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Across the entire education space, the Coronavirus has made it challenging for institutions to stay on mission, continue business operations, and support and maintain the health of all stakeholders. At this point, most schools have closed in-person physical operations and have transitioned students to an online classroom format for at least the rest of the remaining school year. Faculty and employees have been asked to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

The Coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping through the globe has upended our personal and professional lives like no other world event in recent memory. Even with 9/11, which was extremely devastating to the country, much of the devastation was localized around New York City and Washington DC. This is the first time in my memory, where everyone in the country is being impacted either directly by the virus or indirectly by the significant measures taken to protect the public.

As a Higher Ed consultant, I have spent the last eight years adjusting my work style to be efficient and productive while traveling on the road or working remotely from home. When I look back a little further at my time at Northwestern University, working remotely was not something that was part of the work culture. We worked where students were, and we felt our face to face interactions were critical to their success. The decisions we made as a team were consensus-driven and required many hours sitting in a conference room collaborating and debating our strategy. This work style was not an approach we even considered possible in a remote setting.

Today, Higher Ed faculty and employees find themselves in a remote work setting, doing their best to fulfill their job responsibilities and student obligations. I wanted to share my experience working remotely and suggest a few tips that may help my Higher Ed colleagues while they navigate this brave new world.

2) Maintain open and transparent work calendars

Nowadays, most people use online calendars (MS Outlook, Google, etc.) to manage their appointments, meetings, and commitments. If you’re like me, your calendar can become inundated with appointments and meetings, which can literally block off your entire day, yet some of these meetings are probably optional or for informational purposes only. Unfortunately, that’s not always discernable to someone looking at your calendar. When your team is located in an office, you can easily walk around and find out what are the real must-attend meetings on people’s calendars and what aren’t. This isn’t possible in a remote setting. So instead, I suggest everyone make their calendars open by default so that everyone can see everything (including the description/subject of each meeting). This way, when someone is trying to book a meeting with you, they can get a sense of how each blocked time is being used and can do a reasonably good job of guessing which meetings or appointments might be flexible. Of course, any private/personal meetings or appointments can still be made private. Having a default open calendar policy does help teams navigate busy schedules.

2) Have webcams on for all web conference calls

Humans are gregarious by nature. We enjoy working in groups and having face to face conversations. Visual clues such as body language and facial expressions make interacting much more pleasurable and useful. We take these interactions for granted when we are working in an office or meeting in person. It’s much more challenging when your team is working remotely. Even now, I find many people who use web conference tools like Zoom or Webex for only voice call and desktop sharing capabilities–they rarely turn on the camera. I make it a point of using the camera on all my calls, so that I can best recreate a face to face interaction that I might have in an office setting. I become more than just a voice. Others can see my reaction, my body language, the look on my face. and through those cues, then interpret how I am responding to the conversation. It’s a very human thing to see one another. The company I worked for previously had a very large remote workforce, so there was an understood policy that webcams should be on for all mobile/laptop-based communications. To help people feel comfortable being on camera, we had a very relaxed dress code for internal meetings. Yes, you could show up in your pajamas if you wanted. I’m not sure I saw many PJs, but there were a lot of baseball caps, t-shirts, and sweatpants on our calls.

3) Virtual Meet-Ups

One of my favorite aspects of office culture is the ability to organize impromptu meet-ups with my teammates. The current water cooler moment is a classic one which today you’re more likely to find huddles around a K-cup coffee machine rather than a water cooler. Organizing last-minute lunch outings or having a break in a standard room with others in the office are quite popular office activities. When working remotely, these types of events are just not possible. To recreate a little bit of this office culture, remote employees are creating Virtual meet-ups. Leveraging their online web conference platform, many companies are creating virtual meeting rooms for people to meet. My two favorite virtual meet up activities are a weekly virtual lunch hour and a weekly virtual happy hour. Book a web conference on everyone’s calendar and attached a web conference room. Both activities are strictly BYOFnB (Bring Your Own Food and Beverage), and I typically instruct people to avoid work conversations as much as possible. It’s a fun way to remotely recreate the office breakroom experience. On some of the virtual meet-ups I attend we have activities we do together. Spaulding Ridge uses Zoom as our web conference tool, so right now, we are having an informal contest on who has the best Zoom background on each call. I think my animated Matrix Rainfall background impressed a lot of people the other day!

4) Take breaks often

This is probably the most important tip I can offer newly remote workers. Regardless if you are working from your kitchen table, a dedicated home office, or a nearby co-working space, it is crucial to schedule breaks throughout the day. We are all high-performing individuals, and if we aren’t careful, we could spend eight straight hours sitting in one place going from one virtual meeting to the next. This is not healthy. Especially if you are working by yourself, you won’t have the benefit of co-workers who may force you to take random breaks throughout the day. My rule of thumb is to get out of the virtual office every 2 ½ hours to take a 15 min walk. I find this helps me breathe some fresh air, feel the warmth of sunlight, and release any harmful stress I may have been holding onto while crunched at my desk. Your outlook naturally changes as you get your body to move around.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted much of our economy and personal lives. For those in Higher Education, the Coronavirus has shut down University campuses across the nation and forced faculty and employees to work remotely. This is a significant change, especially for those that have never worked remotely for an extended period of time before. I hope my tips above will help make your transition smoother and hopefully bring some sense of office culture to your work situation. Don’t forget, one of the biggest benefits to working remotely–shorter commute times!

Founded in 2018, Spaulding Ridge is a top management consulting firm, dedicated to client success and helping organizations implement and adopt best-in-cloud technology to solve their most pressing challenges. We provide the office of the CFO financial clarity to Sales and Operational complexity by integrating financial and sales SaaS Platforms.

We help:
• Finance gain control ” Increasing financial effectiveness, insight and impact
• Sales increase Productivity ” Hitting quota more quickly, consistently and efficiently
• Operations increase Competitiveness ” Through productivity rates, customer service outcomes, and efficiency
Shane Sugino leads the Higher Education consulting practice for Spaulding Ridge that helps educational institutions leverage cloud technologies to efficiently and effectively.