TiHS Episode 11: Madison Watson – online service means a shift in how you do your work

In this episode I spoke with Madison Watson – Director, Pre-Arrival Settlement Services, YMCA-YWCA of the National Capital Region. The Y is running a online pre-arrival service for newcomers to Canada. I’m a huge fan of the idea of pre-arrival services for new immigrants to Canada. Getting information into their hands before they arrive should cut down on the time it takes for them to get up to speed and settle into their new communities. Recently Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) funded 24 projects across the country.

Most are in their second year of operation and there is a lot of interesting innovation happening. Many different approaches and experiences. The idea of them is so important, especially considering the digital literacy and use of social media, social networks and messaging apps among newcomers.

What did we talk about?

Madison leads the Ottawa YMCA-YWCA’s Build ON service. It’s unique as it is focused specifically on newcomers looking to work in the skilled trades in Ontario, Canada. The offer one-on-one consultation help, connections with mentors, videos and online resources to help newcomers get ready to work in Ontario before they arrive.

I asked Madison what it’s like to shift from a predominantly in-person service culture to an online-only service. I was interested to learn about not just the front line worker perspective, but also what it’s like to shift into online services from the management perspective.

There is a lot anyone looking to move services online can learn from the YMCA-YWCA of the National Capital Region. Madison provides a refreshingly candid overview of some of the challenges they faced in the shift to online services.

Importantly, she also discusses how the original online service has already changed over time, as they learn more about the nature of online services, as well as what clients are looking for, technology they’re using, and where the middle ground between a service portal and messaging apps is.

If you take a key message away from this conversation, it is to be prepared to adapt. Where you start may not where you end up in terms of online service provision. Being flexible and open to change is important.

I think it’s important for service providers to talk about these fundamental shifts in service provision. They’re new. No one is an expert yet. But there is also a lot of experience and expertise out there. There is so much we can learn together, if we share and discuss.

Madison is part of a group of other pre-arrival service providers who talk regularly, creating an informal Community of Practice. There is much the entire human service sector can learn from them all as other organizations move into the online service space.

I really appreciate Madison taking the time to have this frank and open conversation with me, as she and her team are working to figure out what an online service can be, how to manage online workers and the experience of constant change in technology.

Here are some of the questions we discussed:

  • What led to YMCA-YWCA of the National Capital Region decision to start offering online services?
    What has the experience been?
  • From a practical perspective, how do you manage the online services and daily interactions? How interactive and resource intensive is it?
  • You’ve managed in-person staff and online-only staff. What kind of shift do staff need to make to work online? What about managing them?
  • Have your pre-arrival services resulted in other technology in service innovations in the organization?
  • How have your online services changed and evolved over time?
  • What kind of feedback have you received from clients about offering online services?
  • What challenges have you had providing pre-arrival services?
  • What have some of the successes been?
  • What advice would you give to other human service organizations thinking about moving services or courses online?

Madison shared some very useful and practical resources and guidelines that they have created to help guide their pioneering work online. You may find them useful:

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript of our conversation using Otter.ai. The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

Marco Campana 0:00
Welcome to Episode 11 of the technology and human services podcast. In this episode, I spoke with Madison Watson, Director of pre arrival settlement services of the YMCA YWCA at the National Capital Region in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. This was a really interesting and great refreshing conversation with Madison because she provides a really refreshing a candid overview of some of the opportunities, but also the challenges that the y faced in their shift online services. I think it’s really interesting and important to hear this perspective from a person who’s gone from frontline services in person to completely online service experience. There’s a lot that they’ve been learning in a short time, a lot of shifts they’ve had to make as they as they learn. And I think that’s something that’s really important for organizations where you start with online services may not be where you end up based on the technology changes based on client preferences based on just things that you find that are working. And and I think the change may happen a lot more quickly than it does offline in terms of how quickly you figure out something is working or not working in a direction you may need to shift in. And so I think I really appreciate Madison having what was a really frank and open conversation with me about where her and her team have learned where they’re figuring things out and where they’re going with the technology. I think you’ll find it a really interesting conversation. Welcome. Madison Watson, the director of pure rival settlement services at the YMCA YWCA of the national capital region to the technology and human services podcast. We’re really happy to have you here. Thank you, and you’re working on and what what our focus is today is really looking at how the YMCA YWCA started offering pre arrival or online services for new immigrants coming to Canada. So can we start a little bit just if you want to introduce yourself and a little bit about your background?

