Last week we shared our reactions to the delay of spring CAS exams. As you have probably seen, the CAS ultimately decided to cancel the spring sitting and offer exams 7 and 9 in the fall of 2020. This week the Candidate Liaison Committee (CLC) would like to share more on how COVID-19 changes are impacting us and how we are adapting. As you will see in the responses, we are all impacted in different ways by COVID-19. We are also curious how you are handing the disruption, feel free to share your tips for working from home and managing isolation in this uncertain time in the comments section.
This week's panel consists of the following committee members and candidate representatives to the committee. The responses were collected before the CAS announced the cancellation of exams so those who were preparing for spring exams may reflect study plans in their responses.
- Agatha Caleo, ACAS
- Jillian Chung, ACAS
- Chandler Fischbeck
- Rachel Hunter, FCAS
- Sarah Manuel, ACAS
- Chip McCleary, ACAS
- Holley Rouse
- Nate Williams
Question 1: Most companies have gone to voluntary or mandatory work from home. Describe an aspect of your job that is made more challenging when working from home and how you are adjusting.
Agatha: When I first started working from home every day (just over a year ago), it was due to my migraines. The main issue was communication with colleagues. We were used to just walking over to each other’s desks to talk about projects, so they really felt my absence. Sometimes I can’t talk on the phone, either, and even with IM and e-mail, some colleagues hesitated to reach out about deadlines or questions and would get anxious about project status, etc. I started sending out a weekly update with my status on all projects and a reminder to contact me if they had any urgent queries. That seems to have made a significant difference in their confidence in my ability to stay on top of work! Now that everyone is remote, we might have to come up with something similar as a group, maybe a shared spreadsheet.
Jillian: I work as a treaty underwriter in Sydney. In Australia, major reinsurance renewals are starting to happen now – so this requires a lot of face to face meetings with clients and brokers to negotiate terms and conditions. There are certain advantages to negotiating face-to-face, but setting up a videoconference has been difficult as companies are on different systems, firewalls, etc. Also, we usually get support from another location as it is our busy season – this year, since no one can fly into Australia, this will have to be done remotely. Everyone is in the same situation, so I am sure we will find a way to work this out as an industry – we'll learn and adapt as we go.
Chandler: Collaboration is slightly more challenging, due to slower internet speeds and greater usage of Skype. We are getting around this by using Microsoft Teams and not sharing our videos in meetings.
Rachel: I am a manager and normally meet in person weekly with each member of my team and feel more motivated when others are working around me. I was really getting frustrated during my second week of work from home. I notice that whatever social graces I have start to fall apart the less I see people. My patience with certain types of communication was getting low. I think part of it had more to do with my own situation of a disruption in personal plans than with working from home. I can say that as of March 30th, I’ve been working from home for four weeks and am doing better. I figured out that I’m happier if I put the computer and monitor away several nights a week to create space. I’ve also disabled the work email and calendar on my phone so that I’m not tempted to look at those during evenings and weekends.
Sarah: I get distracted much more easily when I work from home even under normal circumstances. I’ve started putting my phone outside of my office when I can, but I have to use it for work calls so it’s hard to completely disconnect.
Chip: Any project where I was working with others is instantly more challenging. Making progress is easy when you’re in regular meetings and you have time to focus on it; trying to do so when everyone is scattered makes it more difficult to pull everyone together in a meeting and cover items, especially when more than one person might have had information to share.
Holley: I already work from home, so this wasn’t a big adjustment for me. It is strange not being able to go anywhere else though.
Nate: I switched departments late last year and am still relatively new given the cycles of some of my projects (e.g. my work is either monthly or quarterly, so in some cases, I’ve only completed the process once or twice). For these projects, I’ve really worked on improving documentation so that it’s easier to remember the next time the work comes around. However, I do miss the ability to just go and ask my experienced colleagues questions in person at any given time. I think those impromptu conversations help build relationships. It’s still possible working remotely – we have the technology to do so – it’s just…different. I don’t get as much of that interaction with teammates that are not directly involved with my projects. In addition, it might even be harder to connect with some people as there are other distractions around the house that can draw you away from your work for short periods of a time. Instead of phone tag, you play IM-tag. To help with this, I think it’s important to just schedule check-in meetings and to use video calls whenever possible to guarantee you’re getting that face time with each other.
