March 29, 2012

Alternatives to Travel Pilot

Filed under: General — dhiom @ 4:05 pm

We are working with the following University of Bristol Schools/Departments to promote virtual technologies as alternatives to travelling:

  • School of Arts (Archaeology, Drama, Music and Philosophy)
  • School of Community and Social Medicine
  • Department of Geographical Sciences
  • School of Physiology and Pharmacology
  • Graduate School of Education

There are 3 planned phases of the pilot:

1.  Research current attitudes and behaviours of staff, via an online survey with a short staff workshop and/or follow-up interviews.

2.  Implement a ‘campaign’ to support the use of alternative technologies within the School, to include emails to staff, optional training sessions, posters in the coffee room and admin areas, posters for printing out to place around workstations, a support hotline.

3.  Re-visit staff attitudes and behaviours after the campaign. Have things changed? Has use of alternative technologies – and positive attitudes to them – increased?  What works and what doesn’t?

Results from First Phase

An online attitudinal questionnaire was distributed to staff in the 5 academic departments to look at current behaviour and attitudes to using technology as an alternative to travelling to meetings. We received 85 responses across the 5 departments (a response rate of approximately 6%). Because of the low response rate it is not likely to be representative of the population but provides some indication of attitudes of the sub-set that were inclined to respond.  Of those of did respond:

  • 63% had participated in a virtual meeting during the past 12 months
  • The majority of these took part in virtual meetings every few months
  • The most popular virtual meeting solution was audio conferencing, followed by instant messaging and videoconferencing
  • 55% agreed that they enjoyed travelling as part of their work (14% disagreed and 24% were neutral)

With regards to attitudes towards virtual meetings:

  • 38% agreed that virtual meeting technology is reliable (20% disagreed and 28% were neutral)
  • 18% agreed that virtual meetings were difficult to set up (40% disagreed and 32% were neutral)
  • 38% believed virtual meetings are more convenient than face-to-face meetings, (26% disagreed and 33% were neutral)
  • 66% thought communication is not as effective in virtual meetings as face-to-face meetings, (5% disagreed and 25% were neutral)
  • 34% thought virtual meetings were a good substitute for face-to-face  meetings (24% disagreed, 36% were neutral)

Staff were also asked about specific examples where virtual meetings could be used effectively, responses included:

  • Contact with mentors in schools via virtual meetings, also additional supervision of PGCE students at a distance
  • Interim catch ups during projects and collaborations
    • Meeting with co-applicants on grant applications where they live in different parts of the country or abroad
    • Can be quite effective for job interviews, but very often the panel will want a face-to-face follow-up interview with a candidate successful at videoconference

Examples where they felt that virtual meetings couldn’t be usefully used included:

  • Meeting new colleagues for the first time
  • Contract negotiations
  • Fieldwork/data collection
  • In-depth planning meetings
  • Large conferences
  • Student observations

In terms of what is needed to encourage them to participate more in virtual meetings, these included:

  • Knowing what services and equipment is available in the university
  • Having bookable, dedicated rooms in each department.  Most staff worked in shared offices and are reluctant to disturb colleagues by holding a web conference/Skype session in their room. Having to travel for 20 minutes to use virtual conferencing equipment is annoying.
  • Being able to trust the equipment (need better support and ‘hand holding’

The research on current attitudes and behaviours will feed into the design of a campaign to encourage staff to make more use of ICT to support or replace face-to-face meetings where participants were required to travel in or outside of Bristol.

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