Staff Engagement During the COVID-19 Crisis

Growing and Working Together in New Ways

The experience of working remotely, particularly as part of a traditional, campus-based team, likely presents a new challenge for most Student Affairs staff. This is new ground…or space…for all of us. Clearly these are unprecedented times, and for staff at all levels, like students, it can feel overwhelming. For many of us, the foreseeable future will require exeedingly high levels of adaptability, understanding, and learning on the fly.

We hope you find this unofficial, informal guidance to be a great starting point as we work together to support each other, create new ideas, and tap into resources. Below you will find links to upcoming professional development opportunities and resources, as well as a few questions to consider as you transition from working remotely to returning to campus. As of August 10, all staff will have returned to campus so it is essential you familiarize yourself with the coronavirus.uga.edu website to stay up to date with University procedures.

For supervisors, we recognize the distance may have not helped with the balance of supporting your team and ensuring the best continuity for students. This resource is not intended to be a directive. Think of this as a starting point - a primer for your plan to support your team as you re-envision how leadership, mentorship, workflow, supervision, and interactions evolve to succeed in the online space. 

We will continue to add resources, examples, and best practices in the coming days as we learn more. Feel free to share your ideas, examples, and questions with us at jcrawford@uga.edu or ugasastaff@uga.edu. We look forward to seeing you on our next Zoom!

 


 

Digital Dialogues

Download of the Day

Scheduled intermittently, staff will be able to participate in 30 to 60 minute Zoom professional development webinars. All staff are welcome to participate and are encouraged to attend, just make sure to register before the session so we know to expect you! To register, head over to the Staff Development calendar and click the "Regsiter" button. Have questions about a particular session? Want to present on some material? Contact James Crawford in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs via email at jcrawford@uga.edu.

 

Drop-ins

Are you building out a digital "team retreat" to help welcome new hires to your department? Are you looking for someone to lead a discussion in your next Zoom staff meeting? Whether it is a quick Zoom chat or a half-day digital retreat, we would love to help support you!

Contact James Crawford in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs (jcrawford@uga.edu) to schedule a time to review your preferred outcomes, expectations, and any considerations for the drop-in. From there, James will work in partnership with you to build and deliver material designed to meet outcomes and encourage the continual development of your team. 

 


Now What?

This section includes additional considerations and questions related to working remotely and the phased return to campus.

I am returning, or have returned, to working on campus. What all do I have to do?

  • Connect with your supervisor to review any specific guidelines or modifications that are needed for your workplace. This could include maintaining recommended guidelines of social distance, donning a mask in your workplace, and location of sanitation stations. 
  • Please ensure that you have completed the required staff training module available at pep.uga.edu prior to your return to campus. This training is in addition to the supervisor module (as applicable).
  • Along with faculty, students, and visitors, you are now required to wear an appropriate face covering while inside campus facilities and buildings where six feet social distancing may not always be possible. You should have been supplied two face coverings and a digital thermometer by the university. On your return, please let your supervisor know if you have not received these.

  • It is critical that you follow guidelines issued by the GDPH, CDC, USG, and UGA to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Please educate yourself on best practices and the many safety precautions being taken by the university, as well as available resources provided. If you have questions or feel there are areas that need to be addressed further, please let us know.

If I have additional questions, where do I go?

 

Where do I start? What should I be doing?

Although it is likely that you know yourself, your team, and the team's working relationship(s) with each other pretty well, uncertainty and change can open up new doors. This is an opportunity to revisit past expectations with one another while also creating new expectations that support the transition to remote work. Your first step is to develop expectations with your staff and your supervisor. Below are some sample questions help you get started in your transition to work remotely. Remember, these are just examples and starter questions to help you and your team members establish realistic expectations for productivity and support. 

Questions to consider asking your supervisor:

  • How should I keep you updated on what I am working on?
  • What should my work schedule look like?
  • When do you need my task/project list? 

