I don’t have any contact with students these days, sadly, but the impact of my work on their ability to access and engage with their learning is always front and centre in so much of what I do.
- Read more from me on Remote Working here, and keep up to date as the list of posts grows.
What I do have a lot of in my week is working closely with a variety of individuals who have a much closer connection to the wholly online students at Coventry University; the progression coaches, learning designers, student experience officers, admissions officers, digital media producers, etc. It is these individuals who are my main focus every day when contemplating how the Covid-19/Coronavirus health pandemic will affect me, my work, and the general well-being of the staff here.
So, here are some thoughts on how We (note the deliberate capitalisation, it means all of us) can and should get involved in taking care of the team whilst we’re in an enforced and extended remote working environment. Note – it is not just for the ‘manager’ or ‘leader’, we all have a duty of care to each other, to look out for each other.
- Make space for your work. This space is your new desk, cubicle, office. This space needs to be separate from the rest of your home, as much as you can. Your kitchen table, whilst suitable and probably comfortable on the days you work from home, it is not acceptable for a prolonged period of remote working. Especially if you have family who may also shortly be joining you at home for the next couple of months.
- Close the door. If you can find space with a door (the spare room is so very popular, if you have one) then use it. Not only can you shut yourself away from distractions and the hustle and bustle of a family or shared home, but it is also really useful to be able to close the door on your working day when you’ve finished. Try and keep the door stays closed behind you until the next working day, no peeking or following up on an email later that evening. Close the door and keep it closed. Keep the home/work balance by keeping the spaces separate.
- Walk to work. Most of us will have some form of commute, whether its public or private transport. Working from home also needs a ‘commute’, so make sure you take 15-10 minutes every morning and afternoon to walk around the block (or further afield if you like) and call this your commute. This also separates work from home, even though they are the same space.
- Regular breaks. We should be doing this already. This means we may take fewer breaks or are actually less active. In an office, you’ll often walk around as you speak to people and attend meetings or make a drink. Try and do the same in your remote office.
- Manage the distractions. If the cat or children are distracting you, then try and do something about it. Close the door, move your home desk somewhere more suitable. There’s often a conversation to be had with family members to explain what remote/home working means, to you, and what the expectations are. yes, you’re at home, but that doesn’t mean you can be disturbed or available to talk to your nephew’s kids when they want you to.
- Working hours. Use your Outlook or email client to schedule your day; put in a start and end time, preserve time for lunch and/or other breaks (including a nap – yes, a nap!). If you have an activity tracker or smartwatch explore the settings and see if there are alerts or notifications to help with activity and timekeeping.
- Dress appropriately. We’ve all joked about wearing a shirt and tie and jogging bottoms for the video meeting. Whilst you should be comfortable in your environment and what you’re wearing, don’t go overboard with being too formal or too relaxed. Stick to your normal workwear and work habits – if you always change to non-work clothes when you get home then continue this practice when you stop work and close the office down for the evening.
- Be realistic. Don’t do too much, in the same way as you wouldn’t do too little. Know the role and know the activity. Some tasks may take longer in the next few months, with everyone suddenly thrust into remote working, but some tasks may actually be easier with fewer office-based distractions. It will change, so be aware and mindful of the changes.
- Holiday. If you have a holiday booked, keep it. You may not be travelling as you’d originally planned, but caring for yourself also includes taking time away from work. The Covid-19 Coronavirus thing could impact our previous regular working patterns for four months or more … I doubt you would work for that long without a long weekend break or more? If you haven’t planned any, make sure you do. Take time away from the desk, where ever it is.
- Turn it off. If you have apps installed on your personal/home devices, make sure the notifications are switched off. As I said earlier, there are distractions you don’t need during the day, and our switched-on and tuned-in devices are the worst sort, and especially not in the evening or at weekends when you work from home. Some people like music, some like quiet. Choose your background noise or distraction and take note of when it isn’t working. Then change it.
- Keep learning. As a professional working in, well, online and distance learning, I should be very good at doing this myself. If nothing else, take some time every week to do something like a new LinkedIn Learning course, a FutureLearn course. It doesn’t have to be work-related, but you do need to spend time and effort on your own CPD when working remotely. Think about it, it’s the same as you’d in the office, so try and keep your timetable and tasks and learning to the same standards too.
