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Supporting New Ways of Working Together

As many of us continue to work remotely in some capacity and accomplish our tasks in new ways, we recognize there are new challenges which our campus community must embrace. The past year and at least the short-term future requires high levels of flexibility, understanding, and openness to try new things.

This resource is intended to provide ideas on how you might better understand the challenges your team faces, try new ways of working together, and establish simple practices that can improve communication.

Feel free to share your ideas, examples, and questions with us at hr@coloradocollege.edu


Challenges of Working During and Post-Pandemic

As a member of the CC Community, it is important to recognize that the past year and the return to campus work may create feelings of anxiety, fear, and uneasiness for everyone. During this time, it is crucial that everyone extend more grace, kindness, and understanding to one another. This is the time to focus on the person and the emotional needs of our campus members. 

Over the past year both supervisors and their employees often expressed concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Supervisors worry that employees aren’t working as hard or as efficiently. Many employees, on the other hand, struggled with reduced access to supervisory support and communication. In some cases, employees feel that remote managers are out of touch with their needs, and thereby are neither supportive nor helpful in getting their work done.  Even though this may be true for some employees, the transition to on campus life will be an adjustment.

Many CC employees have continued to work on campus during the pandemic because their jobs required that.  As the rest of CC employees transition back to on campus work, they are likely to be anxious about how to interact in person. 

Work with each employee individually to create a transition back to on-campus work plan for them.  For people who are really fearful/anxious, you might start them with only 1 day a week in person.  That will give them time to become accustomed to being back in the office and around people slowly while building up their comfort level.  It will also give them an opportunity to determine what they may need in their physical space to feel safe (plexiglass screens, sanitizing materials, masks, etc.).  If employees are in a shared workspace, perhaps you can put some space between them or have the employees in the shared space in on different days at first.

Emphasize the need to follow our mitigation protocols and download/print posters for your area as reminders.

Check-in throughout the day with your employees when they are back on campus.  See how they are doing and what they might need.  Help them acclimate to being back on campus.

You should have already set goals for 2021-22 through the performance excellence process.  Revisit those goals and set expectations early with each person.

While you have a mix of employees working on campus and off, remember to include EVERYONE in teams meetings.  Continue to use Zoom or conference calls so everyone can participate.

If you have team members working different schedules throughout the day or week, consider sending delayed emails so that they are received during working hours and employees don’t feel they are required to respond to requests after their regular work schedule.

Miscommunication:

Technology now rules when it comes to communication and there are infinitely more ways to miscommunicate when non-verbal cues are not easily perceived.

  • Brevity creates confusion and misunderstanding. Some may interpret shortened emails and text messages as being sloppy. Be as clear as possible and provide all the details that matter.
  • Communicate your mindset in your email. Don't assume others know why you need something or what the priority level is. You might create acronyms with your team such as 4H: respond within 4 hours or NNTR: No Need To Reply.
  • Hold your horses! We sometimes think we must respond as fast as possible, which can create mistakes. Take time to be thoughtful in your responses.
  • Assume the best intent. When someone uses all CAPITAL letters, some might assume excitement while others anger. Simple meeting requests without a subject line might sound ominous to the recipient. Check your interpretation when you respond.
    • We think someone is angry when they're typing fast.
    • Working quickly and under pressure will sometimes be interpreted as offensive.
    • We need to check our interpretation when we respond.
    • Change the medium/channel when we need to so we can get on the same page.
  • Read this short guide to understanding the pitfalls of digital miscommunication

Elevating Communication and Establishing Expectations

Questions to consider asking your supervisor:

  • How should I keep you updated on what I am working on?
  • What should my work schedule look like?
  • When do you need my task/project list?

Questions to consider asking your team (group):

  • What are the team's preferred ways to keep each other updated on projects?
  • What should be our primary ways for communicating? What are our expectations for responding? (e.g., immediate to texts, Microsoft Office 365 Team chats when you get to them, etc.)
  • What expectations do you have for one another?
  • What expectations do you collectively have of me as your supervisor?
  • What would be reasonable expectations for me to have of the team?

Questions for supervisors to consider asking individual team members:

  • Working remotely (even occasionally) can make people feel like they are "out of the loop" a lot more. What are things you want me to make sure I touch base with you about, so you feel connected?
  • How are you managing all of this transition and shifting of work?
    • What might be one or two ways I can help you be as productive as possible?
  • What is your preferred way that I check in with you to see how your work project/task list is going?
    • Would you prefer we touch base every day? At the beginning of the week? As needed?
  • What expectations do you have for me as your supervisor?

Supervisors and Managers

It is important to remember that effective supervision is relational, reflective and curious regardless of whether you connect virtually or in person. Below are some areas to consider as you manage your remote teams. Keep in touch with other managers to compare notes on what's working.

