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Management Assistant Jacqueline Wessel’s coronavirus year: ‘Keep an eye on each other’

In mid-March 2020, the global coronavirus outbreak changed everything in the Netherlands. Staying at home as much as possible and the 1.5 metre rule became the standard. One year on, we reflect on the past year with four Leiden Law School ‘insiders’. What kind of year did they have? And what are their thoughts on the future? This week: Jacqueline Wessel, Management Assistant at the Institute of Private Law.

When we all went into the first lockdown on that Monday in March last year, there was a real rush of adrenaline, she remembers. ‘Bring it on! We can do this! Colleagues juggled with work and caring for (young) children, with their pets walking across keyboards. But after one week, the University had reinvented itself and teaching resumed.’

It was not only teaching that had to be ‘reinvented’; the work of the secretaries would change completely too. Everything now had to be done online, something that before the crisis no one could have imagined would be possible. ‘Attic rooms, guest rooms and even kitchen tables became the new command centres. Secretaries had to get to grips with online communication, and digital teaching and examination programmes, while supporting staff in setting up their courses. It was an amazing display of energy, creativity and flexibility. We should be incredibly proud of ourselves!’

The key words became ‘connectivity’ and ‘communication’. 'WhatsApp groups were set up for the various departments at our Institute, where we could share photos, videos and messages of support. It was also necessary to check up on how everyone was doing. Some colleagues needed to borrow a laptop, while others needed access to the KOG to collect an office chair, computer screen or keyboard. We were bombarded from all sides and all levels with information. It was a pretty stormy process.’

'Before the crisis, there was always someone coming to my desk, with its strategically placed jar of sweets.'

‘Normal’ work took far longer than before, she noticed. ‘On the one hand, because of the frustratingly slow ‘remote’ way of working. On the other hand, because there was no longer the readily available flow of informal information. Working from a distance has inherent limitations. Before I used to walk down the corridor or bump into colleagues in the restaurant where we could exchange information or I could check up on something. But that was no longer possible.’

It is this distance in contact which is the biggest difference for Jacqueline compared to pre-coronavirus. ‘I get an enormous amount of energy from contact with people and organising all sorts of things for people. Before the crisis, there was always someone coming to my desk, with its strategically placed jar of sweets, for a chat or to ask for something and I was constantly being stopped in the corridor. That’s all changed. Contact via MS Teams is all geared towards work. And other important things in life, both the good and the bad, are no longer shared so easily with each other.’

Huge progress

Jacqueline wonders how all these changes from the past year will affect the future. ‘Throughout this past year we have made huge progress in digitalising teaching support processes. Now nearly all exams are done in ANS and it looks like working from home for the support staff of the secretarial office will no longer be a “no-go”’.

If there is something we have learnt from this coronavirus crisis, it is that there is no challenge that we cannot overcome together – with the emphasis on the word together. ‘We’ve been in this process for a year now, but that doesn’t mean that working away from the faculty and away from each other feels ‘normal’. This situation is asking a lot of us. Many of us are getting tired, we’re not sure about what the future holds, and we’re missing each other. It’s good to be aware of this. So we need to take good care of ourselves, and keep an eye on each other.’

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