- Relax. These are difficult and stressful times. You are not expected to be anything other than you have been so far, so don’t push yourself too hard or to do too much. Take care of yourself, you know you’re worth it.
This is not just for managers or company executives to handle, we can all take part in caring for our colleagues. The trick is to be sure everyone is included and that respect and diversity of personality and personal circumstances are accepted, in fact, it is embraced!
- Check-in / Stand-up. Have a regular video chat (Zoom, Teams, etc) early in the day (regular = every day) where everyone can say what they think the day ahead will hold for them. Some people will have it mapped out and know it all, others will have a general thought about their tasks for the day. Don’t judge on this, sometimes you need to be flexible on what day will hold for you. Doing this is one way to keep an existing team strong and communicating.
- Updates. As part of the above or as a different task, but keep project timelines and any issues flagged early, and flagged regularly. If there isn’t a mechanism to escalate problems then consider putting one in place while everyone is still in the office
- Over-communicate. You can’t say too much, but you can say too little. It doesn’t have to be in-depth or detailed work-related strategy or the like, but it does need to be led and managed. Make the opportunities you and your team need. Note when a phone call is more appropriate than an email.
- Contact details. Share contact details beyond the work email, work-based social accounts, and work-based phones. By offering the personal contact could make someone more open to talk to you about something personal they want help or advice with. Keeping things too work-based and professional could have the opposite impact you might be looking for.
- Channel & tools. Whatever tools you use for collaboration and/or working, use it for the kinder, social side too. If it has video capability, use it. Keep the relationships flowing by using the tools and familiarity of seeing your colleagues.
- Group tasks. In the same way, you might ask a couple of people to work through a task or problem, use the tools available and give the same kind of tasks to the remote team. See how they organise themselves, assign roles, report back, what tools they use, see how ingenious they have been in the approach they took to tackle the problem. If you don’t have a specific problem, see if there is a common interest in, e.g., artificial intelligence, and ask a small group to present a summary of the current research or understanding of AI in online learning?
- Feedback. Encourage giving and receiving feedback, either as part of the normal check-in and stand-up activities or, if your organisation uses it, as part of the more formal appraisal process. Whichever you have and whichever you use, encourage others to encourage their colleagues in an open and transparent manner.
Keeping the office vibe alive
Just as important as the self and team aspects of a prolonged remote working, is the social and informal side of how we all work together. A few idea on keeping the team spirit alive.
- Small talk. Somehow you need to keep the office chatter and small talk going, without it impeding the working day. What is often informal and something people can dip in or out of as they please, being remote needs a more ‘formal’ or ‘organised’ way of ensuring it still happens. Try using a social space (Slack, Teams) and post a daily question … “What’s the last GIF you sent on Twitter?”, “Share the last music video you watched on YouTube?”. This isn’t rocket science, but keep it friendly and sociable.
- Photos. In the office you know what everyone else’s working environment looks like, it’s the same as your own. Share photos of your own working environment, the view out of the window, the cat sleeping on the desk across your keyboard, etc. This helps your colleagues picture you and where you’re working. Even better, share photos of the weather as it changes through the day … you’ll soon spot the keen photographer, and maybe learn something at the same time.
- Tea/lunch break. Make time for the social chatter around making a drink or having lunch together. It’ll be strange to start with, but well worth the effort to keep in contact with colleagues and friends.
- Book/Film club. So you may not be able to get together in the same way as before, but there’s no reason these kinds of activities can’t continue. Choose a book everyone can access (libraries lend eBooks now too you know), find a film on one of the online streaming services everyone has access to, etc. There is a way this can continue, you just need to want it.
- Guests. If you often have guests come and talk to the team, make sure this still happens with the fully remote team. If you’ve not done it before, now’s the time to start. If, like me, you have a rather large(ish) network then reach out to it and invite some guests for a 30-40 minute session with a ‘virtual coffee & chat’ afterwards. Make the time for the team and its development.
If the information about Covid-19 in the UK is anything to be believed, it looks like anyone being told to work remotely could be in it for the long game. I’ve heard schools and businesses could be closed for upwards of four months, some thinking children will be away from school until the new academic year in September.
The impact on our work and colleagues is completely unknown at this stage. The more we can do to support each other, the better prepared and better resolve we will be to work through these hard times to still be here when better, safer times return.
Stay safe. xx