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After 17 years in business, nine college graduates online, and a year of face-to-face teaching during a pandemic, I've found we need to rethink the way we work and how we learn. Previous models were not designed for a new hybrid environment in which we need to be remotely and personally involved.
Traditional online programs are aimed at working adults. They are suitable for asynchronous, flexible deliveries that suit the school around full-time jobs. For students on campus, their main focus and full-time employment is school, where face-to-face attendance is required.
Covid changed all that. With a mix of face-to-face and distance students, we knew an asynchronous online model wouldn't work. Without a regular schedule and familiar elements, many would be lost and disconnected. We needed a hybrid model for integrating digital and physical environments. This is how I imagine the future of work.
A LiveCareer survey found that 61% of workers want to work remotely after a pandemic, and Gartner reports that 90% of hiring managers let their employees work remotely at least part-time. But how do you manage and engage a team that is not in the same building at the same time?
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1. Touch the base with team members weekly
Send out a weekly announcement highlighting what happened last week and what to look out for this week. Make it dialogical rather than a formal project report. Share something personal and relevant that everyone on the team feels. A little humility and empathy can go a long way. An alternative to a written announcement is a short weekly video. I had to do this in my class to ensure that connection between personal and distant students.
Also, touch the base with each team member. If you don't walk past someone's desk every day, you're missing out on informal check-ins. Drop by their virtual desk with a message to see how their projects are going. The connection in a hybrid environment needs to be more conscious. According to Virgin Pulse, 60% of employees say that employer relationships have a positive impact on their focus and productivity.
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2. Use technology, but not too much
Have a main platform as a home base for work. Everything for our lessons now runs through our Learning Management System (LMS). We set up standards and templates so students know where, what, and how to get involved in each class. Multiple systems are a hassle for everyone.
Move team or project communication out of email. When you are not in the same room it is difficult to concentrate. For this reason, I switched the course-related communication to messaging in our LMS. Course materials, schedules and communications are accessed there to prevent them from getting lost in a sea of external and unrelated email that can lead you on an unrelated rabbit trail.
3. Create virtual corridors
If you can't stop someone in the hallway or catch them after a meeting or class, how do you get questions answered? Questions are asked in person and answered in real time. In the online classroom or work environment, similar questions are sent separately to team members and professors.
Instead of answering each question individually, I use a Q&A forum or message board. When a person has a question, I answer for everyone to see. Others also reply for faster and sometimes better answers. Your questions and answers from one project can become an FAQ for the next. Also consider an internal wiki where team members can share knowledge about processes, projects, and customers.
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4. Don't just do it with work
If you want to get the best out of others, any communication shouldn't involve high stakes and high stress. At peak times, I send each student a message and ask how they're doing and if there's anything I can do for them. You never know what someone is going through.
When working remotely, time outside of meetings is spent alone. You miss chance encounters with interdisciplinary team members that can lead to innovations. GPS was invented at the Applied Physics Laboratory during a casual conversation over lunch, not an official project. View zooms without an agenda lunch with random participants. Different backgrounds expand the perspectives.
5. Create virtual project rooms
Project management and collaboration software is a must for remote work. In the past, students were heavily reliant on face-to-face meetings for group project work. But with remote and personal employees on the same team, they needed digital workspaces.
I choose to implement project management and collaboration software for teaching during the Covid classroom. There are many solutions available including Asana, Monday.com, Trello, Basecamp, and Slack for scheduling, document sharing, message boards, live chat, and task assignment.
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6. Participate everyone in live meetings
With the pandemic, I had to learn to engage in-person and online audiences at the same time. Our COVID-19 response team has come up with a solution for a future where teams are rarely in the same room.
Everyone in person and from a distance needs to see your material, see you, and see yourself. Slides are projected in the room and remotely via screen sharing on zoom. A secondary monitor shows distant participants. Additional cameras show you me, people in the room and the whiteboard.
Everyone in person and at a distance must also hear the moderator and hear each other. We use a noise-canceling ceiling microphone that picks up the voice of everyone in the room. Distant participants can be unmuted and heard through the speakers in the room. During work meetings, people collaborate through zoom breakout rooms.
The classroom can be the laboratory for appealing digital work environments. The lessons learned this year may point to a rethought future in which the workplace is a blend of the best of personal and distance communication.