Wendy is one of my amazing eLearning colleagues, and our D2L Administrator. I wanted to hear her perspective on our move to online support back in March 2020 and the change of what that support looked like up to now (I will be posting her support colleague Bob’s story as well…)
When we all moved online in March 2020, Wendy says she “wasn’t worried about working from home because everything I do is on a computer, and since everybody was going to be in the same boat, they’d know I was at home so they couldn’t drop in to see me. But, as someone with extra risk factors, the biggest thing for me was fear. What if what if I get sick? What happens to my kids? What happens to work if I get sick? That’s what I was focused on – I was watching the updates every day to see what was going to happen.” But she also remembers feeling that “it was a very exciting time. I don’t mind when things are a little bit exciting because it’s invigorating, and it was an energizing period. It was also a chance to feel less like the unsung heroes keeping things running, instead being the ones keeping everyone teaching. I felt needed and very busy supporting folks who hadn’t really used our online tools before, or folks who had to ramp up their use in a big way. In addition, our team worked very well together, helping each other out which made it exciting rather than stressful because I knew the rest of the team had my back and vice versa.”
Wendy found working from home both positive and challenging. “I got to look out the window at the birds and the neighbours, but over time started to feel disconnected because I’m used to water cooler talk, daily banter with Bob [Preston], connecting with instructors and students, and just being around people.” While she prefers supporting people online, not ever seeing people in person was wearing. “I felt quite lonely at times because my kids are only with me halftime, and work is a big part of my socialization. In addition, it can sometimes be hard to stay motivated and focused on work when working from home.” Work can also easily bleed into personal time, because when we first went online, we in eLearning were working sometimes 12-hour days meaning “you had to force yourself to get up out of your chair and take a break.”
In March 2020, eLearning was short-staffed, especially considering the number of support requests that suddenly began to come in. Wendy felt internal pressure to work overtime because “if I didn’t answer questions in a timely way, I knew what an impact that would have. So, I think the biggest challenge was the volume of work and the suddenness with which we went home. It would have been ideal to have a couple of weeks to plan and discuss strategies rather than suddenly one day we’re all working from home.” While being short-staffed was a challenge for eLearning support, ironically another challenge appeared when we were given an extra support position: remotely training someone new in the middle of a pandemic. “Having trained a number of people for support positions over the years I find it easiest if they can start by watching me work to get a feel for the type of questions we receive and the ways to answer. Instead, I had to explain each scenario and trust that the person was receiving and retaining it. I also think that building rapport with somebody is hard until you’ve met in person a few times. And with the work we do, it’s important to feel connected and trusted as co-workers.”
Moving support online meant ditching the office phone and moving to a soft (computer) phone, but then moving away from phone and email and ultimately to our new ticketing system. But the big player for those of us supporting faculty was Teams. “With Teams we were able to instantly communicate with folks and share a screen which has enhanced our ability to help people. We can see what they’re looking at instead of trying to talk them through issues without seeing what they are doing which has always been a challenge for technical support.” We are hoping that students can have access to Teams in the future as that will really change how we support them as well. Wendy noted though that in her experience, in-person support will likely still be a first choice for many students and faculty. But during COVID, when “that option was taken away, we still provided timely support, but by using email and then our ticketing system we were able take more time to review support requests and get back to people with a fuller answer than we may have when answering the phone. And we haven’t shifted back too much.”
Over time, we moved from that more reactive support to more proactive (as demand decreased) but that was challenging in itself – when we moved “from a frenetic pace to more normal it was hard to shift back, especially when working at home.” Since we’ve come back to some in-person hours, Wendy and her colleagues have kept the online service model (using Teams and the ticketing system) they’ve developed. But they find that now, after everyone has been using our online tools for a couple of years, “we’re getting fewer of those basic questions we used to get from brand new or inexperienced users. The bulk of the questions now come from faculty using the tools at a deeper level. They’re not just putting their syllabus or some content online, they’re actually using the tools, and in variety of ways.”
When I asked Wendy about rewards she might have found over the past few years, I had to smile when she said “personally, the ability to foster cats was amazing. I was at home and could have little kitties running around which was fantastic.” She also appreciated being able to spend more time with her kids – “they’d come home from school, and I’d be there, although it was a little hard sometimes to remind them that I was working and not available. As much as I was disconnected from co-workers, I had more connection with friends and family.” And finally, Wendy reminded me about the NISOD Excellence Award eLearning received back in February 2021 (which I had completely forgotten about!) “That NISOD award was pretty cool. It felt neat to be recognised in CamNews. Most of the recognition I receive is from individual saying, thanks you’re a lifesaver, but that wider acknowledgement meant a lot.”
With regards to work, Wendy says “I love the shift in workshop delivery that happened when everything went online. The idea of standing in front of a large group is unpleasant for me but being part of a Teams workshop feels easy. I joined in on many workshops when they were online, sometimes to learn, but also to contribute and help the main presenter, and I really enjoyed the experience. I feel like attendance was a bit better, too, with people able to attend from wherever they were. Regardless of the future I hope we keep offering meetings and workshops this way.
When I asked Wendy what lessons she might take away from the past couple of years, she reflected on another challenge of working from home. “It’s important to not take your mobility for granted. Working from home meant I was eight feet from the bathroom, eight feet from the kitchen, and I didn’t move for a year and a half. I’m still fighting my way back to a level of fitness to keep myself healthy. So now when I’m working from home, I make a point of taking breaks. I’ll take the garbage out or walk a lap of the parking lot or just something to get myself moving.” And also, make sure your home office setup is well organized and ergonomic. And, of course, “we say it over and over – we can do our work remotely. Having two campus locations doesn’t have to be a problem and we don’t have to all travel to one place to have a productive meeting.”
Wendy had some advice for people having to support faculty and students remotely. “I find our new ticketing system to be very helpful. It’s important to have a good system for receiving support requests, assigning them, and marking them.” in addition, make time to connect and socialize with your colleagues. “Bob and Kailin and I have a weekly check-in because we don’t physically all cross paths. That way we have a half hour every week to chat about anything that’s come up, and also to talk about our weekends etc., because I think it makes for a better working environment if you can connect with your colleagues on a personal level too. As for advice to her past self, Wendy says “I would tell myself to relax a bit and not be so afraid of getting sick, and I would remind myself more that I didn’t create the problem – everyone having to go online wasn’t my fault. I took ownership of more than I probably should have in terms of trying to fix things out of my control.”
Finally, Wendy related to me something she heard one of our newer colleagues say. “She said that we have one of the best departments at Camosun in terms of how we interact with and support each other, collaborate, just get along. And I think the way we work as a team was crucial over the past two and a half years. I don’t think we all would have survived this if we didn’t work so cohesively. I’m really thankful that we did work so well together, and we have such a great group because that’s important.” Wendy, it’s been a pleasure working with you over the past 8 ½ years, and I look forward to many more!