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Regular version of the site

Academic Parties, Online Lunches, and Buddies for Staff

How the HSE community is maintaining its team spirit and helping each other while working from home

© iStock

Despite the regular Zoom meetings, emails, and online chats, a lack of face-to-face communication makes colleagues feel disconnected from each other. We’ve talked to some members of the HSE community about what they do to feel connected and support each other during these uneasy times.

Bernardo Eugenio Pincheira Sarmiento

Research Fellow, International Research Laboratory for Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms

We have a very tight-knit team. We used to have lunch and dinner together at the cafeteria at Pokrovka. When departments started having their staff work from home, our Centre also switched the annual research seminars and meetings to an online format. The format turned out to work really well, and now colleagues who live in other regions and even countries also use it.

At the end of March, when the official period of self-isolation began, I tried to organize something similar to our lunch outings. For someone like me, who lives alone, far from their family, it is very important to stay connected, and I believe, many can relate to this. We have been gathering for online lunches for over a month now, and I’m happy it works and thankful to all my co-workers who join us.

These meetings are informal: we discuss topics not related to work, sometimes we share recipes of new dishes, and sometimes we just have a good time and a good laugh. For me personally, it helps to stay in good mood, despite the physical loneliness. In terms of work, I think this is a great opportunity to have a little distraction and continue working after lunch with a more positive attitude.

Tatyana Timkova

Deputy Director at the Institute of Education

We try to prevent the researchers and students falling out of the academic rhythm, so we conduct regular all-institute workshops: two times a week, each staff member participates in discussing the contents of our projects online. Many departments of our Institute have their own weekly workshops.

It is great that HSE University has provided all its staff members with access to MS Teams during this period. Our departments have created teams there and are using this tool for planning, task-setting, surveys, and briefings.

In addition, our departments organize online meetings, not only to discuss work-related issues, but to share news and talk about films, performances, and books over a cup of tea. We at the Institute of Education have had an online academic party, and prepared a programme with interesting activities. Our colleagues, the team of the Laboratory for Curriculum Design, play board games online.

Besides work-related and informal communication, I believe, it is essential to help each other today. We have recently launched a project ‘Volunteer Kids’. The idea is to organize communication between staff members’ kids and provide the older kids with an opportunity to help the younger ones or teach them something interesting. This helps give parents a short break.

We are also trying to organize buddies’ help for colleagues who need help navigating online tools.  HSE University already has Digital Volunteers who help install and use work-related software, but our volunteers can help with personal routine tasks, such as ordering groceries online.

Maria Mordvinova

Academic Supervisor of the Advertising and Public Relations Programme and Deputy Head of the School of Integrated Communications

As an academic supervisor, I do Instagram streams with my students, where we discuss academic issues, solve technical problems of online learning, and sometimes, we are joined by prospective students. We are going to organize meetings like this for internal and external audiences regularly. For example, it would be interesting to talk about the communications market and the relevant vacancies. I’m going to invite not only our teachers, but also industry professionals who can share their experiences and talk about their career paths.

A group chat in Zoom is another convenient way of communicating. For example, students who are doing a sociology project want to discuss its promotion at HSE University. Usually, students could come to my office and ask their questions, but now, I believe it is even easier online—there are no barriers here.

Speaking of communication with co-workers, we have weekly phone meetings and a group on WhatsApp, which includes all of the employees of our School. We discuss highly relevant questions (without long discussions), share announcements of interesting events at the university and, of course, send holiday greetings.

We also have informal meetings (where you can sometimes come with a glass of wine), as well as special ‘backstage’ meetings with experts who can help in our work or share something interesting about the technology and tools in our field.

Anna Borisova

Founder of HSE Alumni Networking Club

Personal contact is extremely important in the art of effective communication. Before the pandemic, in February, we managed to have the first alumni get-together on Pokrovsky Boulevard, and the meeting on March 21 was cancelled just three days before the date. We had to master the new online forms of interaction fast.

My main goal is to bring together as many HSE graduates as possible to provide mutual support, engage in professional networking, and socialize. In a sense, the pandemic has become a unification catalyst for us: many people have felt the desire to be connected and talk.

We had already surveyed Alumni Club members online about what speakers they would most like to listen to and what topics they would most like to discuss, so we were quite fast in switching to online meetings in Zoom. During the first two or three weeks, we had meetings with a psychologist and a city guide, but today, the amount of useful resources is overwhelming, so what people want is simple human communication.

At first, I invited everyone to a chat on WhatsApp, but we have quickly exceeded the limit, and the group moved to Telegram. Our graduates can announce their activities after approval by the chat admins. The group is a kind of a news community, but we also have boards for announcements of upcoming online meetings and lectures.

I believe that as soon as the quarantine ends and mass events are allowed, this will become a new fixture in the HSE alumni community’s development.

May 14, 2020