Madison Watson 1:48
Yeah, sure. So I’ve been working for the why since 2009, I guess. And in 2011, I started, I was overseeing a pilot project that was sort of a pre employment program for immigrants who were interested in the skilled trades. It was open to all the four sectors, it was offered in English and French. And we had to staff at the time, it was the first program of its kind in the city. In that we didn’t focus on technical training, we focus more on information and employment preparation. And overtime, that program has grown. And now we have a whole department based around programs for newcomers in the skilled trades, which includes the power Trades Program, which was the original initiative, which has grown to now has four staff, and a pre apprenticeship training program. And most recently, launched in 2015. We have the build on program, which is a pre arrival service for folks who are still overseas but have been accepted to come to Canada who are looking for information about careers in the skilled trades in Ontario.

Marco Campana 2:57
Okay, can you tell me a little bit about what led to why to start offering online services for tradespeople.

Madison Watson 3:03
So the the call for proposals that I received to put out in I guess it was 2013 2014. For pre arrival services we were interested in, in participating in that because it’s a it’s an exciting new area of service. But you know, no one’s really done before. Well, with exceptions, but no one in our in our sphere had really done before. And we thought that since we already had lots of knowledge and expertise in the trades, and we receive lots of feedback from our clients in the in person programs that there was information that they wish they would have had before they left their country. We thought that it would be a natural fit for what we already were, what we already had the capacity to offer and what we were already doing well, to translate it to the pre arrival in the online sphere.

Marco Campana 3:51
Okay. And you launched that in 2015. Right? Yeah, we received

Madison Watson 3:55
the funding in late 2015. And then the service itself launched in June of 2016.

Marco Campana 4:01
Okay, so really just a year of experience so far. And yeah, I

Madison Watson 4:04
guess we’re celebrating a birthday. blink of an eye.

Marco Campana 4:09
So what has the experience been over the last year moving services from offline to online?

Madison Watson 4:15
It’s been a challenge. It’s been very interesting. We’ve, we’ve learned a lot, that’s for sure. So we’re, we’re still figuring things out. The first I was actually I only joined the team. In August 2016. I was on maternity leave. So when I left, we didn’t have the funding. And when it came back, we did have the funding and I took over the oversight of it. So it was a kind of was thrown in in the middle after all the pilot planning had already been done and then the service was launched. So the the planning stage was was very intensive and very complicated because we were launching a website, which is something that we hadn’t done before. Our association has a website but it’s managed by our marketing communications department. So we as frontline workers, and middle managers, you don’t have anything to do with it. So this is a website that we had to design, we had to figure out what we wanted to get out of it. We wanted to design, the user experience, all of that kind of stuff. And it was designed by a team of folks whose experience was mostly in settlement, employment counseling, not in, you know, web design it and, and that kind of thing.

Marco Campana 5:27
Looking. I’m curious, actually looking back at that experience, what, what worked and what would you knowing now what, you know, what would you have perhaps even done differently? Because that’s, I mean, some of my workers, frontline workers, not typically, you know, web designers, web developers. So that’s a very new kind of approach and skill set, right?

