University of the Fraser Valley

Starting a new job during a pandemic brings challenges and benefits for Carolyn MacLaren

Starting a new job during a pandemic brings challenges and benefits for Carolyn MacLaren

Carolyn MacLaren, the new Director of Continuing Education at UFV, is in “Zoom-meeting ready” apparel on top and in her running gear on the bottom in her home office.

What if you showed up for your first day of work at a new job and were told to head home again?

That’s what happened to Carolyn MacLaren, UFV’s new Director of Continuing Education. Normally, she would be based at UFV’s Clearbrook Centre in Abbotsford, but upon arrival for her first day on March 23 she was told that plans had changed. Due to the risks associated with COVID-19, UFV was switching to a remote working environment for most employees.

“I started at 9 am on Monday, March 23 and at 12 noon the same day we were all informed that we were mobilizing to remote work. So, I completed the second half of my first day from my home office and have been here since,” MacLaren notes.

As Director of Continuing Education MacLaren oversees the strategic direction and day-to-day operations of the department. She says it’s been an interesting challenge to start work at a time when it’s not possible to have much in-person contact with her team members or other colleagues.

“It has been very interesting and has provided an opportunity for a different approach to getting to know and leading a team. Since I worked remotely as a consultant for the past 15 years, I actually felt well prepared for this unplanned occurrence. While we don’t have personal contact at this time, we do have regular team meetings and use the tools at our disposal to stay connected on work-related projects. Ironically, I have actually not yet met one of my staff in person. Despite all of us working remotely, we do fun things such as our recently ‘virtual happy hour’ at the end of the day on Friday afternoon and we’ve also had the opportunity to meet everyone’s kids as well as pets as they pop in and out of our meetings.”

They have employed a number of strategies to stay connected as a team in this ‘new normal’ environment.

“We stay in regular contact including a good morning connection first thing every day and reach out by phone, email and through Microsoft Teams, etc. throughout the day. I also do one on one check-ins with team to see how they are doing.”

As for getting to know colleagues from other parts of the university, she’s finding that people are making the effort, even from a distance.

“UFV is probably one of the friendliest and most welcoming places I have ever worked! I have been pleasantly surprised at how welcoming everyone has been and that is very conducive to reaching out as the ‘new’ person. I am active on social media so have gotten to know some people through that and I am a big believer in reaching out and asking questions and that’s been reciprocated by my colleagues. I’ve also leveraged personal introductions by someone who knows someone, so that’s been great as well.

“In online meetings, people are reaching out to introduce themselves and welcoming me to UFV. It has not been at all uncommon to get an email after a meeting from someone saying hi and offering to help if I need anything. I’ve also been lucky to be on a team that has made the effort to introduce me when I am the new person.”

MacLaren says there are advantages of starting your new job in these unusual circumstances.

“Starting when I did provided the opportunity to shorten my learning curve as it was ‘all hands on deck’ and it also gave me very good insight into how effectively and compassionately UFV responds in crisis. The other great thing about starting when I did was that it allowed me to demonstrate to my daughters how to be adaptable, to pivot, and still be successful. I am hoping to raise women who are adaptable and who can transition and lead change when the landscape shifts, regardless of how dramatically.”

Prior to starting at UFV MacLaren had her own consulting practice focusing on human resource capacity building and workforce development in the public and private sector.

Carolyn is also a potter. Here is some of her recent work.

“As a consultant I supported several post-secondary projects including working on the refinement of EducationPlannerBC. Prior to consulting I worked in education and administration; just out of grad school I was an associate registrar at Langara College, then sessional faculty in Film and Media at Emily Carr. I also helped launch the International Credential Evaluation Service at the Open Learning Agency. Most recently I oversaw the Future Students Office at KPU (covering a parental leave).”

Her impression of UFV and her new job so far?

“My impression of UFV has been that it is an exciting, dynamic organization at a very interesting point in its lifecycle with a committed, dedicated and engaged employee and stakeholder population. I am delighted to be part of this institution and am really excited about the opportunities and potential in Continuing Education.”

In her spare time, MacLaren is an avid runner, among other hobbies.

“I am training for a half marathon and a marathon at the moment (even though they are likely not to happen), I snowboard (love Mt Baker), and make (and teach) pottery. I live in Fort Langley with my husband and two teenaged daughters, as well as two Blue Heelers (Lillie and Charlene).”