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Covid-19 impacts on research culture: practices to take forward

As the Covid-19 pandemic evolved throughout 2020-22, research teams adapted their working lives to radically new and challenging conditions, and research organisations tried to accommodate a rapidly changing environment without existing protocols or comparable scenarios. The University of Leeds, together with its faculties and services, responded to pandemic conditions in a variety of ways to mitigate the differential effects on its community of researchers.

We have collated, shared, and evaluated the strategies that the University implemented since 2020. By reflecting on and adapting the actions taken, we will support recovery from Covid-19, protect business as usual, and provide resilience for future impacts.

The overall aim of this report is to help develop an improved post-pandemic research culture and environment that will not only be more resilient during business as usual, but also during times of future challenge or disruption.

For future periods of comparable disruption, priorities include:

  1. Protect access to facilities. Keep buildings and facilities open where safe, even with low occupancy rates.
  2. Prioritise the protection of researchers most vulnerable to disruption (e.g., PGRs, those on fixed-term contracts, with caring responsibilities, or with other complex personal circumstances), for example through financial support and providing workspace and access to equipment.
  3. Communicate and consult. Be clearer in communications to all, and be honest about difficulties and timescales, i.e., on re-opening of buildings or on external decisions.
  4. Maintain agility. Ensure processes remain flexible and inclusive, e.g., flexible funding; targeted research leave schemes.
  5. Consider when best to devolve. Sometimes faster responses can be attained by devolving responsibility, empowering Schools and Faculties to make targeted and less risk-averse decisions.
  6. Adequately resource central support services. The pandemic exposed the risks of support services being unable to rapidly adapt to the additional workload resulting from extreme events.
  7. Resource areas that make the biggest meaningful difference to upholding University values. For example, supporting line management to protect the mental wellbeing of staff.

Chapter 3 of the report has 26 recommendations for leadership teams to mitigate the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 on the research community, and to foster a positive research culture and environment as we move forward.

Download the full report