Supporting New Ways of Working Together During Remote Work
As we continue to work remotely and explore new ways to accomplish our tasks, we recognize there are new challenges which our campus community must embrace. For all of us, the foreseeable future requires high levels of flexibility, understanding, and openness to try new things.
For supervisors, managers, and directors the distance may have created new challenges around supporting your teams and ensuring the best continuity for students. 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 during remote work.
Feel free to share your ideas, examples, and questions with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Challenges of Working from Home
As a member of the CC Community, it is important to recognize that this is a new experience and with it there may be feelings of anxiety, fear, and uneasiness for everyone. Many may feel a lack of control and find that there are new difficulties for getting work done. 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. Below are some of the common challenges of remote work that may make it especially demanding.
Lack of face-to-face supervision:
Both supervisors and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently. Many employees, on the other hand, struggle 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.
- While it is likely that you know the individual work style and motivations of those on your team, this time of uncertainty is an opportunity to revisit past expectations and identify new expectations. If you haven’t already, ask each team member to describe the conditions under which they perform best, their concerns about their workflow and their emotional response to the situation and use this knowledge to influence how you delegate assignments and communicate with the individuals on your team.
- It can be tempting to check in constantly to make sure employees are on task but micromanaging your team will only make them feel like you don’t trust them.
Lack of Access to Information:
Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to gather information from coworkers. Even getting answers to what seems like simple questions can feel like a large obstacle.
- Research suggests that there is a lower willingness to give coworkers the benefit of the doubt when there isn’t a mutual understanding of each other's daily work challenges. This understanding is usually gained from informal hallway greetings and ‘water cooler’ chats. For example, if you know that your colleague is having a rough day, you will view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress. However, if you receive this email from a remote coworker, with no understanding of their current circumstances, you are more likely to take offense, or at a minimum to think poorly of your coworker’s professionalism.
One of the most common complaints about social distancing is loneliness. Extroverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, especially if they do not have opportunities to connect in this remote work environment. Moments of genuine connection and interaction can be difficult to replicate in the online space. Using these digital tools to maintain connection can be tricky because it is likely, for most of us, a glimpse into the work- and home-life of our coworkers.
- Connect with your team to develop a communication plan that promotes productivity without losing the human element. It might look like a 10-minute Zoom meeting or conference call for the beginning or end of the workday to check in with one another.
- Start off a staff meeting doing a "show and tell" of your pets, a family heirloom, favorite book, or even awkward photos from your high school yearbook.
- Determine what support looks like for you and your team members. Everyone handles change and transition differently. Some may be content with working remotely while others might feel lost.
Distractions at Home:
Typically, remote workers ensure they have a dedicated workspace and adequate childcare when scheduled to work remotely. Yet, in the case of a sudden transition to virtual work, there is a much greater chance that employees will be contending with suboptimal workspaces and unexpected parenting responsibilities. Even in normal circumstances family and home demands can impinge on remote work. Managers should expect these distractions to be greater during this unplanned work-from-home transition.
- Try to create a dedicated space for video meetings. Avoid clutter in the background that can distract others in a meeting.
- Try facing a window for natural light or have a lamp nearby so your team can clearly see you on video.
- Use a noise-canceling headphone to stay focused on the task at hand.
- Depending on your living arrangement, you may need to hang a “do not disturb” sign so your family members don’t interrupt you.
- Pets often need a closed door to keep them away.
- Whether you are in your home or a common area, take five minutes to assess the privacy of your workspace. Can someone standing behind you read your computer screen? Are your windows open so your neighbor can hear your phone call? What information do you need to secure before grabbing a cup of coffee or heading to the restroom? Your personal privacy matters too, so look around for anything you would not want visible during a video conference with your boss.
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.
Lack of Feeling Productive:
It’s easy to feel unproductive when trying to complete the same work activities you did in the workplace at home. There may be several competing demands such as caring for dependents, the lack of a quiet office space, or difficulty connecting to the internet. This is a great opportunity to revisit your own definition of success and what it means to be productive each day. Another challenge you might experience is that the workload while you aren’t in the office is lighter than what you’re used to.
- Check in with your supervisor on a more frequent basis since information and solutions are ever evolving. Be proactive in developing and communicating your remote work task list. Follow-up with your supervisor to see if there are any projects or tasks that might need your assistance.
- Do some "spring-cleaning." Clean up your email inbox or organize your department's shared drive. Consolidate files to enhance productivity.
- Review your department’s website for accuracy and updating. This is a great time to identify typos, misinformation, and broken links on your website.
- Brainstorm with your team ways that you can provide unique value to CC during this period. Talk with your team about what you have to offer that no one else does. What new form might it take? For example, could you perform a typical function but on a different platform (e.g. email, newsletter, online, video, webinar, or social media)? Or is there something specific that your team does that could help the campus community manage this situation better?
- Create or update onboarding manuals, training manuals, transition guides, etc.
- Pick an online class, TedTalk, podcast episode, or some other form of digital learning and attend the course and share lessons learned with your team. Hold a discussion with your colleagues to discuss connections between the material and your collective work.
- Set daily goals, track progress, and share with your supervisor. Start each day of telework by writing down what you need to achieve and then track your progress. Pay attention to how long tasks take and start adjusting your daily goals to match your current rhythm.
