“Can everyone go on mute”, “How do I share my screen?” and “I’ll meet you on my link” are common phrases anyone managing a remote team will be all too familiar with.
School leaders, however, haven’t typically fallen into this group until recently, and are only just discovering the charms and challenges of remote working amid partial school closures. Nevertheless, in true sector spirit - they are adapting at pace and sharing their tips with the rest of us.
We spoke with several schools about how they are using technology to manage their geographically-dispersed employees during COVID-19. Here’s what they shared:
1. Get everybody up and running on cloud-based systems
Firstly, getting everyone set up and trained on your school’s cloud-based systems is essential for enabling remote teams to communicate, collaborate and most importantly, teach effectively.
As you will have likely heard, the DfE has recommended that you get your teams set up on one of two free-to-use platforms; G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education. What’s more, you can apply for funded-support with getting set up on these platforms. Our colleagues at The Key have more information on this scheme and how to apply here.
You will also want to make sure that multiple members of staff are literate in the cloud-based systems that underpin the operational side of your school such as your MIS, and not just the teaching - giving you peace of mind in the event of staff absences.
One SBM shared their approach with us:
“If you can, I would recommend training all staff in, and giving them access to cloud-based systems so that they can work remotely. Luckily I requested access to our cloud-based databases like ScholarPack MIS, Parent Pay etc a while ago, and we have plenty of tech-savvy staff in our school that can use this technology from home.”
- SBM of a primary school and ScholarPack customer
2. Use meetings to create a sense of normality
Everything may feel up in the air right now, but keeping regular meetings in the diary can bring a sense of normality to your teams and maintain those lines of communication. Simply hold these meetings over video conferencing software, such as Google Meets, or Microsoft Teams instead.
You could also encourage your SLT to schedule a meeting with their teams each morning, asking them to run through their priorities and deadlines for the day ahead - even if this is just until everyone feels more in sync with their usual working patterns.
One SBM and ScholarPack customer recommends taking steps to make sure communication continues within the teams too. Microsoft Teams allows you to create separate groups, and these groups can chat or video call one another any time, as well as share files.
“For remote staff, we’ve been sure to keep communication open between teams. We use Microsoft Teams and have an admin, TA, teachers and SLT team set up.”
- SBM of a primary school and ScholarPack customer
3. Encourage non-work conversations
In that vein, when working remotely it’s easy for staff to immerse themselves in the work zone and miss these informal chats and opportunities for socialisation. However, both of these things are crucial to employee wellbeing, especially right now.
Suggest that staff connect on informal messaging apps like WhatsApp, or that they have regular virtual coffee breaks together using video conferencing. Our colleagues at The Key, for example, spoke with North Liverpool Academy, who have a daily slot called 'Brenda's Tea Room' at 11 am which is just for staff. Your SLT could also organise optional social activities - like group exercise classes, quizzes, or setting up a book club.
These are pretty serious times - but some non-work, non-COVID light-heartedness can help increase the morale of your teams, and will at the very least be a welcome break from the current situation.
4. Check-in on individual workload and wellbeing
On that note, as you will know, this is a challenging time for many, and everyone’s circumstances will be different.
Ask your SLT to keep an open dialogue with individuals to check in on how they’re managing - both in their work and personal lives.
North Liverpool Academy use a “pyramid” and “horizontal” calling system to keep everyone's wellbeing in check. Pyramid calls involve the executive principal calling their direct reports at the beginning of the week. These direct reports then call their own direct reports, and so on down the management chain. Consequently, every member of staff has had a call from their manager by the end of the week. Executive principal Patrick Ottley-O’Conner also mentions that if anyone shows signs of anxiety or stress he checks in on them more frequently.
From these calls, it may transpire that some people require time off, meaning that tasks have to be reassigned. Project management tools such as Asana, Trello or Taskify will allow your SLT to get an overview of everyone’s workload, reassign jobs, and ultimately - be flexible with staff at a time when flexibility is crucial to wellbeing.
5. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong
Lastly, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that something isn’t working, and evolve your approach to managing your remote teams. For many of you, this will be the first time in this situation, and you may not get it right straight away. Get regular feedback from your teams about how they are adjusting, and seek out new solutions if something is jarring. For example, you could put together a Google Form and ask employees questions such as:
How satisfied are you with your current work from home arrangement?
What's working well/your top tip for working from home?
What are the biggest challenges you are currently facing when working from home?
What else could we do to support you to work effectively from home?
How would you describe your team/leadership communication since switching to remote working?
Running remote teams will feel like uncharted waters at first, but the above advice will help you navigate these waters more smoothly, bringing a sense of unity and normality to your teams when they need it most.
I’ll be back in the coming weeks with more insights. In the meantime - the team at ScholarPack thank you for all of your contributions to the sector and wish you all the very best.