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Keeping Teams Engaged During COVID-19

Keeping Teams Engaged During COVID-19
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Keeping Teams Engaged During COVID-19

by Dana Frost on May 18, 2020

As the nation (and world) takes steps towards reopening previously closed businesses, and there is buzz about transitioning back to the workplace, there remains a lot of uncertainty about what all that will look like. Managers and employees have many questions, and rightly so. Let’s plan to tackle that topic at a later date. Meanwhile, CUPA-HR (a higher ed-focused HR professional association) shares the following strategies that managers can employ to keep team members engaged and supported as many employees continue to work remotely and as plans are made to transition back to the workplace. If you are already using similar strategies, excellent. If not, it’s not too late to incorporate some of these ideas as we continue to work a new way!

Manage expectations

Just as our students were faced with the huge challenge of learning from home, employees have been dealing with the anxiety and stress of adapting to changes associated with the mash-up of living/working/learning environments (if they have school- or college-aged children). They have continued worries about their health and that of their families, along with the restrictions imposed on social interaction and movement. Taking all of this into consideration, should managers expect less from employees? What does that look like, and what expectations have been made clear? Managers who establish specific and reasonable guidelines and work one-on-one to understand each team member’s challenges will help minimize their employees’ stress and keep the work moving forward.

Establish new rules of engagement

With hallway conversations, informal face-to-face lunch meetings and pop-in status reports continuing to be on hold (seemingly indefinitely), teams are exploring new ways to keep the lines of communication open. Tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet make it easy to hold video conferences and to instant message one another, two of the most popular methods for maintaining However, the timing of regular meetings and expectations for responsiveness that are taken for granted in the office may create challenges at home, especially for parents, caregivers, and even pet owners. Do regular meetings need to be rescheduled to accommodate the rhythms of home life? Do new routines require team members to be “offline” at a specific time each day? Do some team members need more frequent check-ins to stay connected?

Now that we’ve been working like this for several weeks now, assess your employees’ engagement level. Mix things up in how you regularly communicate or interact with your employees to keep them engaged and responsive. Have you heard the term, “Zoom-fatigue”? It’s pretty self-explanatory . . . If you are using these tools to communicate with your team, use some of that time to do something fun using these meeting tools. Keep reading for ideas!

Get creative about maintaining team culture

Teams come in all shapes and sizes—small, large, socially active, high-functioning, centralized, decentralized — and each one has its own personality. When the team’s work environment is turned on its head, that culture may be more challenging to sustain. The dramatic shift in how institutions are operating may also mean some members of the team have lighter workloads. With so many tools for connecting, what are two or three elements of the team’s culture that can be incorporated into a distance-working environment? At SWU, that might look like having the team take turns sharing a devotional as part of your weekly team meeting, or opening/closing in prayer as we do at many on-campus meetings. Or, have each team member share something they’re grateful for during this strange period in which we’re living.

If work is slow, are there long-term projects that can be dusted off and moved forward? Even the most resilient and flexible team members need a lift from time to time. How are we keeping up morale? Encouraging habits that support personal well-being and finding creative ways to connect—posting pet photos, hosting a virtual group lunch, initiating a virtual run/walk — will go a long way toward sustaining a positive outlook.

Be there

These unprecedented times have and will continue to have a profound effect on our institutions. Isolated from coworkers and the buzz of the workplace, some team members may become anxious about what the future holds, both personally and professionally. They may need more opportunities and a safe place to talk and share their worries. Are we carving out sufficient time to listen? In cases where workloads have dropped off, are we taking time to coach team members to continue learning and preparing for what’s next in their roles and careers? At SWU, we have access to several free professional and personal development resources. As team leaders, we not only oversee the work, but also help our teams find and grow their strengths. Offering that support now will help empower members of the team to continue learning and preparing for whatever the future holds.

Managing teams that continue to work on campus

Even if your team—or some of your team members—must work on campus to perform their jobs, expectations still need to be managed, new “rhythms” of life (children or spouse are now house-bound) still need to be taken into consideration, team culture is more important than ever, and these essential employees may be feeling even more isolated without the presence of students and other employees reporting to campus. What support do you, as a manager, need to support your teams?

If you have questions or need information and resources, please contact your Human Resources/Benefits and Payroll team at  

Adapted from "4 Tips for Keeping Your Newly Remote Team Engaged" by Gayle Kiser, published on CUPA HR March 26, 2020.)

Tags: team, workplace, management, employee