17 April 2020

Crowded House

Thousands of kiwis can now relate to the realities of working-from-home. But thanks to careful scheduling and smart organisation, LIC’s Amanda Bisset has overcome the competing needs of home demands and work life. Here's how.

When the sudden COVID-19 lockdown came, Amanda Bisset had to scramble to rearrange nearly two weeks’ of face-to-face appointments with dozens of farmers throughout South Canterbury and North Otago.

 Amanda is one of LIC’s 80-odd agri managers across New Zealand who annually hit the road for up to three months to prepare dairy farmers for the new dairy season ahead, starting on 1 June.

 Among her responsibilities is to advise farmers on new breeding choices, herd testing, better technology, and latest herd and cow information. There’s a fair bit to get through.

 But with just 48 hours notice, it’s fair to say that settling-in to a completely new way of working had been among the most challenging aspects of the 2019 autumn, Amanda says.

 “We’ve all adjusted to the conditions we can’t control, just as farmers tend to do every season. So I’ve quickly been able to re-schedule things; all farmer appointments which were lined up needed both another time and a new way of meeting.

 “My initial contact is always by phone anyway, so nothing has changed in that sense. But a lot of my farmers have taken to meeting through Zoom which means we need a good online connection.”

 Adding to a somewhat fuzzy new picture is the beginning of a new school term, which comes with further complications for Amanda.


Amanda and Riley“My three teenagers are at home and all have started their school term under the lockdown,” she says. “They’re all online, and with rural broadband there’s quite a drain on the internet.

“So that means we all need to manage the demand. We’ve worked it out so part of their day is scheduled for schoolwork, and where we can, I’m now arranging my famer appointments around that.”

 Acting in the interest of what’s for common good is what COVID-19 is all about, and that’s merely reflective of what’s an entrenched cooperative spirit in dairying, both on-farm and at LIC.

 Consequently, farmer feedback about the new arrangements, be they via Zoom or over the phone, is understanding and largely positive, Amanda says.

 “Some farmers have preferred to discuss their needs by phone, in which case I’ll email the agenda, reports, and information ahead of time and then we’ll talk it through.

 “For those farmers who have taken to Zoom, it’s been great, we can share screens and it’s really interactive. We can discuss reports, point to data, and it’s surprisingly engaging. I’ve had comments from some clients about how efficient it all is, because there’s so few interruptions and distractions – also the meeting is quicker and I guess the agenda is tighter.

 Meanwhile, Garth Stearn, LIC upper South Island territory manager, says farmers are responding well to the new ways of engaging with LIC. Some farmers are used to working in isolation by the very nature of their farm – albeit with tighter safety measures, he says.

 “Agri managers continue to use well-established team networks to keep connected with each other and share best practice information. I’m proud of LIC’s agri manager teams and staff, and I thank farmers for their patience and the way they’ve embraced the COVID-19 response for the good of all New Zealanders.”