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UTS pivots to remote working, prepares a new normal post COVID-19

To succeed with its 2027 strategy, the University of Technology Sydney will require both excellence and innovation. Its response to the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed it to demonstrate an abundance of both. 

UTS’s 2027 strategy is to cement its reputation as a leading public university that is recognised for its global impact. With that in mind it had already commenced a cloud-first digital transformation, deploying Office 365 and Teams to drive productivity and encourage communications and collaboration among its 9,000 personnel. (UTS students also use Office 365.)  

By early 2020 when it became clear that the majority of UTS staff were going to have to work remotely, the university’s digital platform was in place and ready to allow the pivot. 

Teams in particular has allowed UTS staff to communicate seamlessly, to access the same information and colleagues as they did when working in the office, and to engage in cross disciplinary chat sessions and hold video meetings.  

Teams has also facilitated remote access to key documents, allowing people to move files into Teams and then work on them from their home office without needing to go through UTS’; virtual private network. According to David Herbert, UTS’ Manager of Intranet and Collaboration; “When we first launched Teams, we had a pretty steep uptake to about 4,000 monthly active users within a few months. Then it probably flatlined for a little while.  

Now with this remote working, I think we’ve jumped up to 25,000 active users over a period of three weeks.

UTS’ senior leaders have rapidly embraced the technology which has helped cement the new approach to work. Herbert says that the value of Teams has been further enhanced by the ability to now establish private channels and also engage with external clients or partners who can be invited to communicate and collaborate using Teams.  

 “We’re getting a lot of queries now around live events and how many people can I have in a meeting? You can have 250 people on a normal Teams meeting, but there is a live events capability which can have up to 10,000. We’re getting a lot of inquiries about that,” adds Herbert. 

As demand for remote working solutions has ramped up, UTS has also overhauled the way that training is being delivered to users; it is now offering online webinars four or five times each week. According to Herbert

We have a digital capability uplift program that has been running for three years already. This year, there is a step-change in this initiative with more budget and resources allocated. Ensuring our staff have digital skills will be critical to achieving the UTS2027 strategy.

To ensure staff working remotely also remain mindful of the critical need for proper security and privacy the university has also launched an online security module that all staff need to complete.  

Staff can also access a series of “cheat sheets” and UTS’ working remotely portal which provides access to a range of information around Human Resources and Information Technology for people now working from home.  

The new normal 

UTS are currently mapping out what the new normal looks likeSusan Gibson who has been leading a transdisciplinary team to move the university’s staff to remote working explained that as a university of technology, it is in UTS’ DNA to explore how it can innovate, and it is keen to ensure that the benefits it identifies during this period of forced remote working are not lost when people are able to return to the office. 

There has been a clear step change in the way that UTS people communicate, with email volumes dropping off as more and more information is shared via Teams. 

UTS’ culture has also been refreshed; as colleagues come face to face (quite literally) with one another’s home lives during video chats, they are inclined to be more tolerant of other people’s needs and also feel more closely connected to one another. Those insights will be important to establish healthy but flexible work practices in the future. The university are now running regular pulse surveys to ensure we gain insights from our staff to help inform our future way of work. 

UTS is hoping that by being able to demonstrate a more flexible yet connected workplace it  will increase productivity and flexibility for all of our staff. Call it COVID-19’s silver lining.