The COVID19 pandemic has impacted lives. Especially schools that are the epicenter of communities and an intrinsic part of the lives of parents, teachers, and students. Teachers had to overnight develop skills in creating online content and use virtual communications as the de facto mode of interactions. Schools had to shut down and learning had to take place virtually. It was a dynamic shift for everyone. Even as we enter the next phase of the circuit breaker and have reopened schools, the safety of our community is of critical importance in the new normal. How do we ensure that learning is effective while we maintain safe distancing practice? We speak to Evelyn Tay, Group Director, Human Resource & Operations at EtonHouse International School. She has been leading the organisation in navigating through the COVID19 crisis in building a unified learning and working environment.
You can listen to the podcast here.
What was the biggest challenge during this crisis?
These past months have been extremely challenging for the EtonHouse group. Many will agree that the COVID19 pandemic is an ever-evolving situation. We have to have the ability to preempt the next stages and be very updated on the latest advisory. One of the biggest challenges faced is that being an international group, we have schools in Singapore, China and many other countries. In Singapore alone, we have 16 schools. It includes the local ECDA schools as well as the international schools. Hence with the diversity of our schools in different locations, it created a different dimension to the challenge that we face during this crisis.
How was EtonHouse prepared for this? How was the situation handled?
I'm very thankful that one of our corporate values is collaboration and with this trait being in our DNA, when this pandemic started during the Lunar New Year period, all of us in the company came through together collaboratively. The COVID19 task force was formed by the staff from Headquarters, and with the unity of the schools, we came together and decided what was needed to be done. We adopted a proactive rather than a reactive approach to situations. We had actually begun the travel declaration protocols way before many companies did. We saw the importance of it as it was during the holiday period and many of our staff were travelling. We also prepared ourselves in advanced for home-based learning prior to the circuit breaker. We anticipated that if the children were at home, they needed something to occupy themselves with. Our schools prepared home-based learning kits and handed them out to the children way before the circuit breaker started. They were told that they can only open it up when school closes. To the children, it was like a Christmas gift. They were looking forward to opening them and it was adorable. During that period, I remember the flurry of emails and WhatsApp messages that were exchanged and the fact that working hours and nonworking hours were blurred as well. We worked through the weekends.
What guided your decisions in the face of uncertainty and a constant state of flux?
The importance of keeping our employees and children safe drives us. During this period, we were very mindful that we need to be respectful and have empathy for our employees and families. We needed to listen and understand every situation and made our decisions empathetically and logically. There was also the EtonHouse Covid19 portal that provided information and latest updates on the situation of the pandemic.
I was very mindful that I needed to listen and make decisions that are fair across the board. We have 16 schools with different situations, hence we need to be fair and just. At the same time however, we need to empathise with different situations that might be slightly different. Speaking to different stakeholders and having a team that is collaborative in making decisions really help.
What advice would you give to other HR and operations professionals?
This pandemic taught me many things that could never be learnt in a textbook. Therefore, when I make these crucial decisions, I ensure I spend ample time to think through it and consult others. An advice I would give is when decisions are made, your head and heart must be aligned. If you make the best decisions in that situation with the information given, there isn't a right or wrong. Do not beat yourself up or be hard on yourself. If some decisions turn out to be less ideal, just remember you have done your best.