Question 2: Many of us are under mandatory or voluntary isolation in our communities. What do you miss the most (other than going to the office)?
Agatha: I miss having friends over for board games and D&D. The virtual D&D experience is just not the same! I do recommend the Pandemic Legacy board game for anybody who doesn’t live alone; my husband and I have been enjoying treating and curing a bunch of imaginary diseases together. The legacy aspect means the choices you make carry over from game to game, and there are some great twists to the story so far!
Jillian: Australia hasn’t issued stay-at-home orders yet, but they are pretty strict with social distancing rules and issue fines if you don't keep 2m distance to another person. But I actually had to go through 14-day self-isolation in my room because I went to a gym on the same day with someone with Covid-19 (I never was a gym person, just picked a wrong year to stick to my New Year's resolution..). Not being able to step out of that room for a long time, I really missed simple things I took for granted – fresh air, sunshine on my face, being able to hug my daughter, and so on.
Chandler: I miss being able to go out to restaurants and movie theaters. I really enjoy sitting down in these public places with friends and family, and it’s hard not being able to do that anymore
Rachel: I miss going out to restaurants and breweries. The week of my birthday, most of the nicer local restaurants that were switching to offering curbside takeaway sold out their food quickly – since we didn’t plan anything in advance, we ended up getting to-go wings and pickle chips. Luckily, we have a really solid beer collection that rounded out the meal. I was going to have a series of bon voyage parties in April to get friends to help me drink our beer collection but those are also delayed. I guess I really miss social drinking and should do some of those video happy hours I hear about.
Sarah: I miss being with my friends and family. Video calls just aren’t the same.
Chip: (1) Lunch with co-workers and the general interaction with people I work around. (2) Breakfast in the cafeteria; now I have to go back to making it myself, and it’s easy to “go to work” and skip it.
Holley: I miss singing with other people. I sing with a professional choir every Monday night. So, I feel as if part of my life is missing when I can’t do that.
Nate: The parks closing is a heavy blow. Because of the colder weather, we haven’t had the opportunity to visit them much anyway. But with Spring weather on the horizon, heading to the neighborhood park with the kids after work is something we all look forward to. In fact, today as I write this, we actually have nice enough weather that we could have gone there if the shelter-in-place was lifted.
Question 3: Other than spring CAS exams, has this disrupted any personal or career plans you had?
Agatha: We were going to move this summer. Our lease is up in June, and I was hoping to snag an apartment near Coney Island so I could walk to the beach. Now that seems unlikely.
Jillian: Learning open water swimming was my goal for 2020. I was training for a charity 1km race to raise fund for cancer research, but it has now been cancelled like all other events. And with some beaches and swimming pools closing, I can't continue with my training/fundraising. The list goes on – cancelling a trip back home, my plan to move is now in limbo as open houses are banned, my daughter can no longer have her birthday party, etc.
Chandler: Luckily for me this hasn’t disrupted my career plans. It has altered a few of my personal plans, like my plan to go watch the Ironman St. George in May (it was cancelled, and I was hoping to get to see some of the professionals race there).
Rachel: For the last five years my husband and I have been working toward a plan to take a mid-career break, sailing to various places on our sailboat. Our plan was to sell our house in May of this year, then quit our jobs and start our trip in June. If international travel restrictions do not end before August, my husband and I will probably wait until 2021 to start our planned mid-career sailing break. I’m thinking a lot about what it means to potentially not start our trip in June. I can continue to prepare for future adventure by doing such things as studying daily weather in some of the routes we are hoping to sail.
Sarah: My sisters and I were going to throw my mom a surprise 60th birthday party in April, complete with my older sister and her husband flying in from Seattle without her knowing. We’ll figure out another way to celebrate.
Chip: I had planned to take my family on vacation to Colorado in June; that’s now off pending resolution of the outbreak. We had planned to do some weekend trips to locations in the Midwest; those are off as well. We’re starting to plan out “virtual” trips in lieu of not being able to go, so that when everything is resolved we have places we know we want to explore in more detail.
Holley: So many things have been cancelled. Concerts, auditions, workouts, a trip to see a pregnant friend…My usually colorful calendar is bare! (I color-code my activities.) It’s bizarre to look at.
