protocol for USI employees and working environments'," explains Largader. Telework and the consolidation of the University's digital presence will remain a solid cornerstone, even when it will all gradually return to work in person. "This crisis has made it possible to test different processes and focus on possible improvements, demonstrating that telework and virtual desks work very well and can be optimised between campuses. In the medium term, however, we also see the importance of physical social interaction: the emergency has strengthened the team, which now needs real interaction to keep the spirit and balance that define a group," Turner concludes.