The year 2020 has been the longest one ever. In January we first introduced you to Lindsay Tayler, a Wilfrid Laurier University employee who was embarking on a one-year partial secondment with the Talent team at Communitech. Back in January, Tayler was looking forward to completing her MBA at Laurier and getting excited to be part of the team putting on True North 2020, Communitech’s Tech For Good conference. 

In March, we caught up with Tayler for Part 2 of our series to find out more about what Laurier, a Waterloo Region Future of Work & Learning Coalition partner, was hoping to learn from the secondment project.

That was March 3. Within two weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

Communitech, Laurier and a majority of businesses across Waterloo Region had quickly responded by moving their teams to work from home. The True North conference was cancelled and its plans for content eventually pivoted into an online series titled True North TV. As with other post-secondary partners, Laurier, University of Waterloo and Conestoga College adopted remote learning for their spring semesters.

“Being at Communitech and understanding that conversation around cancelling True North before it was announced, that was really big,” said Tayler.

While many of us share the experience of moving to work from home, Tayler’s perspective is unique in that she witnessed two organizations going through the process of enabling their teams to work remotely. Across both organizations, Tayler observed three areas of focus – help with transitioning to remote work, flexibility in scheduling and a renewed prioritization of wellbeing.

“Laurier and Communitech both went to remote work at the same time,” said Tayler. “Communitech right away said we’re going to be at this for a while and found ways to pivot and offer services virtually.” Tayler said that Laurier worked to get through the end of the winter term and then re-evaluated for the spring term. It was around this time that Tayler was completing her MBA work. 

“Once the decision was made for spring, that set up the longevity of work from home for Laurier.” Being a smaller organization focused on tech, Tayler noted that Communitech was quicker to move to work from home. “At Laurier, work from home presented a whole learning curve for faculty and administrators. We were used to campus being a gathering place for work and learning.”

At the beginning of her secondment, Tayler noticed how much the Communitech team relied on chat to keep in touch. “At Communitech, everyone uses Google Chat. Within the first week of starting at Communitech, I had it downloaded on my phone and very quickly adapted to being a better mobile worker.”

Back at Laurier, the university had begun a campus-wide roll out of Microsoft Teams at the end of 2019. On campus at Laurier, Tayler noted that pre-COVID, staff were usually easy to find at their desks or by phone. “If people needed to reach me, they’d call my extension or come and see me. We had never been a Slack or chat community, but Microsoft Teams quickly united the university online.”

One of the biggest challenges for many employees working from home is managing work-life balance. For Tayler, the secondment presented an additional challenge – managing work expectations from two teams. “Before COVID, I would work at Communitech on Mondays and Tuesday and Laurier on Thursdays and Fridays. The time was blocked for both – but working from home, I’ve given those blocks up and have more flexibility to meet with both teams.”

Tayler has seen definitive changes in both organizations. “Working at Communitech meant doing whatever was needed to get the job done,” added Tayler. “They’ve always been an organization that focused on wellbeing but in response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization made wellbeing its first priority and that’s allowed them to pivot without burning out their team.”

Across town at Laurier, Tayler noted a change in the university’s approach to work. “We’ve become more flexible and open to different ways of working and hours of work,” Tayler said. “It’s interesting to see how quickly an organization of our size can adapt like this.”

As for Tayler, she completed her MBA – but unfortunately, her convocation couldn’t be held. “I’ve got my degree, which is amazing. And I was sad to not cross the stage in the spring, but my friends and I held what we called a ‘con-faux-cation’ instead in my backyard,” she said. 

With phase three in Ontario well under way, both Communitech and Laurier are starting to slowly reopen their spaces and some employees have begun returning to their office spaces. We’ll return with Part 4 of our series in October to check in with Tayler and her colleagues at both organizations to see how the transition goes.