Questions to consider asking your team (group):

  • What are the team's preferred ways to keep each other updated on projects?
  • What should be our primary ways for communicating? What are our expectations for responding? (e.g., immediate to texts, Microsoft Office 365 Team chats when you get to them, etc.)
  • What expectations do you have for one another? 
  • What expectations do you collectively have of me as your supervisor?
  • What would be reasonable expectations for me to have of the team?

Questions to consider asking individual team members:

  • Working remotely can make people feel like they are "out of the loop" a lot more. What are things you want me to make sure I touch base with you about so you feel connected?
  • How are you managing all of this transition and shifting of work?
    • What might be one or two ways I can help you be as productive as possible?
  • What is your preferred way that I check in with you to see how your work project/task list is going? 
    • Would you prefer we touch base every day? At the beginning of the week? As needed?
  • What expectations do you have for me as your supervisor?

 

How do I know I’m being productive?

This is a great opportunity for you to revisit your own personal definition of productivity. Establish your own personal metrics for productivity. Does it vary from project-to-project? Does it tie into specific goals you have in mind? What feedback might your supervisor have? Working remotely requires us to, at times, re-wire how we feel productive in our work. Sometimes it is completing a tangible item like a project or report. Other times, it is all of the steps taken to have that 30-minute Zoom meeting go fluidly. It is all about accomplishment, not activity. 

 

I feel like I am out of the loop. How can I know what is going on? 

We recommend you follow the various University forms of social media and continue checking your email. Considering there are so many forms of communication going out, we recommend you establish some personal plans to reduce email fatigue. Most communication on behalf of the Division will come from the Administrative Team member or from a Leadership Team member. Now, more than ever, it is important to check in with your supervisor on a more frequent basis since information and solutions are ever evolving. 

 

I feel powerless through all of this. What can I do to help? 

Our initial recommendation, if it is within your position responsibilities, is to connect with students you directly advise/supervise and to check in on them. Perhaps it is reminding them of big ideas they had when they first stepped into their job or leadership position. Maybe it is reminding them to sign up for academic advising appointments or register for classes.

  • Check back in on the Digital Engagement during the COVID-19 Crisis page to share any articles, online learning resources, or additional links that students might like to have.
  • In addition to supporting students, be proactive in developing and communicating your remote work task list.
    • Share your task list with your supervisor. Determine a way that works for both you to stay up to date on progress.
  • Follow-up with your supervisor to see if there are any projects or tasks that might need your assistance.
  • Do some "spring-cleaning." Clean up your email inbox or organize your department's shared drive. Consolidate files to enhance productivity while working remotely. 

 

This feels lonely. Where is my team?

Regardless of department size, social distancing can create, well, distance. Working remotely removes the opportunity for personal interactions. Moments of genuine connection and interaction can be difficult to replicate in the online space. Connect with your supervisor and your team to develop a communication plan that promotes productivity without losing the human element. Using these digital tools to maintain connection can be tricky because it is likely, for most of us, a glimpse into the work life and home life of our coworkers. 

  • Set up a 10-minute Zoom meeting or conference call for the beginning or end of the workday to just check in on one another.
  • Use a music streaming service to build an office playlist where your team compiles some tunes to listen to together.
  • Start off a staff meeting doing a "show and tell" of your pets, a family heirloom, favorite book, or even awkward photos from your high school yearbook. 
  • Determine what support looks like for you and your team members. Everyone handles change and transition differently. Some may be content with working remote while others might feel lost.
    • If you have additional questions or concerns, check out the UGA HR Well-Being site for various emotional and physical health resources.

 

What do I need to know as a supervisor?

An ArchNews announcement sent on March 17, 2020 called for supervisors to be as flexible as possible with work from home assignments. How can you appropriately manage your teams from a distance? The shift from seeing each other five days a week to now seeing them from the other side of a screen can be quite a dramatic shift. Below are a few ways to help lead your team through this time of uncertainty and transition.

