Pandemic Series

While we all were not able to be together in person every day, we were still united in our work during this unprecedent time.

The University of Calgary wants to acknowledge and recognize the efforts of the university community during the pandemic. We reached out to leaders on campus and asked them to reflect on a set of questions. What we heard is that we have a campus that is resilient, and that recognizes the work of others during this difficult time. The following is a three (3) part series. 

All stories, individual and team, will remain on this website as a legacy to all of the great work our community has done throughout the pandemic.


Dr. Dru Marshall

“I learned more about our team, whether they were taking care of family members or their work-from-home experience. Learning more about each other strengthens our relationships and allows us to work together more effectively.”

Dr. Leslie Reid

"There's been so much we've had to rethink and redo and revise to support teaching and learning online. It's a whole new way of doing things, and every day we’re figuring out new ways to support our campus community in this new online learning world."

Bob Maber

“We’re learning on the go, and the ability to support one another is dependent on what we choose to do in the moment. It was essential at the beginning of the pandemic to appreciate and respect the scale of what was happening.”

What We Have Heard From You

As Oscar Wilde once said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”

Even seemingly small gestures of kindness have a significant impact on the recipient. The value of the kind act is in showing people they matter and are part of a community of caring. As the world gets busier and more digital and social distancing keeps us further apart, acts of kindness become increasingly important. The emails we don’t respond to, the thank you notes we forget to write, the likes we don’t give, the comments we choose not to speak out loud; we have no idea how much these would mean for those on the receiving end. Small, thoughtful gestures help us to stay connected in a world where we strive for belonging and a sense of community.

Last week, the Graduate Coordinator of our department took it upon herself to connect two students, struggling with similar challenges related to graduate school.  Both students are re-entering academia after several decades away and both are working mothers trying to manage their own and their children’s education, mental health, isolation from community, and the technical challenges related to a distance education platform.

By connecting these two women, the Coordinator demonstrated several important aspects of universal love and kindness. She obviously listens carefully in her conversations with students, she cares about students’ emotional and mental health, she has compassion for the struggles people are facing while living through Covid, and lastly, she not only values her department being a successful learning institute but also recognizes her role in strengthening the social fabric that makes university a place of community and camaraderie. 

When the two students met (on Zoom), a friendship emerged. The opportunity to make a friend is a treasured occasion at any age, but it feels even more rare and valuable at age fifty, during a pandemic lockdown, and with few other social engagements possible. Out of this meeting, the two students found support, authenticity, a shared passion and most importantly, that they are not alone on their learning journeys. This makes the next stage of grad school and all the likely complications and challenges that will arise, seem less daunting.

Thank you, Alix Westgard, for making our community a better place, one kind gesture at a time.

In March 2020, while the University (and much of the Province) moved to working virtually, the Sport Medicine Centre remained open to caring for patients throughout the course of the pandemic. Our primary health care providers (physicians, allied health professionals) and surgeons continued to work to ensure patients with urgent issues were not redirected into a public health system (emergency rooms and urgent care centres) where capacity issues and volumes were a potential concern. Over the last eleven months, the Centre has continued to provide high-quality health care, both in-person and virtually, while keeping our staff, consultants, and patients safe.

The ability to remain open and operational and provide the same level of care has come only because of the dedication, compassion, and resilience of the team at the Sport Medicine Centre. In the beginning, there was much that we did not know about COVID-19. My team was tasked with being able to function in an ambiguous environment where policy and procedures were changing on a daily to weekly basis. The team at the Sport Medicine Centre have remained engaged throughout the pandemic and focused on keeping up to date on all communications, so that they could keep themselves and the public we care for safe.

The team was also asked to completely pivot how they provide care by moving most of their visits to a virtual platform within one week. Our administrative team provided clear and consistent communication to our staff and patients, while our providers learned how to provide care through new mediums including telehealth. The patience and compassion the team demonstrated for each other while they were all re-learning how to do their work was nothing short of remarkable. While our patients have consistently indicated their appreciation for the seamless transfer of their care, the leadership team witnessed first-hand the hard work and dedication that took place behind the scenes.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the team has demonstrated great resiliency throughout the pandemic. Each one of the staff have navigated the challenges of balancing changes in their personal lives that came with lockdowns with their commitments to provide care to our patients and a positive work environment. Each day, people are greeted with a friendly smile and are extended the grace and compassion they need to help each other through this pandemic. Each day, there are countless examples of the staff supporting one another through their work day.

This has not been an easy year for any of us. The team at the Sport Medicine Centre should be recognized for their resiliency, compassion, and dedication. It is noticed every day, and it is greatly appreciated.

The moment we were asked to take our work home, my first reaction was “What will happen to our Facilities Call Centre”. In the history of Facilities, our Facilities Management Operations and Maintenance Administrative Services team has always adopted the traditional office call center.  While large organizations started evolving their contact centers to be more remote over the past decade, we felt the traditional model served us best to be able to respond to our campus community by being embedded with them.

While the situation was not the optimal one, we have not missed a beat! With the help of our Voice Services team, we literally spun up a remote call center overnight, and it has been working so well that there are plans to potentially make this a hybrid once we resume normalcy.  So, a silver lining with us being able to showcase our resiliency to continue to serve our campus community for the first ever time remotely.

I would like to thank Brenda Ferrari, Darren Maclean, and Elias Manolakos (student) during this time.

My work story from March 2020 might be similar to yours. On Friday, March 13, I started working remotely and the following week, leading a team without daily or even weekly in-person connection. As I prepared to leave my office, expecting we would be back in a few weeks, I was most concerned with the most basic needs including computers, stationary, cords and keyboards. If there is anything 2020 has taught us, is not to underestimate what might happen and now, like many of you, we remain working remotely in a digital world.