Madison Watson 5:44
Yeah. Yeah. Luckily, we had a really fantastic team. I like I said, I wasn’t necessarily a part of that process. But I was part of sort of the, I don’t want to see the aftermath. But the troubleshooting and, and that kind of thing that comes afterwards, because with any pilot project, you predict, and you make assumptions, and you make educated guesses about how things are going to go. And it always goes differently than you expect. And you have to you have to adjust. And it was this was no different. But the except for the fact that it came with a very hefty price tag. From what I heard from the team, that process of working with the web developers, we had, we worked with a web development company that we had a good relationship we developed a good relationship with. And they it was a process basically a back and forth of listening to each other. So we’re telling them what we’re hoping to get what we’re hoping that people will get out of the experience of using our website, they’re telling us what’s doable, and what’s realistic, and what’s practical from their end. And then we’re sort of trying to find a compromise that can still fit into our budget. And so that’s still ongoing, as we as we sort of figure things out about the way that our clients interact with our online services, we’re still making adjustments, and we’re still having that back and forth negotiation with them. Which I It’s a frustrating process, I’m sure for both parties, because we we don’t have an intimate understanding of what each other does, right? They have, I think that they have more of an understanding of what we do, then we do have them. So I’m sure that sometimes the questions or the requests that we make of them, they just roll their eyes, and they’re like, Oh, my God. Why would they think that that was reasonable? But they’re very nice about it.

Marco Campana 7:38
So what about what other? What’s the experience been in terms of actually moving, you know, an offline service online, both from a client perspective, as well as from a worker perspective?

Madison Watson 7:49
Well, from the worker perspective, it’s, it changes the dynamic a little bit in terms of your relationship and interactions with the clients, for sure. Because there’s, there’s no real replacement for face to face contact with someone we do, we offer our consultations through whatever means the client finds most accessible. So a lot of our clients will go through Skype, we have a lot of clients that access our services through WhatsApp as well. Very few will use the phone, some will use email. And in the different platforms that we use, some will prefer most will prefer to use voice chat, some will prefer video chat, and some will just prefer text chat. So sometimes there’s a voice to voice interaction, sometimes there’s a video face to face interaction, sometimes there’s a text only interaction. So you really kind of have to be the workers really have to be able to adapt to still being able to build that relationship and build that trust through different kinds of means of communication. So you know, there’s no being able to read someone’s body language, there’s no, you know, like, sometimes there’s not even a ability to read tone of voice. So it’s, it can be very tricky to navigate that.

Marco Campana 9:01
So what does that what kind of a shift is a staff person who moves from kind of a face to face, you know, having all the sensory sensory experience with a client to moving online? What kind of are there is additional training orientation, even like attitudes and skills that they need to develop?

Madison Watson 9:17
I think we’re still we’re still seeking out training like there, there are other organizations that are doing online service and we’re trying to learn from them. Like peer learning has been a really big part of what we’ve been doing because it is kind of a new sphere in our in our sector. And so there’s not necessarily like established training for how to do online service well. So we’re communicating a lot with especially other pre arrival services because there’s an added layer to the online component when someone who you’re working with is in a different country in a different timezone haven’t necessarily ever been to Canada so has a different context or a different perception of how things are here. So we’re We’re working a lot with our peer groups to try to support each other and be able to provide the client with the best experience possible. I think in terms of attitudes, the most important thing is to have at least an interest and a comfort level with technology, you don’t have to be the most tech savvy person in the world, but to be somebody who at least is comfortable, you know, like you use Facebook, or you have friends that you communicate through WhatsApp, or Skype or whatever, just to, to kind of already know what that’s like. Which I think at this point, most people do a lot of folks who work in our sector are immigrants themselves and have friends and family overseas. So they’re used to communicating with people that way. So that, you know, it shortens the learning curve a little bit, but it’s one thing to, you know, talk to your mom back home. And it’s another thing to talk to a client that you’ve never met before in a professional capacity

Marco Campana 10:53
report and things like that takes on a whole different approach, right?

Madison Watson 10:56
Yeah, yeah. And the clients, at least the clients are accessing our services, because it is a an employment focused and a sector specific service, the clients that we’re interacting with, are often looking for something very specific. So it’s not in they’re not necessarily in as vulnerable position as some of the clients that we would see face to face. Because they’re still pre arrival. Most of them, almost all of them are economic immigrants. So they’re in a position where they’re not. They’re not at that point where they, the help is so badly needed, that they’re, that they become really vulnerable. So the, you know, the relationship building, the rapport building is great. But the I don’t know, I think it’s just a little bit less intense, because of the point at which we meet folks.

