by Jaclyn Y. Garver
NCMPR Administrative Services Coordinator
Fort Wayne, IN
Traditionally, when community college managers have a question for an employee, they can walk to said employee’s door or cube and ask the question. They can pick up the phone and hear it ringing from 20 feet away, or they shout from their desk through the thin walls into the next office. (I’m joking. Please don’t do that.)
But when your employees are in a whole nother house?
One of the biggest challenges with having to work from home due to the coronavirus is figuring out how to manage a team remotely. It’s not a situation that’s terribly common in higher education, especially two-year colleges, which tend to keep their marketing teams on-site and in-person.
Julie Duggins is a project manager for Bounteous, a consulting company that builds websites. It has six locations in the United States and two internationally, though Duggins is based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina—not a Bounteous hub. Due to the nature of IT, she’s been leading others remotely for years, and she shared some tips that might help community college managers with their at-home teams, too.
Know Your College’s Expectations
Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to look different from going into an office because it’s probably not just your employees who are going to be home. They are likely home with kids, and they’re likely dealing with their full-time jobs and remote schooling.
So how does that work? Duggins stresses the importance of meeting with employees individually and figuring out what a reasonable work day looks like—and it’s going to look different for everyone.
“It’s management’s responsibly to figure out what the company expects, and I do think it should be a compromise,” Duggins says. “‘You have kids. I understand. You’re not gonna be able to sit at your desk for eight hours a day. Here’s how we’re gonna move forward,’ and maybe (your employee) doesn’t work 8-to-5 anymore. Maybe they work intermittently throughout the day.”
Trust Your Employees
It can be easy to feel control slipping away when your employees aren’t just down the hall, but it’s important to trust your team and their productivity. In fact, studies show that people tend to work harder when they’re at home versus when they’re in an office.
“Think about when you go to work,” Duggins says. “How often are you actually sitting at your desk, not talking to anybody, head down? It’s not as often as you think. At home you can be more productive because there aren’t people to chat with on the side.”
Airtasker, an outsourcing platform, surveyed 1,004 full-time employees this year and found that the work-from-home half was more productive than their in-office counterparts: Considering average workday breaks and total unproductive time, remote employees worked nearly a day and a half more a month than in-office employees.
So don’t assume that employees are slacking just because they don’t have a manager down the hall from them.
Knowing that chances are high that your employees are working even harder while stationed at home, Dave Murphy recommends scheduling breaks for your employees. Murphy, the senior technology editor at Lifehacker, writes,
“I recommend setting up a bot that reminds everyone to take a quick water-cooler break at regular intervals. Whether this is once an hour (yes!) or a few times a day (still fine!), getting your team to put down their not-critical work and engage in some delightful social banter, even if it goes longer than the ‘allowed’ break time, can do wonders for everyone’s morale.”
Small things that let managers socialize with their employees can go a long way in building camaraderie. Bounteous, for example, hosts Zoom trivia nights and Netflix parties, Duggins says, where employees watch the same movie together on their respective televisions and have a big group chat.
Weekly One-on-One Check-Ins
Duggins has daily team meetings that last just 15 minutes, but she stresses the importance of calling each individual employee at least once a week. The call doesn’t have to be work-related, per se—it’s about relationship-building, which can be tough to do with a geographically spread-out team.
In fact, assuring that employees check-in is one of the toughest parts of managing remotely, Duggins says. That’s why it should be a priority.
“You don’t see body language or joke around with people,” she says. “That connection you have with people, you have to work a little harder for when you are working remotely.”
Jaclyn Y. Garver is the administrative services coordinator at NCMPR and the former communications coordinator at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Indiana.