  • Be intentional and make personal connections. Set aside time in your meeting agendas to check in on how the team is doing. Something as quick and simple like asking them to start the meeting by saying three words that describe how they are feeling before you dive into the work discussion.
  • Establish clear expectations. What are the guidelines for work? When should they update you on projects?
  • Plan to communicate. Develop a communication strategy and structure for your department and another one for your team. Would you prefer they respond to emails within 24 hours and texts within 5 hours? Consider the total "bandwidth" your team can handle.
  • Invite your team in to help with projects (where appropriate). A way to combat the distance is inviting the team into projects or tasks that you are working on. Perhaps they have new ideas or this is an opportunity to delegate tasks and encourage collaboration.
  • Keep a pulse on how your team is managing stress. Everyone handles times of stress differently. If staff morale or behavior tends to change, consider reminding staff of various resources available via USG Well-being. 
  • Honesty and vunerability can build teams up in times of uncertainty. Once you have established a comfortable rapport with your team, it is alright to admit you don't have all the answers. In unprecedented times such as these, it would be difficult to expect supervisors to have all of the answers. There is incredible power in the phrase of "I don't know but we can find it out together" or "While we might not have all the answers right now, one thing I do know is how resilient our team is together."

 

How else might I engage staff during this time?

  • For those employees with specific technical skills, provide opportunities to brush up on specific job requirements or take an online certification course for your area of expertise.
  • Find specific online classes related to the department, TedTalks, or YouTube topics. Use those as content to have the employee watch and provide a short essay about how it applies to their job duties and responsibilities.
  • Pick an online class, TedTalk, podcast episode, or some other form of digital learning and attend the course or watch the video together. Hold a discussion with your team to discuss connections between the material and your collective work.  
  • Assign a special project(s). These could be projects that have been “on the radar” for a while now, but for a variety of reasons, have not been tackled yet. For example, developing a new function-specific training program for your department to help cross-train staff.
  • Review departmental policies to make sure they are current.
  • Develop or review standard operating procedures and identify opportunities for process improvements.
  • Continue conducting regular online work.
  • Complete annual review if not completed at this time.

 

What about student staff?

An added challenge for our "new normal" of working remotely is identifying remote work for student employees. Develop a list of projects and times for your to teach them on how to assist with the projects remotely. Develop a way to check in on them via a Zoom meeting. Consider using your meetings with them as small focus groups to gather their insight and feedback on how a new initiative or idea may work. Below are few ideas to help develop and maintain productivity with student staff. Continue to check back in at this page as we continue to learn new ways departments are engaging their student staff. 

  • Benchmarking and Data Collection
    • Examine what peer and aspirant institutions are providing around a specific subject matter.
    • Research new ideas, concepts, programmatic areas of interest, opportunities for the department to grow, etc.
    • Survey or interview friends and other peers to explore areas of opportunity.
  • Digital Enhancement
    • Review department website to update contact information, services provided, and identify outdated information.
    • Perform an audit of the department website to ensure the site structure communicates information, services, and resources effectively with site visitors.
    • Develop a social media engagement plan.
    • Create videos, articles, or other media to assist with digital student engagement.
  • Materials Review and Creation
    • Create or update onboarding manuals, training manuals, transition guides, etc.
    • Review and update electronic version of printed materials (e.g., pamphlets, flyers, information sheets)
  • Idea and Solutions Generation
    • Work in teams (virtually) to develop solutions to improve work productivity.
    • Develop a recommendation plan around a particular area of operation, unexplored opportunity, or “work challenge” that culminates in a presentation for the department. Provide a template for how to report on the solution.  

 

What if I could use more help? 

Perhaps you would like to hold a digital team retreat or examine how some department initiatives connect to the 2025 Strategic Plan. Whether you need a few minutes to bounce some ideas off of someone, need someone to build a digital retreat or workshop for your unit, or would like someone to lead a breakout session for your team, the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs is here to support you. You can contact us at ugasastaff@uga.edu

Resources for Staff

Stay Informed

Professional Development


Digital Resources for Staff

COVID-19 Resources


Communication Resources

Social Media Graphics and Video 

Resources for Supervision/Project Management


Other University of Georgia and Athens Resources 

Contact Us

ugasastaff@uga.edu

408 Memorial Hall
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602

James Crawford
Student Affairs Staff Development Lead
jcrawford@uga.edu
 

Matthew Waller
Chief of Staff
mewaller@uga.edu