Nate: Over the kids’ spring break, we were supposed to go to a wedding and then visit my aunt who will be moving later this year. The wedding was canceled, and we decided to forego the trip to my aunt in case we were carriers of the virus because she is higher-risk. Also, my birthday is during the shelter-in-place, and the ability to use the free or BOGO birthday meal coupons has been seriously hampered by this situation since restaurants are not offering dine-in service. In particular, a Brazilian steakhouse opened up in my hometown the week before we moved away seven years ago. I haven’t been back home for my birthday since then, but was finally going to get to try that restaurant while we were back for the wedding that got canceled. Maybe in another seven years…
Question 4: What have you found helpful in maintaining balance given the impacts to your study, work, and life?
Agatha: I’m still figuring it out. The usual advice of setting boundaries for work and/or study doesn’t really work for me. It’s difficult to have a separate work space when you live in a NYC apartment, and my migraines can make sticking to a regular daily schedule with rigid start and stop times impossible. Virtual socializing requires more preparation and scheduling, but it’s important to stay connected. We use Skype and FaceTime. For our board game crew, we use the Tabletop Simulator on Steam. The first two floors of our building are doctor offices, and I’m high risk if I were to catch COVID-19, so we are pretty much stuck inside. My husband even started doing laundry in the bathtub so he wouldn’t have to take the elevator to the machines in the basement.
Jillian: My company has long promoted a flexible working arrangement, so I am used to working remotely without face to face interaction. But working from home while my kid is being homeschooled has been a new challenge! I have been getting at least 10 e-mails daily from her preschool teachers with activity instructions. Frankly, they are mostly just sitting in my inbox while my daughter is roaming around the house with our new puppy, playing all day. It may sound odd, but I believe the essence of maintaining balance is 'giving up'; with limited resource, I just need to prioritize and focus on what is important. On that note, I give up sleep to make time for studying... or vice versa!
Chandler: Exercise has really been helpful in maintaining the balance. I’m training for a triathlon in July and so I’ve really been able to focus on running and cycling (I do so by myself, so self-isolation isn’t a problem).
Rachel: When our Seattle office started work from home on March 3rd, the dining room I work in at home had many piles of books that we were sorting to keep or give away. It wasn’t until the end of that week that I took the time to finish the sorting and boxing and put the boxes away in a corner. Since then, I have made sure that while I am downsizing and packing, I am tidying up as I go. It’s tough not to be able to take these boxes to a donation center or to my own storage, but I still feel the need to work toward my sailboat cruising plan. At first it was easy to have our view of our plans shift every hour as the news emerged. Now we plan to re-assess the situation on a weekly basis and be less reactive.
Sarah: Eating healthy foods, staying hydrated, and doing yoga makes a big difference for me. Taking care of myself makes everything else a little easier.
Chip: (1) Stay in touch with friends and neighbors. Contact is critical right now; it’s easy to just get cooped up inside and not talk to anyone. Any contact with those close to you will help. (2) Remember that there’s still a world outside you can get out into. Yes, being in groups is not recommended, but even just walking around the neighborhood or doing something in the yard helps mentally break away from being inside. (3) Stay positive. The longer this outbreak goes, the easier it’s going to be to get frustrated and depressed. We’ve not faced a challenge like this in our lifetimes, but our parents and grandparents sacrificed and endured through tremendous challenges so that we could be here today. If they were tough enough to make it through, we can make it through this.
Holley: I am still searching for balance. The family member needing surgery would have been disruptive under normal circumstances, but it’s even worse with all of the restrictions. It’s difficult to ask others for help when we’re all under “shelter in place.” I plan to return to my usual daily schedule of study, work, exercise, work, study, sing, relax. I know I’ll feel much more “normal” then.
Nate: “F” words, including (but not limited to) forgiveness and flexibility. This situation is unprecedented, and I think we’re all struggling with it to some degree. If something doesn’t go as planned, it’s likely that something like this wasn’t planned for. So give people a little forgiveness because next time it could be you that messes up. Also, I generally try to live in the moment. I may react strongly to something in that moment, but generally move on pretty quickly. Many aspects of work and life have changed rapidly over the last few weeks, and the ability to go with the flow is very advantageous. And, if neither of those work, use another “F” word (unless on a conference call) and then get on with your life.