What an education CEO has learnt about working from home during COVID-19.

19 May 2020

What an education CEO has learnt about working from home during COVID-19.

In our sixth interview with a CEO at home, we talk to Deidre Jakobs, CEO of international education provider, LanguageOne, about her leadership challenges during the pandemic.

What does your work situation look like during this pandemic?

I work at home with a family of three children that are studying, and my husband. For us, this is a very special situation, because my husband and I both work full-time and also travel quite often.

“We have set clear rules with our children on ‘how we are going to do this together’, and I must tell you that it is actually going really well”

The first week was a bit of finding a new rhythm, everyone in a different place of the house, switching-off while living together, but also really nice at times.

I am used to working remotely, so the fact that LanguageOne transitioned to working virtually is not a major switch for me.

I usually spend a good part of my working day in international video calls through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. What I’ve really missed during the past few weeks are the brief encounters with my colleagues in our office in Voorburg.

What type of insights has this COVID-19 situation given you?

We are an educational organisation, offering Dutch language programmes to children aged 2½ to 18, in the Middle East, Asia and Australia. Our classes are offered at schools, but with the Coronavirus pandemic, we pushed the use of our digital language program. I strongly believe that how we currently operate is the future, because it gives us such a great deal of flexibility.

“This crisis has proven that the digitisation of education is inevitable”

I am confident that the direction we set out is right. I also believe that this vision for the future of education means we will no longer speak of either offline education or online education, but that it is really both. That is an insight which is of course very important to me for our future strategy and operations.

We have also been able to act very quickly. If we had had no digital offering in place and none of the staff or teachers had worked digitally before, it would have been a very complicated transition. It would certainly have been hard for me to manage it remotely, with teams in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai. Because that digital foundation was there already, we had a flying start.

What do you like and what do you find difficult about the disruption caused by this pandemic?

Of course, personal contact is limited in a virtual situation. That real personal contact, those short conversations in the office. The few trips that I still had planned, and had to cancel, this meant I couldn’t be at a location for a few days, really be there. I find that the most difficult.

The international side of this is that the policy in the Netherlands is different from the policy in China, where I have two locations. I needed to have a kind of vision for China, and react differently, because I have to follow the local authorities more than I would need to do so in the Netherlands.

I love our huge team spirit in which everyone really started, in a very positive way, to just work very hard.

“In the first weeks, our people worked literally day and night and on weekends to be completely ready to continue to serve our students”

There was such a positive vibe and such adaptability among our staff, enabling us to step up very quickly. We really did it together.

What advice would you give other CEOs facing the COVID-19 leadership challenge?

Keep close contact and listen to your people, no matter how challenging it can be at times. Some evenings I am completely hoarse from talking, my eyes tired from watching the screen. But it is extremely important in demanding situations to stay close to your team.

 “Compare short-term solutions to long-term strategy.”

I notice that companies still look very much at the short-term; ‘can I guarantee liquidity’, etc.

But it is very important for leadership to not lose sight of the long-term and to think carefully about how they want to be different and/or what must be done differently.

Continue to focus on the essentials, remain positive and optimistic, and radiate confidence for the future.

Thank you, Deidre Jakobs, for your insights today.