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Physical, digital or a hybrid?

We are truly living in historic times. In March, the well-known pandemic struck with full force and we were forced to move all our operations into a digital forum that reached the launchpad in record time. Between one late Thursday and the following Monday, all teaching was to be switched to digital. Zoom was to become our main workplace, not only for meetings, thesis defences, teaching and exams, but also for yoga sessions, AW or digital coffee breaks.

I think it exceeded all expectations and we got to critically test the vision of a future digital university predicted by many people. Some reports talk of a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle with less travel (both in terms of commuting and internationally), more effective meetings (many meetings were substantially shorter when they went online) and increased productivity (sharp increase in the number of articles submitted to scientific conferences and applications to the Swedish research councils.

But naturally, we also hear of problems connected to psychological health and solitude, difficulties separating work life from private life and unergonomic work postures that are important to take very seriously.

At KTH, we succeeded to a great extent in managing this digitalisation via personnel who worked to make ready our physical environments allocated to support the digital work environment and where the highest priority was to get education to work and to be able to significantly expand the capacity for video meetings.

We now face the next big challenge. To gradually and under controlled forms mix these two ways of working. Having successfully gone from a physical to a digital work environment, we now need to make a hybrid environment work. Not only to have well-functioning classroom lectures but also to make these available online. In a similar way, we need to be able to manage meeting participants both in the physical room and in digital space.

Paradoxically enough, this will probably entail more resources and be perceived as more load intensive. But it is important that we don’t think we are seeing a pure return to working as we did before the pandemic. We have learnt a number of important lessons about working digitally and education and discovered new ways of working that we must make the most of. We have been given a taster of the university of the future – let us all continue our development in this direction.