At a time when entire departments and teams are working from home, having a focus on staff connection is highly important. Campus rec professionals share ideas and advice on how they are keeping their teams connected despite the COVID-19 quarantine.
Staff connection is about communicating on a personal level. Trey Harrison, the director of Campus Recreation, said staff need to know you care about them. Ask about family, what they are doing for fun, etc.“Take the time to connect on a personal level with as many of your staff as your schedule allows each day,” he said.
In terms of meetings, they are using Microsoft Teams. Harrison said the key with meetings is to have leniency in terms of what is discussed and what isn’t. “Right now, when meetings have your entire staff on video, allow them to enjoy seeing each other and let them laugh together,” he said. “Some are excited to see people other than their family. Some may live alone and have little contact with anyone, which could mean the experience is even more valuable. We are receiving a lot of information that may cause fear, sadness and anxiety. Allow your team time in those meetings to enjoy each other’s company.”
Moe McGonagle, the director of leadership and management, said they are using video chats, support of one another’s virtual programs and increased staff meetings. On top of this, she noted two specific ideas:
- Create a “new normal” that has a bit of routine to it. “I start each day by emailing my team,” said McGonagle. “It always starts with ‘Good Morning!’ and ends with a dad joke, and the middle content can include sharing new information, showing appreciation, expressing care and concern, and/or passing on some inspiration. I don’t know if they look forward to it or not, but they always know it is coming.”
- Articulate an expectation that staff connect with and has grace toward each other. “There is often a tendency to wait for the supervisor to coordinate connections, but in crisis situations I think it is helpful to inspire the entire team to take ownership of connecting and supporting their coworkers,” she said.
Montclair State University
Romayne Eaker-Kelly, the director of Campus Recreation and Health promotion, shared she sets up a GroupMe each morning so staff can say hello to one another.
Plus, they can share anything fun or inspiring, pictures of pets or their lunch, etc. The goal is to keep the conversation light.
On top of this, they have added a Friday team staff meeting on Zoom. The goal of it is to decompress and share anything needed before the weekend. “That meeting is for strictly one hour and there is no topic off the table,” said Eaker-Kelly.
University of Michigan
On top of virtual meetings, Mike Widen, the director of Recreational Sports, is getting creative.
He shared a couple weeks ago he did a YouTube video for the team that disseminated information and thoughts he had. “It was a new way to share information outside of the regular email updates,” he said. “I may do a few more of those as time goes on.”
Widen also continues to encourage the team to do short, non-work-related video chats with one another. “We don’t have that informal, crossing-of-paths-in-the-hallway right now,” he said. “Therefore, I think it’s very helpful to see someone’s smiling face and ask how they are doing.”
Utah State University
Keeping a sense of normalcy has been key for Daniel Lawrence, the director of Campus Recreation, and his staff. As such, they have kept their daily and weekly interactions as ordinary as possible.
“We are having our weekly one-on-one meetings as normal via online platforms,” he said. “This is allowing our team to stay connected and not be completely removed from their regular routines.”
But, those meetings have different themes:
- Coffee Hour Monday Morning is dedicated to connecting and engaging after the weekend to continue to promote office camaraderie.
- The Wednesday afternoon meeting is dedicated to university and department updates, and to check-in and see how everyone is doing.
- Coffee Hour Friday Morning is dedicated to fun activities. Someone new each week is chosen to plan an activity that everyone can participate in virtually.
On top of the meetings, they are also using their online chat platform to send funny memes and gifs, helping to lighten up the mood and get everyone laughing. “This oftentimes starts a conversation of how everyone is doing, but also allows people to express their humorous side,” he said.
Washington State University
Jeff Elbracht, the director of Facilities and Operations, said they have increased the frequency of both the leadership and full staff meetings to help with overall staff connection. “The increased frequency allows us to collectively discuss issues as well as address the rapidly changing information,” he said.
Has anyone surveyed the staff to see if all the meetings are useful and help? I know when I was staff and we had weekly meetings during the recession (the 1990s one) most of us as staff did not want to go and felt they were a waste of time and mostly just done so management could feel good about themselves. Granted I am a baby boomer and not a millenial or a Z-gen so maybe attitudes are different but I’ve never heard anything from anyone at the staff level that says they want these meetings. As an ED now if I ask I get a mixed response but I’m not sure everyone is honest. Just curious. Thanks.