Marco Campana 11:44
Gotcha. And I’m curious, because I mean, one of the things the sector has talked about for a long time was kind of this holy grail of the opportunity to arrive, provide pre arrival information and getting someone prepared, so that when they come, they really are able to hit the ground running and perhaps even shorten the timelines for the for the them to feel settled. What’s your, what’s your experience been about about that your clients having that same kind of attitude that, hey, this is a huge opportunity, you know, I’m six months out from landing, I’m going to get as much as I can done and prepared before I arrive so that I’m ready. And, you know, hit the ground running basically.

Madison Watson 12:19
Yeah, it’s it’s been really well received by clients. The clients that access their services are always really grateful for the information that we provide. It’s still pretty early in the game to measure the impact, I think. But we do have clients who sometimes get job offers before they arrive, which is amazing. Because of the sector that we work in, in the skilled trades, it’s unusual that that would happen. What we’re more so doing is informing people about their options in the labor market, and helping them if they’re going to be going for certification, helping them prepare their documents. A lot of the folks we work with, we’re talking to them about alternative careers, they’re not trade people in their country of origin, but there may be thinking of making a transition based on the skills that they have. So where I there are other services, I think that are pushing people more to the to the hit the ground running point, pre arrival, which is fantastic. The The thing is, sorry, let me see how to phrase this. The people have different kind of expectations of the service. Which is true, I think of any of any service intersector. But some people are looking just to connect with someone who’s in Canada before they leave to ask any question that they have, which is great. And it’s it’s really great to have that opportunity to do that. Some people are looking for more in depth, you know, like look at my resume helped me with my sector specific questions, which is also great. And the nice thing about the service that we offer, and that a lot of free rival services are actually offering is our flexibilities. So people are really busy in the pre arrival phase. So depending on how long before they are preparing to depart, they connect with us. Sometimes they just want to talk to somebody for 20 minutes. And then that’s it. Sometimes they want more, you know, ongoing service, it really depends on their needs. And that can change really quickly too, depending on their situation. So sometimes we’ll meet someone who’s really keen to continue with the service, and then something comes up and they’re like, oh, turns out, I’m coming to Canada next week, or I’m too busy to continue with the service. So we try to be as flexible as possible with people so that they can get what they need out of the service and the time that they have. Because unfortunately, the way that the funding works as soon as they land in Canada, we’re we’re not supposed to be serving them anymore. So then the first meeting that we have with them if we know the destination, we make sure that we’re informed about what other services exist post arrival in their community of settlements so that they can continue to get support when they land because We’re not really supposed to keep helping them after that point.

Marco Campana 15:02
Okay, that was actually something I was thinking about following up on is the handoff, might because I mean, you’ve got there’s a huge opportunity. You’re orienting them not just for employment stuff, but also, as you say about Canada. And that moment where what’s the continuum of handoff, I guess, a pre arrival. So once they’ve, once they’ve gone through, you are able to actually refer them into the community, whether that’s to another online service or face to face or organizations, I imagine.

Madison Watson 15:26
Yeah, yeah. And that’s something I think that all the pre arrival services are doing. It’s a really big component. Most of the organizations that are offering pre arrival service also offer post arrival service. So for us, if there’s somebody we’re based in Ottawa, so if there’s somebody landing in Ottawa, it’s very, very easy for us to continue, pick up where we left off, because we have shared, you know, shared client databases. So if they’re accessing our programs at our location, they can see the worker who’s working with them post arrival can see all of our case notes, they can come and talk to us about what we’ve been doing with the client before they arrived. But if they’re going to other communities across the province, depending on our relationship with the service providers in that community, there might be less continuity. But the thing about accessing pre arrival services is it sort of sets the precedent that these kinds of supports exist in Canada. And it demonstrates the benefit of accessing these supports, and it normalizes accessing the supports for newcomers, which can hopefully help avoid the pitfall of folks not accessing services, Intel, they’re at that point where they are really vulnerable. So that’s, that’s kind of a sub goal of our pre arrival program.

