COVID-19 has transformed our lifestyles, routines, and way of life into something that we had never experienced before. Looking back at the beginning of 2019, no one would have ever imagined that over the next 12 months we would be looking at the world through a different lens. Even though we believe in the idea that change is inevitable, when it is imposed on us, we do not always accept it willingly. Whenever there is change, people instantaneously react with some degree of distress because they feel as if they have been pushed into the ‘deep end’ where they must navigate and combat the situation on their own. Even though many people may be going through similar circumstances, the discomfort associated with the change makes one feel isolated and alone. Moreover, the readiness to change is often met at varying levels by different individuals. Some people respond to the change promptly while others resist it.
Trimester 1 2020, Week 9, is when change at UBSS became inevitable. COVID-19 brought about many challenges and difficulties to the teaching world. The management, staff, administrators, and students at the School were all hit by a wave of unexpected situations, to which we had to respond instantly. Teaching transitioned from face-to-face to online, ushering in a period of anxiousness and mixed emotions. I began to relate to the Bridges Transition Model (2017), which focuses on the transition to change and people’s experiences of how they let go of the old and accept the new. Bridges defined ‘transition’ as the psychological process that people experience while they try to come to terms with the crisis caused by the change process. The initial step in coping with this transition is dealing with the endings that people have when they leave the old situation behind. Moreover, this model helps organizations and individuals effectively manage and navigate the personal and human side of change. The Bridges model refers to the three stages of an individual experiencing change as Ending, Losing and Letting Go; The Neutral Zone; and The New Beginning.
THE FIRST STAGE: ENDING, LOSING AND LETTING GO
The first stage begins with the culmination of what was in existence. People learn to identify what they have lost and how to manage these losses. This is the phase where emotions are high, and people experience intense stress and anxiety. I recall administrative staff, lecturers and students all being in a state of shock and distress due to the fear of the unknown. People started analysing what they had lost. Students started questioning whether their course would continue. Lecturers were wondering if the number of classes they taught would be reduced.
The UBSS Management Team managed this stage effectively by being empathetic towards the emotions of both staff and students. The channels of communication were kept open, and everyone was informed of the extent and impact of the change from an Organization and Government perspective. The purpose and benefits of the change were outlined clearly, creating an atmosphere of positivity during this anxious phase. Daily emails, regular updates and broadcasts were sent to lecturers and students. Clear training guidance and adequate resources that would assist everyone in working effectively in the new online environment were provided. Had communication lines not been kept open there would have been a negative reaction to the change, which would have been a stumbling block in advancing to the next stage.
THE SECOND STAGE – THE NEUTRAL ZONE
During the second stage of the Bridges model, people are usually confused, unsure and impatient. There is some amount of resentment and scepticism towards the change activity. This stage acts as a pathway between what is left behind and what is yet to come. Numerous psychological shifts and repatterning occur at this point, which is the essence of the transition process. It was at this juncture that the administrative staff and lecturers at UBSS began to have a heightened sense of control over their emotions and were able to contemplate on what the future of online teaching would look like. It was at this stage that reality started to take effect. The School supported this by delivering training sessions for lecturers to get up to speed with the new online technology – Microsoft Teams & Blackboard Collaborate, which had been chosen as the main modes of delivery.
Expectations were laid down and clarified at the onset so that administration staff and lecturers knew what was required to ensure that the quality of teaching was not impacted. Students were sent detailed guides on how to access their lectures using the new online platforms. Instruction guides and technical troubleshooting tips were made available to administrative staff and lecturers. Additionally, during live online classes, adequate support was offered by colleagues who acted as buddies during the initial phase of the online teaching transition. Furthermore, the IT Manager and Program Directors constantly provided remote monitoring, assistance and feedback to the lecturers where required.
These strategies helped avoid confusion and frustration and provided a seamless transition during this stage. Some people adapted quicky while others who took longer to move forward. This stage also bred creativity and innovation. We learnt where we went wrong and how we could improve.
THE THIRD STAGE – THE NEW BEGINNING
In the third stage of the Bridges model, people are filled with a renewed sense of energy and zeal, which can impact productivity in a positive manner. People learn the new skills required to work successfully in the changed environment. Employees at UBSS began to embrace and contribute to the change. There was a sense of comfort using the online technology. There was also a greater sense of commitment to the overall goal. Management began to highlight the success of the changes to demonstrate the tangible results of the employees’ hard work. Staff were appreciated and commended for their industry and dedication in adapting to the new norm. As a result, employees started to feel reoriented and renewed.
The lessons learnt through all three stages were shared and reflected on to sustain the change in the Organisation. Personally, I felt that the approach was very beneficial and provided feasible pathways to successful transition to change. Because change can be distressing, leaders and management need to understand the emotional aspects of transition and to support employees going through it. UBSS successfully achieved this.
Natasha Jacques is an Assistant Professor in the undergraduate program and the Administration Coordinator in the Office of the Dean at UBSS. Natasha completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in India and worked in the finance sector for nine years. She obtained her MBA (Accounting) at UBSS. Natasha is a member of the International Managers and Leaders (MIML) body, a CPA Ambassador and an Associate member of The Research Society of Australia.