Transcript – Episode 34: Chat with Michelle Goodfellow and Nadin Nanji

Welcome to the GAC Files, a podcast about the people, issues and ideas driving Global Affairs Canada. And now introducing your host, Global Affairs Canada’s Deputy Minister of International Trade, John Hannaford.

Hello, Michelle. Hello, how are you? I am very well. And you? Not bad. It is a pretty difficult situation. There is a lot to do, obviously, and many challenges. Yes, totally! As an employee and certainly as a parent, this new way of working forces us to accept that it is not always possible to achieve 100% of what we used to be able to do, so it’s accepting that change at home and in the workplace. Yes, absolutely.

This is just the conversation that I’m having with Nadin Nanji and Michelle Goodfellow, who are both employees of the department and who are also raising 2 young children. And it’s just another opportunity to hear both the challenges our community is facing and the current circumstances, but also talk a little bit about what the people are finding helpful and share some practices that may be helpful more generally and for people facing other kinds of situations.

So, Nadin and Michelle, what’s been the experience—you’ve talked about the parenting a bit, Michelle—but what’s the biggest challenges that you guys have been facing? Well, just to give you an example, right now, Michelle and I are working from our dining room table. We both have our laptops open and we’re speaking to you on our cell phone while our youngest is watching a movie in the basement and our eldest, 7-year-old, is doing a course with the lycée online. So I would say one of the biggest challenges is that, you know, there’s 4 of us that are managing our calendar. So every morning it’s, OK, who’s going to prepare the meals? Who’s going to work with the kids on their online work, and who’s got the urgent tasking? So it’s all hands on deck every morning to get through that calendar and decide who’s got the conference call that’s more urgent.

How are your kids doing? Surprisingly well, I think the 4-year-old doesn’t really get how stressful a time it is. She’s just enjoying the fact that she doesn’t have to go to school, and she gets a bit more time with Mom and Dad, and our 7-year-old is quite good with the technology and innovation. So she’s doing really well with the Zoom technology and the distance learning. So on that side, we’re very lucky.

And we’re lucky that the lycée has a structured approach too with some of the learning. So that’s been helping us a little bit, but it’s also a lot of pressure because we have to manage. I know the teachers are understanding, and they understand that we’re all working from home as well, so it’s not like, they’re not expecting everything 100% gets done. But at the same time, we feel, you know, they’re putting effort in, there are tools available, there are things that our kids could be learning and they’re interested in, and how do we balance that with our work demands and also the rest of our life and family and all of that we’re trying to support through this challenging time. I’m finding that we get a lot of emails from the teachers, you know. There’s 3 different teachers, 3 different emails. So just managing that and what the teachers expect from us is a challenge.

And I imagine you both are in busy parts of the department as well. How are you finding the situation, sort of, as an employee couple with the demands that have been placed on you? Not outside the home, because you’re doing it inside the home, but the demands are coming from outside the home. Well, I think in my case, working in CSD, the Security and Emergency Management Bureau, and having been in crisis mode since January, and also putting in a lot of hours in the EWRC [Emergency Watch and Response Centre] earlier on, you know, it’s a huge transition. I was working long hours supporting that before in the office, and we were able to bounce it out, and Nadin took up a lot of the pressure at home during that period. But now we’re all working on it, and we were dealing with evacuations of people from the other side of the world. Now we’re dealing with evacuations of our colleagues and a huge consular volume. And, you know, a lot of my colleagues are approaching burnout, and it’s a lot of pressure. It’s really hard. And now we’re trying to move more virtually in trying to take advantage of some of the collaboration tools and innovation that is allowing us to maybe move a bit more virtual in a way so that people who are stuck at home are able to support better. And I think that’s one of the silver linings, is that we’re able to leverage some of these new tools to improve and help support the resilience of our department.

So I wanted to kind of continue down that path a bit. What do you find? Actually, maybe it’s more than that. What are you finding helpful right now? What gives you some relief? It could be anything from just things that you find, that makes you develop, strategies you’ve developed, but also just things that provide you with a little mental space and then otherwise kind of occupying time. Well, on my side, because of the issues with our servers and trying to get away from email, I’m finding the use of WhatsApp and texting with my team in real time very handy because I can be working with my kids or be working on drafting something for emails while texting in real time and making sure that my team is getting the support that they wouldn’t be normally getting, you know, if I wasn’t seeing them face to face. So I think that’s key, and the fact that we were able to put the entire division on WhatsApp right away, we had people’s cell phones, really made it a bit smoother in that front. And then one of the things that my bureau did is they signed up for Uber Connect. So we’re able to do teleconferencing as normal without putting pressures on the government system.

Right. How about you, Michelle? On our side, too, I mean, I’ve been working on a training program for pre-posting, our 7-week training, and we’re looking at online learning now instead of the classroom and planning for that because of social distancing and travel restrictions. So we’re moving down that path as far as our work on that, but on the day to day, using Microsoft 365 has really been a game changer for us, in maintaining connections and also for the well-being and the mental health of our team, making sure we have those regular connections and making it easy if, you know, there’s a pressure on the VPN and on the GAC network. This is an easy tool that we can use, and we’ve been able to use to collaborate on things, but also on the personal side to check in with my team, make sure things are going OK because it’s a hard time for everyone.

And I think as deputy directors, we’re both feeling that we have 2 families. We have our home family. But then we also have our employees that are looking to us for support and guidance, whether there’s financial pressures or they, too, are doing home schooling. So just being able to balance workloads as needed and adapt to a very unique situation.

Yes. What have you found, like, what’s the best advice you’ve received and what’s the best advice you’ve given to people, do you think, in this situation in terms of managing? Well, I think that the, you know, what I tell my team is that I’m flexible. So if they need to work more at night to get things done and they can’t be looking at their phones all the time, I’m adapting to that. And just being able to pick up the phone for a conversation so that, you’re not waiting for someone’s email or text. You can just call them and explain why this is important and work out a plan of action so that they know that you’ve got their back and then managing up as well. So ensuring your directors and DGs [directors general] know that you’re on something but that you may not get to it right away. I think that’s key.

Yeah, I would echo that about the flexibility, but leading by example, too. So, like you said, like, you know, not expecting answers right away first thing in the morning when not everyone’s just started connecting because I’m living the reality too, where it takes a little bit longer in the morning to get the kids set up. And so that just means I’m working different hours and I’m working in the evening when they’re in bed a little bit to catch up and do those things. And that’s OK. And it’s OK for my team.

Yes. Well, look, folks, I really appreciate the time you’ve spent with me right now. I think this is a hard time, and I think it’s important that we continue doing exactly what you’re doing: reaching out to members of our team, reaching out to members of our community, maintaining the contacts that we have and trying to figure out the best way to be doing the jobs we need to be doing as efficiently as we can. But recognizing the overall pressures that are on all of us as individuals and families and as a department. So I really, really do appreciate the time and I also appreciate all the work you’re doing and in this tough context. So thanks a lot, guys.

And thanks to you. You know, the fact that, you know, you want to speak to employees at our level and have this frank dialogue is really, it means a lot and we appreciate it. So thank you. Thank you. Take care of yourselves and take care of your kids. Take care, bye. Bye.

Thank you for listening. We look forward to you joining us for future episodes of the GAC Files, a podcast about the people, issues and ideas driving Global Affairs Canada. Don’t forget to join the conversation online using the hashtag #GACfiles. If you have any feedback or suggestions for future topics or guests, please send us an email at


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