Marco Campana 16:39
Yeah, it’s a big opportunity to connect them to what they need. In terms of, you mentioned a little earlier about how the project has evolved and continue to continues to change as you’re learning more about the services you can you can offer your staff as well as what clients want, you tell me a little bit more about what the original concept was, and how that’s changed and evolved over time.

Madison Watson 17:00
Yeah, so the original concept was that our website would have would be quite interactive, so people would register, and then they would have access to sort of a dashboard that would track their progress through the program, which would involve watching online videos, accessing digital documents, and also having meetings and consultations with an employment consultant. And we realized after we were able to get some more functionality for our website, to actually tracking what users were doing with the website, we realized that people weren’t really using the platform that we had developed. People were accessing the workshops, sort of occasionally watching the videos, people were accessing the documents, mostly when their employment consultant recommended it. But sort of the main, the main thing that people were doing with our service was making those individual connections with employment consultants. So and not necessarily in meetings, as I said before, sometimes just your chat, sometimes your email, sometimes on an ongoing basis, sometimes on a sort of an ad hoc as needed basis. So we are trying to adapt the way that we that we think about delivering service, because traditionally, you know, it’d be like you have a meeting with a client and then a couple of follow up emails and then a meeting like, and that’s not necessarily how it can work pre arrival. And that has to do with the fact that our clients are a lot of them are still working, they’re very busy. And the timezone differences and their level of commitment, what their priorities are at this time when they’re preparing to make one of the biggest life changes you can make. So we’re trying to be flexible, and we’re also reconsidering some of the investments that we’re making in our website, based on that. So seeing, you know, there was a big initial investment in this online platform that we thought that people would be engaging with. And when we’re realizing that that’s not really happening, where we’re not taking away from what we already built, but we’re just not investing further in making it more interactive or more attractive, because we’re, I don’t know that that’s going to push people to use it more. And we don’t want to push people to use something that isn’t isn’t helpful or isn’t preferable for them. We want to meet people where they’re at.

Marco Campana 19:14
Okay, so is that been the shift on moving your investments over to to meeting them where there aren’t?

Madison Watson 19:19
Yeah, so we are at the end of at the end of March, we bought iPhones for the staff. The reason that we bought iPhones as opposed to other phones is because we did some research into the security features of different messaging apps and the apple apple to apple like FaceTime and iMessage are have are quite secure. And we also we needed smartphones to connect with WhatsApp Viber there are several other chat platforms where you can access them through your desktop, but you need to have a mobile number attached to it. So we, you know, money that we might have invested in the website we invested in in buying these phones. so that our staff could interact more easily with our clients,

Marco Campana 20:05
and how’s that been working as a shift?

Madison Watson 20:08
It’s been great. It’s been great. The clients are very the responses and very positive from the clients. It’s because we’re working with folks who are overseas, their level of connectedness, to the internet, and their level of access to desktop computers is really varied. And also, like the way that that mobile phones are managed in different countries, you know, like, some people, they they’re like, Well, I can’t really use Skype and email is not great, but WhatsApp really works well for me. So we’re, that’s we’ve listened to that feedback. And we’re, and we’re engaging with it. And and it’s made it a lot easier to reach our clients, we have problems sometimes, especially with email where our emails will not make it through the spam filter. And there’s nothing we can really do about that. But if the client gives us their WhatsApp number, we can reach out to them and it’ll go directly to their mobile phone. And then we can say, hey, check your email. Or we can continue the conversation on that platform, if that’s what they prefer. Right? So

Marco Campana 21:09
it sounds like a really huge learning is making sure that you’re you’re connecting with the clients, or if you’re building a new service for potential clients about well, what are the technologies that they’re comfortable in? And how do they want to be served?

