The COVID-19 pandemic has led to working from home, role changes and home schooling.
We spoke to Sarah Fernley, team leader for Chiesi Limited’s Support Services Department, PA to a Director and System Administrator about how the pandemic has changed her responsibilities…
Q: Could you tell me about your day-to-day role?
My day-to-day role is to support the Support Services Manager with the day-to-day supervision of our Support Services Team, ensuring resources are managed and allocated effectively to meet the needs and demands of the department, whilst acting as a coach and mentor to other team members.
I also support one of our Directors as required which includes diary management, production of reports, co-ordination of travel arrangements, meeting arrangements, full administrative support, production and allocation of meeting minutes and actions, invoicing, completion of expenses, assisting in the management of key projects, arrangement of social activities, training sessions, budget tracking, and any other ad-hoc administrative tasks.
In addition, I review one of our key business systems for which I am a System Administrator. This means ensuring that users can process material and documents appropriately and in line with our SOP’s. It is my job to check the functionality and suitability of the system and contribute to the design and configuration of new functions.
Each role means that every day is varied, and you never know what you will end up dealing with when you log on in the morning. They each come with their own challenges but it’s worth it.
Q: How has the pandemic changed your responsibilities?
We were working at our offices every day so having to suddenly work remotely meant I had to adapt very quickly to working as a VA, which I had no idea how to do. It became apparent just how much you were relied upon and how different your support needed to be conducted now it was solely virtual.
I had to become an expert in using Microsoft Teams to manage the large increase in virtual meetings. I was trying to recognise the requirements for my team and those that I support to find solutions using this platform whilst trying to get to grips with it myself.
As the pandemic took hold, my manager had to focus more on crisis management, and this meant that I had to carry out certain processes normally conducted by my manager. I had to find new ways of communicating with my team and the rest of the business in a way that still provided the same level of support prior to working remotely.
I was now tasked with managing monthly reviews on her behalf and took over as sole reviewer for our meeting material which meant finding time to review approximately an additional 20 pieces of work each day. I had to guide and support my team members in a way never experienced before and really take a key role in ensuring that their wellbeing was something we focused on.
Working primarily in an office meant a lot of our existing support processes were manual and had some form of physical interaction so I had to quickly turn these into virtual process whilst ensuring ease of use and compliance. These required testing and communication to those involved to provide consistency with minimal disruptions. Considerations had to be made on how to reach out to large numbers of people virtually where usually you could have engaged in face to face meetings and discussions.
Q: How have you found remote working and what challenges does this bring?
I will admit that I have really struggled to work remotely. It has eased over the past year and it has forced me to re-evaluate how I adapt to change, but I very much look forward to going back into the office. I believe I am more efficient in an office setting and can achieve more when I am there. My old bedroom at my Mum’s house is currently my office for now and it just isn’t quite the same.
I always thought of myself as an introvert in some way but have come to realise I need to have people around me and have missed human interaction. I recognise that part of what makes me succeed at what I do is the people I work with, their contributions, comments, and the way in which we work as a team. Without that, I felt more vulnerable and less confident which has been a challenge to overcome.
One of my main challenges as a team leader is not being able to recognise body language of those I work closely with. In an office setting, you can sense when someone is having a bad day or not feeling well by the way they sit, a look in their eye or the lack of engagement. It is so hard to sense that through a computer screen and you wonder constantly if everyone is okay and managing well. It has highlighted the importance of wellbeing and a good work life balance which I actively seek to promote.
Q: What do you feel most proud of?
Personally, I feel proud that I have been able to overcome my doubts and fears about my capabilities. Back in March 2020, I was worried, scared and overwhelmed but I wasn’t even sure what about. Having never worked remotely, I didn’t know what was expected of me or if I could handle it. I was forced to identify my weaknesses and how I can tackle these going forward.
I joined many online support groups and found that the content being provided allowed me to deal with these fears and recognise my feelings. Only after this was I then able to help others who might be experiencing the same thing. I would like to thank the newsletters from PA Life and a company called Innerfit for their helpful webinars. These made me feel like I wasn’t alone and gave me powerful insights to overcome these fears along with helpful tools I can use with my team.
Professionally, I am proud to work for a company who have really focussed on wellbeing and provided nothing but support for all its employees. I am proud of my team and the way in which they have adapted to working remotely and provided the same level of exceptional support to me, each other, and the rest of the business.
We have become stronger, more resilient and have been given the opportunity to really evaluate what support we offer and how we can make this better. We have been there for each other during tough times and become closer as a result despite not seeing each other face to face.
Q: What advice would you give to your peers?
Forgive yourself. Everyone still makes mistakes. Don’t worry if you have a bad day but you can’t explain why. Don’t feel bad if you don’t want to change out of your pyjamas. You are not alone, and you will find that there is someone out there who feels or has felt the exact same way you do.
Schedule informal catch ups, coffee breaks, a jokes and cheese meeting, bingo or quiz nights – just something social outside of work talk. It can make a huge difference to your day.
Communicate about communication. It has been helpful for us to share how we best want to be communicated with. Text, calls, email, WhatsApp, teams chat, teams calls – it’s too much! Pick one that works best for you and let people know about it. This can take the stress away from the varying methods of communication.
Set time in your diary for breaks, whether it’s a lavatory, coffee, snack or time to just read an email break. It is important to take time between meetings to avoid Zoom fatigue and to prepare yourself for upcoming meetings. It will also enable you to get done what you need to by allowing time to do so.
Invest in a good office chair! There’s still time.
Q: How do you like to unwind after a busy week?
An informal catch up on a Friday with a glass/bottle of wine and some friends is always a great way to wind down. It is great reminder of what went on before and no doubt what will go on once things start heading back to normal.
As I can’t really do much, I finally have time to read my Adrian Mole collection, catch up on Homeland on Netflix and try and complete my selection of Huzzle Puzzles – very good for taking your mind off work but can also be very frustrating.
We acquired a beautiful lockdown puppy, a gorgeous little cavapoo called Layla. She doesn’t understand what is going on in the world so spending time with her on a long walk clears the mind and gets me to focus on someone else who is always happy to see me and never fails to make me smile.
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