What became apparent to me early, was that our team which functions with laughter, care and kindness, needed to adjust to more than just the location where we were working. We had to create connectivity in a new way, a new world. There were many different scenarios, for our team, we had members who were now isolated, living and working alone in the same space. We had team members with young children, trying to balance their sudden promotion to Principal and Teacher for their families, while still working their regular hours. We have a diverse team with introverts who loved this new lifestyle and extroverts who suffered without the camaraderie of working alongside their colleagues.

We also found ourselves servicing a student population experiencing these dramatic changes and requiring additional supports. The solutions we were working through were immediate, implemented as quickly as they were envisioned, and we were constantly working to keep pace with the needs from our clients. Essentially, it was the most demanding work period of my professional career and as the leader of the team, I firmly believed we needed to maintain and even improve the engagement of our team to succeed in this new world.

Our challenges were not unique, all workplaces whether in person or remote, have been diligently adjusting to the new reality. But challenges are also opportunities, and when we moved to remote services, together with the Managers in my leadership team we decided that our team culture thrived with engagement and that the core competency of communication needed to be maintained. First, we decided that we would connect as “in-person” as we could. This meant a Zoom call with video’s on, jokes about our “Muppets” screen became common place, but we took time to prioritize seeing each other daily. This required using our most precious resource, time, to engage daily. Those first calls were clunky, we were not experienced with the technology and many of us talked with the mute button on. Fast forward 7 months and you will watch a team that is efficient, choosing to start each day with 10-15 minutes real time engagement. Daily a few colleagues share a personal or professional success, and this has become our replacement of that morning greeting when you arrive at work. We use entertaining backgrounds, occasionally a zoom bomb cat or dog makes an appearance and more than once my own children have waved hello. This first lesson for our collaboration was that we needed to be able to see each other daily and this continues to be a key factor for our connectivity. 

The distinction of where work begins when you are always at home is easy to lose. It can be tempting to just do “one more thing” and continue plugging along through breaks, lunch and past your end time. The support our students required was intense and took a personal toll on staff wellness. We discovered that despite the short commute, workplace balance was necessary. After the first few weeks of remote working, many of my colleagues expressed they were not taking care of themselves.  So, lesson number two to create team collaboration, was implementing the core value of taking care of each other. It sounds too simple to be effective; the ‘buddy system’ meant that the team partnered up and someone took a break with you, or sent you a quick SKYPE message to check in at the beginning of lunch. We encouraged taking time to really check in, have a coffee with each other over Zoom (video’s on) and strengthen relationships. While seemingly simple, when we implemented it improved our ‘workplace’, the team productivity and our collaboration increased.

The third thing can share as we navigate this new world, is that the connections we have need to be nourished. While our team was never busier with student needs, the connections we have at work sustain and investing time to maintain these connections is critically important. With all the restraints of a pandemic, our team was still able to engage with a virtual team building event with teams racing to escape a virtual room. We hosted an optional, socially distanced outdoor scavenger hunt where we brought our own lunches, wore masks to enjoy a late Alberta fall day and included those who couldn’t attend on FaceTime. While it’s different and not perfect, we are trying to ensure that the collaboration on the team survives not seeing each other, working remotely and this commitment to this core competency has improved our individual experience and team culture.

This year has definitely been different, and it is still not clear when we will all return to the office. While many things have changed, the need for sustaining collaboration in the workplace has never been more urgent and I encourage you to sustain your team connectivity and share your best practice, it is absolutely worth the effort it requires.

We may be apart, but in some ways, we are closer than ever. At Haskayne, several school-wide initiatives have connected faculty and staff throughout this incredible year. These include: coming together virtually to engage with and celebrate our prospective and current students; attending informative Zoom talks together with community leaders; learning about school happenings and Mathison Hall construction progress from the Dean at ‘Donuts @ a Distance’; and checking in on each other to share a laugh and a virtual hug at ‘HSB Happy Hour’. School newsletters like Research Round-Up, Dean’s Digest and the Operations and Facilities bulletin have also ensured that we remain collectively informed of the latest news and achievements. Numerous faculty and staff have been involved in creating these initiatives, and they deserve kudos for their efforts and creativity.

The Haskayne Golden Bull statuette represents another meaningful way faculty and staff have connected with and encouraged each other. Originally handed out in-person before the pandemic dispersed us, this monthly award has continued to be passed (virtually) from peer-to-peer in surprise pop-up celebrations throughout this Covid year. Each recipient nominates the next, recognizing the amazing work done by one of their colleagues. The award moves across employee groups and teams, nurturing a more encompassing environment of appreciation in the school. The names of recipients are shared with all Haskayne faculty and staff. To-date there have been 14 Golden Bull recipients. It has been inspiring to read the nomination comments for each one, and fun to see the reactions of the unsuspecting on the Zoom award calls.

Staying connected and intentionally having opportunities for connection, recognition and celebration has helped Haskayne stay strong. The support shown in these contexts has been remarkable and has gone a long way to easing the challenges faced during this year. As we start to imagine life beyond the pandemic, we look forward to continuing to find ways to connect across teams and grow community within the school.

 

Haskayne Recognition Committee

Alya Jinah, Pat Kaip, Ray Patterson, Sherry West

 


We Want to Hear From You!

It has been nearly a year since the pandemic and we want to hear from you.  When reflecting on 2020, challenge yourself to consider what lessons you have learned during this time and how this discovery can impact your recognition of yourself and others.

To submit individual stories of recognition or to recognize team accomplishments during the pandemic, please email recognition@ucalgary.ca