Remote work amid COVID-19

8 January 2021

By Lim Tian Jiao

Despite the uncertainties caused by COVID-19 global pandemic, Yale-NUS College successfully completed a full residential semester for Academic Year 2020/2021 at Yale-NUS College. Many staff members have been working via remote work arrangements since the implementation of Singapore’s circuit breaker restrictions from April to June 2020, and subsequently, under the phased re-opening’s safe distancing requirements. They have continued to adopt flexible work arrangements, and operate under ‘split-team’ arrangements, where they come to campus on alternating weeks. We speak to three staff members about their experiences so far and find out how they adjusted and overcame unprecedented challenges.

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Ms Jenany Nathan, Executive at Yale-NUS’ Development Office, initially faced some challenges working around split-team arrangements while working remotely. Image provided by Jenany Nathan.

Remote work arrangements, especially in the first few weeks, led to a fair share of challenges. Ms Jenany Nathan, Executive at Yale-NUS’ Development Office, who manages the Office’s annual giving campaigns, was just five months into her job at Yale-NUS when the circuit breaker restrictions were announced. “It was challenging working around our split-team arrangements,” said Ms Nathan. “We had to work from home and I was still unfamiliar with some processes of our team. When I had to work in the office, I would video call my colleagues and they would guide me through what I was supposed to be doing.”

Working from home allowed Ms Alyson Rozells, Associate Director (Alumni Affairs & Strategic Events), to spend more time with her adopted senior dogs. Image provided by Alyson Rozells.

Ms Alyson Rozells, Associate Director (Alumni Affairs & Strategic Events) shared that she faced similar hurdles. Ms Rozells and her team plan and execute College-level and public-facing events and manage alumni relations. “We need a lot of coordination to work on events,” she said. “When working from home, the team has almost daily, multiple coordination calls to check in on the progress of various elements. When we’re in the office, we usually pop by one another’s office or cubicle for quick discussions but when we’re working from home, we need to take more effort to communicate.”

Mr Norvin Ng, Director (Career Services) at CIPE, in his makeshift home office — his daughter’s room as she is currently studying abroad. Image provided by Norvin Ng.

“Mutual trust between our team members was of vital importance when working away from the office,” commented Mr Norvin Ng, Director (Career Services) at the College’s Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE). Mr Ng oversees the Career Services team, which provides career-advising, organises seminars and workshops, and sources for internships and jobs for students.

“I am very thankful that I get to work with a very close- knit and trusting team at CIPE. We made a conscious effort to provide even more autonomy for our colleagues in how they do their work, and this has helped keep the team morale high.”

Another challenge that was identified was the blurring of the line between work and personal time. “It can be hard learning to draw boundaries between working hours and personal time since there is no clear distinction between the spaces of work and leisure at home for me,” said Ms Nathan.

“Working from home has increased the pressure to remain ‘switched on’ and constantly glued to our email inboxes,” added Mr Ng. In response to this issue, he set out a clear set of protocols for the Career Services team’s communications, ranging from calling for extremely urgent matters to a 24-hour email response for less time-sensitive messages. If he needs a response from the team within a two-hour window, it will be supplemented with a WhatsApp message.

Beyond this, the wider COVID-19 situation made it harder for teams to effectively carry out their pre-pandemic programming. For instance, safe distancing regulations slashed the number of events that could be held physically on campus. Travel restrictions also disrupted many international opportunities available to students, such as internships, semester abroad programmes, and summer school. Fortunately, teams were generally able to adapt to these challenges, taking it in their stride.

“The pandemic has challenged us to rethink how we’ve been carrying out our roles, and ensure that we still deliver despite the situation,” said Ms Rozells. For instance, her team put together a virtual graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 in just six weeks, following Singapore’s sudden circuit breaker restrictions. “This was really important to me and my team as we wanted to celebrate the graduating class’ achievements and commemorate their time at Yale-NUS as fully as possible, while finding creative ways to involve their loved ones and the College community.”

“The Career Services team prides itself on staying nimble and adaptable,” said Mr Ng. The team converted almost all internships to virtual ones, and added a pre-internship module on how to work remotely. “We are heartened to see that the efforts are largely well-received by students. In a survey of CIPE’s summer programmes in 2020, 95% of students shared that they would recommend their respective summer programmes to their peers.”

Despite the challenges, remote work did bring some benefits. Ms Rozells explained that she appreciated the flexibility that the new arrangements afforded her. “As I’m home all the time now, I’m able to care and spend time with my adopted senior dogs, especially those who require some medical attention. I also have the opportunity to focus on my health and fitness: I’m able to go for more yoga sessions during lunch time or in the evenings, and I don’t feel so tired at the end of the day due to commuting. There’s a lot more opportunities for work-life balance.”