Create Structure

  • Establish "rules of engagement" so staff know which form of communication is best for specific types of conversations. For example, you might have a weekly team meeting via Zoom or WebEx to share updates but when something is urgent, you use the Microsoft Teams Chat program. Would you prefer they respond to emails within 24 hours and texts within 5 hours? Consider the total "bandwidth" your team can handle. The team can also agree on a portion of the day to designate as a 'no meeting' time to get individual work done.
  • Discuss team boundaries around work and non-workspaces, times, and devices. Some employees may need clarity, reassurance, and guidance on creating work "zones" and defining clear start and end times to workdays as well as appropriate lunchtimes and breaks.
  • Remember that each person is different. You may have some that need more guidance, support or direction. In this case, clarify decisions or actions at the end of the conversation and plan priority actions together until the next check-in.
  • Ensure employees know how to access their voicemail and virtual desktop. See the FAQ section for instructions.

Create Belonging

Create Development Opportunities

  • Encourage employees to engage in professional development topics through free resources like LinkedIn Learning, webinars, books, digitally available articles and other publications, podcasts, TED Talks, etc.
  • Build discussions around professional development materials with your team. You might ask questions like: What did you learn from this? What surprised you? What does this make you more curious about? What insight does this bring to what we do? Based on this, what might we want to try?
  • Identify classes your team might want to take advantage of through the Excel at CC summer offerings.
  • Visit the websites of your applicable professional organizations and share relevant articles with your team. Many organizations are populating their pages with relevant, on-demand career development material.
  • Talk to staff members about areas where they currently want to grow or learn on the job. This could be a chance to get employees cross-trained in order to respond better to future demands on workplace flexibility.

Create Support

  • Acknowledge stress by listening to employees' anxieties and concerns and empathize with their struggles. If an employee returning to on-campus work is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them, "how is this work situation working out for you so far?" Let the employee's stress or concerns (rather than your own) be the focus of this conversation. Creatively brainstorm ideas to alleviate work/life challenges.
  • Create opportunities to connect at the beginning of a team meeting. One activity, called "Sweet and Sour" invites each team member to share their sweet and sour of the day or week. The sweet is something they're excited about, something they just accomplished or a problem they figured out. The sour is a challenge they might be facing or something they're anxious about. These do not have to be work related topics.
  • Some of your staff members may need help re-evaluating their work activities and prioritizing what needs to be completed now, pushed off, or simply eliminated given the work environment. There may also be opportunities to introduce new projects that have been on the backburner.
  • Encourage employees to maintain or enhance normal levels of physical activity both in the home and outdoors where appropriate social distancing is possible.
  • Remind staff members to keep in contact with colleagues, family, social groups, faith communities, and other support systems.
  • Instill confidence and purpose by using phrases like, "we've got this," or "this is tough, but I know we can handle it," or "let's look for ways to use our strengths during this time." 

Department Leaders

As a department leader your department looks to you for guidance, strength, and understanding. Here are some things to think about as you reflect on the opportunities for your department during this time.

Lead Your People

  • Support your managers: A sudden change in the practice of management can be hard on managers. We went to mostly remote work a year ago, which required adjustments. Now we are coming back to on-campus work, which also requires adjustments. Managers may worry about disruptions to the workflow they are accountable for. They will have to manage workers through this transition.
  • Communicate Often: your staff, faculty, and students are all looking for answers, knowing that this is a period of constant change. It is critical for leaders to take a consistent, calm tone and measured actions when deciding on actions to take. Transparency is a key component of maintaining trust. Provide the who, what, when, where, and why so the blanks in information sharing are not filled in with rumors. (e.g. "here are the actions we have taken, here is how this decision was made, this is how it will affect your team.").
  • Instill a "Yes, and" mindset: It might be easy for your department to think in terms of, "yes, but...we can't do this right now." Challenge your managers and supervisors to bring you, "yes, and this is what we can do instead" solution instead of reasons things won't work. Shift the thinking to being proactive rather than reactive.

Strategic Planning

  • Review and update budgets, timelines, and strategic plans for your department.
  • Revisit metrics and goals and identify any areas that need adjustments.
  • Read the CC strategic plan and prioritize opportunities for future projects that could align with the plan.
  • Consider areas that your department can improve diversity and inclusivity in your internal and external facing initiatives.

Reflect on the Past

  • Review existing data and success metrics to identify whether projects are meeting objectives.
  • Encourage your department members to reflect with you. (e.g. "What has worked well for us in the past year and why? What hasn't worked so well and why? What areas in our department need the most attention right now?")

 

Report an issue - Last updated: 08/03/2021