Creating an Efficient Remote Higher Ed Marcomm Team

Here we offer some insights gleaned from our first meeting, Creating an Efficient Remote Higher Ed Marcomm Team.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, we’ve been in frequent communication with our clients to facilitate discussions on a range of issues management and marketing topics. These conversations have evolved into a series of Brain Trust meetings where our higher ed colleagues can convene and talk openly about their challenges. Here are some insights gleaned from our first meeting on March 20, Creating an Efficient Remote Higher Ed Marcomm Team.

Maintaining a Sense of Community

In the transition from office life to remote work, you may realize the value of some of the face-to-face interactions you previously took for granted While there may not be 1:1 solutions for everything, there are a number of ways you can maintain strong relationships with your colleagues, managers, and direct reports. 

Keep Regular Meetings

Just because you can’t be in the same room anymore doesn’t remove the need for your daily stand-up or weekly one-on-ones — in fact, they may be even more important. 

Whether it’s by phone or video conference, keeping regular meetings provides a much-needed routine for everyone on your team. If possible, try to get the entire team on a regular video conference — not just for staff meetings, but even for a 15 minutes “tea time” break to relax and connect. Having the opportunity to see everyone at once reminds everyone that they’re still a team.

Be Flexible

Staying focused and on schedule is a lot harder when your home has to be an office, daycare, classroom, laundromat, and cafeteria all at the same time. In order to make it work, you may have to throw expectations of a 9-to-5 workday out the window. 

Some team members will need to work in several two-hour shifts throughout the day, while others won’t be able to really hunker down until late in the evening. What’s important is that those expectations are clear and well communicated and that you decide as a team what’s reasonable and manageable.

One attendee found that scheduling her home and family activities first made it easier for her team to carve out time with her throughout the day. Others found that dedicating an hour each day for family lunch, personal reflection, or other non-work activities helped maintain a healthy work/life balance. 

Get Outside

Taking a walk outside — even just for 15 minutes at a time — can not only providemuch-needed exercise in a time when gyms are closed, but can also bean opportunity to catch up with teammates. Sometimes, going on a virtual walk together can be a helpful way to  brainstorm ideas. And, work aside, the fresh air and time away from the computer can be restorative.

Managing Productivity

With so many distractions at home — whether it’s Netflix, pets, household chores, video games — one , many team leaders may worry about productivity. But if everyone takes a few steps to set themselves up for sucess, your team can still continue to be productive — or at least as productive as it's possible to be for when juggling family and office life simultaneously.

Treat your Home Like an Actual Office

Whether you used to do your work standing at a communal table, bouncing on a yoga ball in a cubicle, or in the privacy of a corner office, the common denominator was that you had a consistent setting that separated your “work life” from your “home life.” While you may not be able to dedicate an entire room of your house to remote work, you can still create a quiet, decluttered area to get things done. 

You should also make it a point to dress appropriately for work. Even if nobody is going to see you from the waist down, you’ll feel more alert and engaged wearing slacks and a button-down than you will in sweatpants and a t-shirt. 

Use the Right Tools

Remote working has never been more accessible, thanks to a host of software and hardware solutions to ease the transition for your team. What works best will depend on your team’s unique needs, but it’s important that the tools you implement are consistent across your team and your organization. Here are some common needs and solutions you should consider.

Video Conferencing

So much of our communication is nonverbal — gestures, expressions, posture — that a remote team can’t rely on voice calls alone. 

Software

We use Zoom at OHO to run our own virtual meetings as well as webinars, but Google Hangouts MeetGoToMeeting, Skype and Microsoft Teams are just a few of the dozens of other options out there. Many are offering their services free to professionals in certain industries impacted by COVID-19.

Hardware

A laptop or phone camera will suffice for the vast majority of virtual meetings, but you’ll want to use a dedicated headset — or headphones with a built-in microphone — whenever possible. Relying on your device’s internal speakers and microphone will make it difficult to hear and be heard.

If you have the budget and need a dedicated camera that supports 360° video, the Meeting Owl from OWLLabs is a great option for both video and audio conferencing.

Chat

It’s likely your organization already has a preferred chat communication tool, and odds are it’s either Slack or Microsoft Teams. Whatever the preferred system is, as you transition your team to remote work it is even more critical than ever that everyone understands what guidelines and etiquette they need to adhere to. 

If you don’t already have one, put together a document that answers answers common questions like:

  • What are the hours where team members will need to be available on chat?
  • What types of communication should be reserved for chat? What should be handled over email, phone, or video?
  • ​Is chat purely for work communication, or will you have a dedicated space for general office banter to foster a virtual “watercooler” experience?

Remote Collaboration

Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite both offer cloud collaboration tools for spreadsheets, documents, presentations, files and a host of other productivity tools. 

If you’re looking to recreate the whiteboarding experience, MiroGoogle’s Jamboard, and Figma all offer virtual ideation and brainstorming platforms for distributed teams. 

We’re All in This Together

The most crucial component for efficient remote working can’t be bought with a subscription or ordered on Amazon. This great remote experiment only works if we all commit to being mindful of the needs of our teammates and the stress this crisis is putting on everyone in our communities. Checking in to see how your team is coping is just as important (perhaps moreso) as checking in on where their deliverables are for that week. Even though we aren’t sharing an office with our colleagues at the moment doesn’t mean we can’t still be there for them.

Three Weeks In...

On April 8, 2020 we reconvened attendees from previous Brain Trust sessions to get an update on how things are going, what's working well, and what challenges they are still encountering. This topic was our first session, so we were most curious how working remotely has been over the past three weeks. The updates were quite encouraging. Colleagues at universities reported that meetings are more efficient, and they actually feel more connected than they did in the office. There have been extra efforts to have more ways to connect and touch base, and seeing people in their home environments with their partners and pets has also added a more personal connection to colleagues. Colleagues reported using tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Facebook Messenger to stay connected to their co-workers. Managers are having more frequent 1:1s, weekly instead of bi-weekly, to check-in on their staff to see how they're doing and to stay better connected. For others, they mentioned a drastic uptick in email and how overwhelming that can be. Some are missing the organic ways in the same physical office staff can hear colleagues talk about other projects more organically and how important it is to be more intentional about sharing what you're doing with your colleagues to find those synergies again. One school reported having a channel in Microsoft Teams called "Shenanigans" where staff have meme wars and a place to just be silly. 

Can We Help?

These are uncertain times for higher ed and we'd like to offer a strategic half-hour 1:1 session with Rachel Reuben Senor, our VP of Account Strategy. We can discuss enrollment strategies, assistance with crisis communication planning, or just be another set of eyes on your new landing pages or COVID-19 microsite. Schedule a call today.

This post was updated on April 10, 2020.