Madison Watson 21:21
Exactly, exactly. And that’s going to be ongoing learning, I think for as long as we’re in existence, because technology changes so quickly, and it changes at different rates in different parts of the world. So most of the clients that we’re seeing right now are from South Asia, particularly in India. And we’re finding that a lot of our Indian clients are preferring to use WhatsApp, but when when we have clients from other parts of the world, they’re maybe preferring more Skype or, or other platforms. And we’re seeing African clients who preferring to use Viber. You know, it really depends. So we’re in a position where we’re trying to ask people what they prefer, and let them inform us rather than us, you know, you can we can do all the research, and we can look at all the different you know, there’s lots of lists of like the top messaging apps in different parts of the world. But if people aren’t asking for us to use them, then we’re not going to bother using them. But most of them are free. So it’s a pretty straightforward investment.

Marco Campana 22:17
Right? And I mean, yeah, and the more you know about your clients, the more you can make those decisions. So you don’t have 15 apps on your phone necessarily, but the three or four thing.

Madison Watson 22:26
Exactly, exactly. And yeah, like I said, we’re finding what’s happened Skype or, like that covers most people.

Marco Campana 22:32
And I guess the in particular, the people that from the source countries that you’re serving. Yes, yeah. Which is really good learning. I guess I’m, I’m wondering if you’re pre arrival services have resulted in other technology innovations across the why?

Madison Watson 22:47
That’s a good question. It’s kind of a touchy subject. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. No, yes, in certain ways, it’s definitely got the conversation going. We with our newcomer Information Center, they’re piloting a WhatsApp group for Syrian refugees in partnership with refugee 613, which is a refugee services coordination hub in Ottawa. And that’s been going well, there is a lot of talk about adopting more technology and, and exploring more options for online services and other areas. But it’s it’s kind of a slow moving ship, for a number of reasons. They’re the privacy concerns are for sure, huge. So what we’ve been trying to do is we’ve been really working to set a good precedent for use of technology in a responsible way. When working with clients, so we’ve been drafting guidelines, and we’ve been developing best practices. We recently developed a document for our clients that explains the different avenues through which they can communicate with us online and what the security impacts those different avenues are. So for example, if you’re going to send a document by email, here’s what the risk factors are. If you’re going to send if you’re going to be using WhatsApp and this is an encryption, if you want to know more about that you can, there’s a link to the privacy policies of all the different apps that we’re using

Marco Campana 24:18
to educating not only yourself but your clients in terms of how to better communicate securely online.

Madison Watson 24:23
Exactly, exactly. Because really, I mean, we’re funded by immigration, refugees and citizenship Canada, and they’re not quite there yet in terms of their policies either. So I’ve been trying to communicate with them to make sure that what we’re doing is in line with their privacy policies and guidelines and they’re not totally sure either a lot of their their privacy policies or are not fully like they’re adaptable in some ways to online service, but they’re they’re not quite at the point yet where they’re able to say these are you No, these are the rules. And same with internal to our organization. We’re not at that point yet either, unfortunately. So we’re kind of having to make it up as we go. And trying to do that in the most responsible way possible and learning from other organizations that are that have done it or doing similar kinds of things as much as we can.

Marco Campana 25:19
I mean, yeah, that’s, I imagine that the core principles were kind of there, but how they’re applied in an online environment is going to be very different than fixed.

Madison Watson 25:26
Exactly, exactly. Like there’s no specifics is kind of the issue that we’ve been we’ve been coming up against, because it’s, if you’re doing in person service, it’s like, okay, like, put your files in a locked drawer. And, you know, don’t, don’t go show your screen to other people when you’re inputting data into secure database. But in terms of like, sharing documents overseas, online, and that kind of thing, it’s it’s still pretty nebulous, so whole new, we’re learning as we go.

Marco Campana 25:51
Right? Right. That’s really important, though. I want to shift a little bit to your role as a manager, because it’s interesting that you were sort of off in between the the, the, the conceptualization and the implementation, and then you kind of were there when it was happening. So you’ve managed staff in this environment offline and online. And I’m wondering what kind of a shift you’ve had to make as a manager, in terms of, you know, not just, you know, ensuring the skills are there that the people are oriented, but also, you know, you mentioned a little bit about that very different experience of staff working face to face working versus working online. So I’m curious what, what it’s like to manage that, you know, do they? Are there different needs? Are there different issues that come up with staff that you need to manage? Or just in general? What what it’s like?

