Can you tell me something about your work?

I work at Tilburg University. In (very) short, I study organizations working for sustainability. I also study methods to help organizations plan for complex and uncertain situations. In an upcoming project, I will be looking at how organizations, and especially technology firms, strategize for the future, and in particular, about sustainability.
I’m interested in ideas that are taken-for-granted and how those ideas emerge, change or are changed. For example, why some ideas or practices are more used than others and what that means for organizations.

There are many examples of how the COVID-crisis has challenged the status quo and disrupted taken-for-granted institutions – how and where people work, travel, etc. On a small, but also on a very large scale. For example, we see changes in informal institutions, such as the handshake, but also how norms about travel may change. Also, the role of organizations in adopting or not fully adopting government measures is interesting – you have probably already noticed how some stores and restaurants are quite serious and others are not. There can be a lot of reasons for this.

How did the COVID-crisis change your work?

I’m also a teacher. So, we had to teach online and that was very new. Luckily, the students are really nice about it.

For them, it is also a big change. Usually they do part of their study together. We try to keep a normal atmosphere for them. Beyond COVID, it is interesting to explore: how can we stimulate online interaction and how can we get information across in the best possible way?

Besides that, as mentioned before, the COVID-crisis poses lots of new situations. This changed my work very directly when I started writing a project proposal about it. There are many interesting questions very directly related to managing the crisis. We as researchers can help understand how people and organizations react and change their behavior – or not - in times like these. As researchers in the social sciences, we can help create new knowledge. For example, a project I will be working on, is how the Dutch population regards privacy and their perception towards the corona-app.

What is the most important lesson that you learnt during these months?

How easy is it to simplify things. Of course, this depends on your personal situation. For me, the COVID-crisis limited options – what to do, where to go – so it both forced and enabled me to simplify life to work, running or cycling outside, and staying in contact as much as possible with the people I care about. Though not always fun, it was a nice lesson - how easy it is to do simple things that matter. Normally it seems hard for example to find time to talk to friends in different time zones. I also had not realized how many great cycling paths there are right outside. In that way, it has been a nice way of re-appreciating certain simple pleasures and privileges.

This rethinking-mode is also happening on a bigger scale, which is exciting: Obviously, organizations have had to react and adapt, and some of those adaptations may remain. Some organizations are using this time ‘in the ashes’ to think about how best to emerge – and in some cases choosing more sustainable options. This is a nice potential outcome, the future will tell us if they put these options into practice.

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Interview Ashley Metz

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