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Column Paul Wouters: Back to the eight o'clock day!!

The physical boundary between private life and work has disappeared. As a result, each of us has to guard that boundary individually, and that is pretty tricky, says our dean.Paul Wouters in his column.

'Acht uur! zoo klinkt door alle landen,
Acht uur zij onze arbeidstijd.
Acht uur aan d’ arbeid onzer handen
En ook aan onze geest gewijd.
Wij willen flink en krachtig werken,
Maar ’t lichaam geven zijnen eisch!
Wij willen maag en geest versterken,
En vrijheid – zelfs tot elken prijs.
Acht uur! Acht uur!
Geen langer arbeidsduur!
Ten strijd! Komt allen op ten strijd!
Ten strijd voor acht uur arbeidstijd'

This is how Sam Coltof's 'Achturenmars'  ('March of Eight Hours') expressed the struggle of the workers' movement in the 19th and 20th centuries for decent working hours. This song is worth singing again. As a result of the systematic erosion of funding for higher education, many of our staff have been working more hours per week than the agreed 38 hours for many years. However, the Corona crisis, as a result of which all hands had to be on deck, and the accelerated digitalisation of education and parts of research, has made it even more difficult to limit working hours. As a result of mass working from home, which our faculty admirably followed up, the physical boundary between home and work has disappeared. As a result, each of us has to guard that boundary individually, which is pretty tricky. Moreover, working from home has disturbed the natural contact with each other. As a result, that contact must be planned and organised much more explicitly than before.

In short: the Corona crisis challenges us to 1) structurally and systematically reduce the workload; and 2) organise new forms of social intercourse both physically and digitally. As the Faculty Board, we would like to contribute to this. We declared the first week of January 2021 free of meetings, with the exception of the New Year's reception where we will meet digitally after the Christmas holidays. In addition, we are reviewing our processes with regard to procedures that can be deleted or simplified. The starting point is: a rock-solid confidence in you (lecturers, researchers, and specialists in the services, as well as our students of course). Over the past few months, you have proved to us that you deserve this trust. The control mechanisms can therefore be reduced considerably. We also want to introduce a faculty-wide lunch break of half an hour somewhere between noon and one as soon as possible. In a nutshell: no more Teams or Zoom meetings between twelve and one. These are modest steps, but every step counts. I hope that those (admittedly small) steps will encourage each of us to find it normal to pull the plug at the end of the day.

This is also in the interest of the university, because this is the only way we can keep going in the coming months. This brings me to the second point: new forms of social interaction. I myself have mainly worked from home in recent months. But we can now make more use of the FSW buildings to meet each other within the rules of conduct. That's why I'm going to work at the Pieter de la Court Building one day a week in the coming months (alternately on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays). I would love to be able to meet you there as well: come and see me! I can do writing jobs at home, so do"interrupt"! The institutes are also buzzing with initiatives to support social traffic digitally. We had already gotten handy in working digitally, now we have to get handy in digital social encounters as well. And experience is already being acquired in abundance, so let's now share that experience. I hear from colleagues who join the 'Nederland in beweging' team once a week, even though they are not yet 50+. I also hear from departments that do pub quizzes during drinks: home-made or found online. And blended meetings are also set up, with groups of colleagues who meet each other live in a city, after which each 'city hub' calls in for the online meeting. That inspires! 

Or step into the university tradition and listen together with students, colleagues and alumni to one of the Cleveringa lectures, which can be followed online this year. For example, choose for the 50th  Cleveringa Lecture on Thursday 26 November 2020 at 16:00 by Romeo Dallaire on (mental) health in humanitarian interventions. After the lecture, plan a follow-up meeting with a group of colleagues or students, with hot chocolate or a good glass of wine. It is a matter of planning and doing.  
Gradually we explore what is possible in a blended way. We quickly learned what the digital possibilities are and let's no longer just apply them professionally, but also socially. By gaining experience with live, online and blended encounters, we have actually already started developing a new type of social and behavioural sciences campus. 

Paul Wouters
Dean Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

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