Madison Watson 26:35
Yeah, it is, it is quite different. One of the main differences I found is that, with my team, we we meet face to face, and they share an office space in my office is right next door, but we still all email each other every day. When I was working with a team that was serving in person, we talk to each other in person all the time. So I don’t know what

Marco Campana 27:01
it’s like. It’s like they fully shifted to the online then.

Madison Watson 27:04
Yeah, exactly. I don’t know if we’re just practicing or if it’s just the kind of people that want to work in our program. I’m not sure but it, it took me like, the team was already doing that when I came in. And it took me a little getting used to it. I was like, oh, like, you could just come see me. I’m literally right here. I mean, email, but now I do it too.

Marco Campana 27:26
Almost really?

Madison Watson 27:27
Yeah. Yeah, sure. It’s pretty quiet in the office. But sometimes, you know, they’ll, they’ll be like chatting with each other. And then I’ll hear everybody laugh. It’s like dead silent, and people are typing, and everyone laughs and I’m like, Whoa, I wonder what’s going on. But in terms of managing, yes, there, it is quite different, because I don’t see any of the client interactions that happen without asking to, you know, look over someone’s shoulder essentially. So the permissions I was managing before there, my staff was meeting with clients one on one, and there was also group facilitation quite a bit of group facilitation. So, you know, I wouldn’t be present in my staff meeting with meetings with clients, but I would see clients in the hallway, and I can read their body language, and you know, that kind of thing. So I could kind of, or I could, you know, hear tone of voice through door, so I could kind of gauge how things were going a little bit more easily. Whereas now, I really have to ask, you know, how are things going? Who are you meeting? What are your clients like? Because I don’t see them at all. I just see names on a screen. We’ve been trying to do a lot more case conferencing, where we even just to tell each other who our clients are and, and what their needs are and what we’re doing with them not even necessarily to discuss problems. But to just share a little bit more about about who it is that we’re working with. Because yeah, like otherwise we don’t, we don’t know. So that’s, I think one of the biggest shifts. It is it is just a little bit harder to monitor. In some ways. It’s easier to monitor. But in other ways it’s a little harder to, again, because we’re not physically present with our clients. Yeah. So even for the staff, sometimes they’re not sure, like, how did the meeting go? And they’re like, Well, I think it went well.

Marco Campana 29:29
Right? It’s almost like you’re shifting from informal oversight and monitoring to more formal mechanisms. And that requires a different approach as well.

Madison Watson 29:37
Yeah. And it’s, you know, I’m, I’m not, I don’t think I’m fully there yet, in terms of figuring out how to do that. Well, you know, I’m not a micromanager. I don’t think very many people would claim to be but I tried to give my staff the autonomy to do their jobs. And I trust that they’re that they’re doing them well. So I don’t like You know, I don’t want to go in and read all their case notes. And I don’t want to go in and and, you know, monitor all their interactions with clients. So we’re still kind of trying to figure out the balance of how to how I can effectively monitor performance with clients without intruding

Marco Campana 30:18
and micromanaging from the staff perspective.

Madison Watson 30:21
Yeah, exactly, exactly. So that’s, you know, that’s very tricky for me anyway.

Marco Campana 30:27
Right. So it sounds like it’s been a big year of learning. I’m wondering if you can name or if you feel like what some of the successes have been in sort of shifting to an online service?

Madison Watson 30:39
Um, I think that I think it’s hard to kind of pinpoint one or two. But like, I just think the fact that we’ve been able to do it is pretty amazing.

Marco Campana 30:53
Yeah, I mean, it’s a shift, right? You’ve made it. I mean, there’s a big cultural and service orientation shift here.

