By: Natalie Woods and Maria Morrisson Copolillo on April 29th, 2020
Building and Sustaining a Remote Work Culture
Remote Work | District Leadership | School Leadership
Schools were asked to transition everything they would normally do within their school walls to a virtual environment overnight. District and school teams are continuing to find ways to provide meals to students, adjust all meetings to virtual, expedite the distribution of devices and wifi, update as many curriculum resources as possible, and do all of this while trying to keep it together at home. We are starting to see more people get settled into working remotely and also try to navigate ways to still build team culture and keep spirits high.
According to the New York Times article, The Science of Helping Out, “Much of the scientific research on resilience — which is our ability to bounce back from adversity — has shown that having a sense of purpose, and giving support to others, has a significant impact on our well-being.” This should come as no surprise to educators as they are naturally focused on supporting others. What may feel a little different is the focus on supporting others and doing so from a distance.
Five years ago, Education Elements had one office in San Carlos, California, and one office in Washington, D.C. Since then we have adjusted our remote work policy and now have 60% of our team in remote locations spanning 17 states, with 22% of our team in San Carlos and 28% in DC. We have had to strategically adjust our team culture over the past few years to find ways to make everyone feel just as connected as if they were in an office. We noticed a few challenges you may be experiencing and wanted to share some ideas of things we have done as a company and ideas for you to apply in your context. We hope this gives you a few new ideas and also validates that yes, you should put energy towards team culture whether it is in person or remote.
Challenge: Maintaining Rituals & Traditions or Creating New Ones
Why this is important: Humans are creatures of habit and appreciate some sense of normalcy.
How Education Elements is doing it: We have weekly Friday Status Meetings for one hour where the entire company joins. This weekly meeting existed before COVID19, but we have adjusted the meeting while also holding true to traditions. Our meeting always starts out with a one word check-in (questions change) so each teammate has a chance to check-in. Our senior leadership provide updates from our COVID Task Force and then open up for questions. We then proceed with our normal meeting and end with a weekly tradition of Shoutouts aligned to our company values. One other fun addition is we are hosting themed Fridays and everyone shows up to the Status Meeting with their creative outfits (or virtual backgrounds). What is a ritual or tradition you have maintained and what is one small change you could make to build team culture virtually?
Challenge: Trust & Relationships
Why this is important: Tap into your teammates’ talents to build trust across a team.
How Education Elements is doing it: We have seen it is more important than ever to build trust across the team quickly and for people to have ways to engage differently than they did before. One way you can do this is to channel people’s passions into service for the team. Teammates are hosting guided meditations, virtual trivia games, Kids of EE Lessons weekly, how to be a Twitter pro and finding ways to hone their sketching craft and sharing with others. Tapping into things that people care about and giving them the space to share, shows you appreciate them and provides really quick team bonding. What is a small way you could build relationships across teams this week?
Challenge: Clear & Effective Communication
Why this is important: Build a culture of consistent and open communication.
How Education Elements is doing it: As coronavirus news started spreading, we had employees who were in the air, staying at hotels and waking up for in-person meetings with school districts. Our team put in place a COVID Task Force to quickly decide what decisions needed to be made, what plans to put in place and best ways to share information. Many decisions continue to be made daily and the amount of information being shared was overwhelming. The team created dedicated Slack communication channels for updates, resources, and coping as a team. We receive updates every Wednesday and an open forum on Fridays during our Weekly Status. We also share surveys and pulse checks to measure effectiveness of communications. How are you providing updates to your team and checking to see if communication is clear?
Challenge: Community Involvement
Why this is important: Listen to your community to find the answers.
How Education Elements is doing it: We spend a lot of our time in person visiting school districts. Going onsite and spending time with school and district leaders gives us so much energy and joy. With a travel grounding overnight, we had to find ways to stay engaged with our community of educators. We have pivoted our services to be remote for the time being and are adjusting what we do based on what our district partners need. We also put together many free offerings based on questions we were hearing and you can check them out here “Educating Through COVID-19: Addressing The Widespread Impact of Coronavirus On Schools”. What is a way you can engage your community using video or Twitter?
Challenge: Professional Development
Why this is important: Build cohesion and innovation with learning.
How Education Elements is doing it: Our team has always prioritized “never stop learning” and we are staying true to our core (values that is). With so many learnings turning to online, we have an ample amount of opportunities available at our fingertips. A few things we have participated in or will be attending include: Yale: The Science of Well Being (course), LinkedIn Virtual Impact Conference (virtual conference), Brene Brown: Unlocking Us (podcast), Design Thinking (course), and teammates are hosting their very own watch parties to view recorded webinars with others. What is a new way you could learn online that is different than how you typically like to learn? Try it out!
Why this is important: Actions speak louder than words (but words are important, too)
How Education Elements is doing it: One final challenge is to make sure all are finding ways to take care of themselves, each other and their families. This is a challenge we will continue to navigate through but we wanted to share a few quick things we have done that have helped us out. Teammates are encouraged to look at their calendars and decide what standing meetings need to stay, what could go, what could be shortened, and what meetings could change to a different day of the week. We are also strategizing ways to check in on each other and make sure that we have consistent pulse checks throughout the week. We are all hands on deck with projects and everyone is finding ways to lean in to support each other. What is one way that someone has checked in on you this week? How could you spread that by checking in on someone you have not checked in on in a while?
As organizations across the world pivot in response to the current crisis, using responsive practices to support a remote work culture is critically important. Whether it’s keeping up with rituals, streamlining communication, or encouraging employees to take care of themselves and their families; we hope that this blog post has given you some ideas for how to create and support a healthy culture of remote work at your organization!
We have several webinars about cultivating and sustaining a healthy community and culture while working online and remotely - for teachers, coaches, and school and district leaders. Check out the full series below to find a webinar - and related resources - for you.