It’s OK to not be OK, but it’s OK to be alright too! – The ADS approach to keeping the team connected

This is our approach in the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) as we acknowledge our staff and students will be feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. Maelstrom may not be a commonly used word, but it is a very fitting one currently as many people feel they are in a whirlpool of emotions which can change from week to week but also hour to hour. For some, the opportunity to work from home and have more family time might be a big plus. For others it is devastating. The most important thing is to recognise is that although our staff and PhD students react differently, we have a shared need to stay connected. Here at ADS we have introduced a few activities to help us all stay the supportive and connected team we are.

The first example is to celebrate achievements which we would normally celebrate face-to-face. Below is an image of our virtual party for Dr Chris Russell who had a successful PhD viva last month. This is a momentous achievement and thanks to the creative thinking of our Research Assistant Jen Bray, we continued our longstanding ‘hat’ tradition. In normal times, Jen and colleagues would create a hat covered in paraphernalia that reflect the personality, likes and hobbies associated with the person passing their viva.  In COVID times, a virtual hat was created and we celebrated online with a drink of our choice and an array of hats that we instead wore during the online call.

image showing celebrations for PhD and the virtual hat created
Congratulations… …and the ‘virtual’ hat

Below is a photo of Dr Izzie Latham’s hat (yes there really is a hat under there and yes she wore it), when we celebrated her PhD success back in January. You can see why we wanted to keep up our standards for Chris!

Izzie's PhD hat

Every Monday, ADS holds a lunchtime Bring Your Own Lunch session. As the name suggests this is an opportunity for the whole team (12 -15 people at any one time) to join via the ‘Go to Meeting’ platform so we can see each other simultaneously in gallery format. We have tried a few approaches from free-flowing conversation to individual updates. We seem to be settling on each of us sharing an achievement from the previous week and a challenge coming up in the week ahead. Whilst these are mostly work related, we learnt to include the option of these being non-work related to take pressure of those who were feeling unconfident about their achievements as they adjusted to ‘surviving a pandemic whilst simultaneously trying to work’. As well as using Microsoft Teams for the first time, we now have a couple of social chat threads in Teams so we can share supportive messages and humour and images such as our well-walked pets and home haircuts.

After a couple of weeks, we realised a more social Bring Your Own Lunch session might be helpful. We now do Thank Goodness it’s Friday sessions at 4pm on a Friday to round off the week and we invite pets and children too, who have often been pushed away from the laptop cameras all week. To lighten the mood, we have a facilitator each week to do a light-hearted activity for us all to join in with. First it was a session on advanced dog training by Professor Tracey Williamson and the week after Dementia Practice Development Coach Nicola Jacobson-Wright took us through making a bird feeder, ably assisted by her children. See the creations below made in real-time during the session by our Director Professor Dawn Brooker (left) and over the following weekend by Jen Bray (right). Who says we can’t learn new skills during a pandemic?! We’ve also had one quiz by Research Associate Faith Frost, and another by Research Associate Thomas Morton, complete with disco lights! Future sessions on music, beauty treatments and macrame have also been mooted.

Homemade bird feeders

All of the above is in addition to our standard monthly team meetings and various work stream meetings, emails and personal contacts amongst each other. We hope you enjoyed hearing about our approaches. It will be interesting to see how we adapt to working face-to-face again. Most of all we look forward to our annual team walk over the Malverns…

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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