Madison Watson 30:58
Yeah, yeah. So I have an amazing staff team. And I’m, I’m impressed with them on a daily basis there. Because we’re all we’re all learning together. We teach each other a lot. So and because it’s a new avenue, like the online services, new the pre arrival services new. So we’re all learning new things on a daily basis from our clients, and the way that we’re and the way that they’re using our service, from the technology that we’re using as well, like someone will discover like a cool new feature on an app and, and share that with the team, which we wouldn’t do, which we wouldn’t have done otherwise, if we weren’t, you know, using it. Right. So I think I think just the ongoing learning and the the collaboration, that it’s inspired with other services that are kind of going through the same process has been really helpful. It’s been really great. So we have, we meet I meet monthly with other managers and staff of pre arrival services across the country. And we talk about our challenges, we talk about what’s going well, we talk about, you know, things that we’re doing that we think that other services could be doing to. And that has been super helpful. And there’s, you know, there’s kind of a real desire to collaborate amongst the service providers, which is refreshing and really has helped us a lot.

Marco Campana 32:27
So the beginnings of a community of practice for the sector in some ways.

Madison Watson 32:30
Exactly, exactly. And it’s so needed.

Marco Campana 32:33
Absolutely, yeah. And I think there’s about 20 or 23 of you that were funded through IRCC. So there’s a real kind of core group that has an opportunity to help spread some of the experiences and shoot and learning to other agencies that inevitably, you’re going to move into online services simply because your clients are asking for more and more.

Madison Watson 32:52
Yeah, exactly, exactly. So we’re, like we’re, we’re trailblazers, in a way. But it’s great to know that there’s other people that are also walking the same path, as Yeah, that we can look to for support and ideas and resources. And that and that’s been so so, so helpful.

Marco Campana 33:09
Well, that’s great. Okay, final question. Thank you so much for your time so far. Is there any particular advice and you can be as specific or as broad ranging as you feel that you would give to other human service organizations, not even only in the immigrant settlement sector, about moving their services online.

Madison Watson 33:28
Just to be prepared to adapt, be prepared to be flexible. You know, it’s great to have an idea of how you think things are going to go, but don’t expect that to be the way things go. I guess like, I mean, that’s true. Like I said before, that’s true of any kind of pilot project, but I think especially with online services, because it’s more different than you think it’s going to be in ways that are not what you’re expecting. Also, to be kind to your web developer. If you do and, and to try to educate yourself as much as possible if you don’t have to be a super tech savvy person. I’m not a super tech savvy person. I’m not a huge social media user. I’m not like you know, I visit the same three websites all the time. I’m but I and I didn’t when I was put into this new role or when I came into this new role, I should say, I wasn’t really excited about the that aspect of it. But just by being open to it and taking it like any other learning opportunity, I have really really enjoyed being a part of it because it is there is a lot of exciting components to it. There’s some boring stuff to you, you have to read a lot of privacy policies. Again, that’s kind of true of any job so it’s, yeah, like just to be open and to and to not be afraid.

Marco Campana 34:59
You That’s huge. It’s a huge learning curve, but it’s something that has lots of opportunities both for the agency as well as the services.

Madison Watson 35:06
Exactly. And you don’t like I said, you don’t have to be an expert. You just have to be willing to learn and to listen to people who are experts,

Marco Campana 35:15
and your clients, right. And your

Madison Watson 35:17
clients especially listen to your clients because they’re the experts in in their needs. And if their needs are online, they’re going to tell you how to do that in a way that’s going to work for them. So listen to them and don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Marco Campana 35:31
Perfect. A lovely note to end on. Thank you so much, Madison for your time today. You shared a lot of useful information I think other agencies will benefit from so thanks for doing that.

Madison Watson 35:40
Thank you, Marco. Thanks for having me.

Marco Campana 35:42
Thanks so much for listening. Show Notes for this episode can be found on on my site markopoulos.org. Just look for the technology and human services podcast link. If you’re listening, thank you so much. Let me know what you think and what you want me to explore. If you’ve got something to share, please get in touch. And if you’re working on a technology project or want to be let’s chat, you can reach me at marco@markopoulos.org or Markopoulos on Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks again for listening

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