- Dress for Work. Just like sitting on the couch can make us feel a little too relaxed, wearing pajamas all day makes it hard to get into work mode. Dressing casually is definitely a perk of working at home but getting “ready for work” is a daily ritual that enhances success.
Now that most employees are in front of the screen for the majority of the day, it is very easy to physically exhaust your body. You may strain your eyes, shoulders, and back if you’re not getting up to take breaks or allowing your eyes to relax away from the screen. You may also be feeling email or Zoom meeting fatigue since those are the two dominant ways of communication for remote work.
- Consider setting an alarm on your phone every 20 minutes to stand up, stretch and focus your eyes away from the screen for at least 2 minutes.
- Schedule walking breaks on your own or with coworkers. You can chat with them over the phone on your walk and catch up on the personal connection.
- Think twice before sending an email. Does everyone receiving the email really need to be included or are you just filling up their inbox? Can the conversation happen through Team Meetings Chat or a phone call?
- Are there too many Zoom meetings occurring throughout your week? Consider blocking out your schedule each day for focused quiet time/no meeting time.
Elevating Communication and Establishing Expectations
Even if we might not when this period of remote working will come to an end, it is still a finite situation. Maintain regular, honest communication with your team. Talk about what you and each team member wants to do during this period, the systems you might employ for doing it, how you will gauge your success, and eventually how you plan to transition these efforts once we all return to campus. Here is a list of questions to get the conversation started.
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 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
Remote supervision can seem challenging, but 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.
- 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.
- Schedule weekly meetings for the entire team to come together through video conference, even if just to hear how things are going for each member.
- Put together Virtual Happy Hours which can involve a team building activity (gamestorming.com) or virtual Jeopardy https://www.rusnakcreative.com/gameshows. Click here for more virtual happy hour ideas.
- Celebrate milestones, birthdays, and work anniversaries through work meeting announcements, small tokens of appreciation, or free ecards designed for workplace appreciation. https://www.baudville.com/epraise, https://greetabl.com/
- Continue to recognize high performance above and beyond expectations through traditional and creative ways.
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.
- Acknowledge stress by listening to employees’ anxieties and concerns and empathize with their struggles. If a newly remote employee is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them, “how is this remote 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 with working from home.
- 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 via phone, email, FaceTime, Skype, and other virtual methods with 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.”
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. They may worry about disruptions to the workflow they're accountable for. Some may feel they have to be physically present to be good coaches, unsure that they can engage workers from a distance. Rather more negatively, there are still some managers who don't trust workers they can't see. All of them will have to manage workers in a new way, and fast.
- 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.
- 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?”)
Frequently Asked Questions
What is teleworking and how does it differ from other forms of remote work?
Telecommuting is a work arrangement in which some or all of the work is performed from home or another off-site location. In general, regular office hours are worked and deviations from that schedule require supervisor approval.
Which jobs are suited for teleworking?
Telecommuting, or teleworking, is easiest to implement for jobs or tasks that require reading, writing, research, working with data and talking on the phone. In general, and at management’s discretion, a job is suited to teleworking if the job or some components of it can be done off-site without disruption to the flow of work and communication.
Which jobs are not as well suited for teleworking?
It is not uncommon to require employees in positions requiring in-person contact/customer service or that rely upon specific equipment or supplies to work on site. Management and/or supervisory roles also may be excluded from consideration for telecommuting arrangements unless a department finds such an arrangement practical in meeting job responsibilities. Some jobs that may not seem appropriate at first may be modified so that employees can telework.
What’s most important to starting a productive teleworking arrangement?
When clearly outlined and executed, teleworking arrangements can prove beneficial to employees and managers alike. Supervisors should articulate clear procedures regarding check-in times and hours of availability. With proper planning, communications problems can be minimized. Well-planned flexible work arrangements sometimes enable departments to extend their service hours, and to make more effective use of space and equipment.
How do I initiate teleworking?
Employees who believe teleworking fits with the roles and responsibilities of their job should first talk to their supervisor. If your supervisor agrees that teleworking makes sense in your role, please download the Telecommute Agreement Form below. You will need to provide your supervisor’s name, department head’s name, and division head’s name in order to submit the form. Please note for those employees who report to a department or division head, you may need to enter a name in more than one field.
Click here to download the Telecommute Agreement Form.
Note: this form needs to be emailed for approvals, so download the form to your computer first, and then open in Adobe or another installed PDF software.
How do I set up my home workstation?
- Add your telecommute schedule to your email signature line.
- Set up call forwarding and how to access your voicemail from home.
- Know how to remote into the CC network and other online tools you regularly use.
- Use Jabber or Microsoft Teams or another instant messaging client to stay connected to colleagues.
- Plan for video calls/meetings by making sure you know how to turn on your computer’s camera and microphone and being aware that your colleagues may be able to see the background behind you. Watch this short video for additional webcam tips.
- Determine which platform(s) you will use to communicate as a team, clarify expectations for online availability, and confirm everyone has access to the technology tool(s) and support resources. CC employees have free access to Webex and Office 365, which includes a suite of web-based productivity tools. Visit the Office 365 training center to get started or to help you maximize these resources.