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How are Higher Education Institutions engaging remote teams during COVID?

5 Mar 2021 - Blog

At our latest webinar for Higher Education Institutions, “Staying connected with employees during COVID, speakers from the University of Liverpool, the University of Warwick and Nottingham Trent University shared how they are helping remote teams feel engaged and connected during COVID 


Missed the webinar? Catch up here: 

Watch the replay here  

Ask us for the slides.  


1. How do you connect witstaff who are not regularly online 

Use mobile apps to create a sense of community. Off-the-shelf apps like WhatsApp or Workplace from Facebook work well, or you could create a bespoke version based on your University/Organisation intranet. Everyone has the choice to participate, but some colleagues will be more active in these groups than others. Some colleagues will feel included just by being part of it.  

Extend leadership comms to reach this group. During the pandemic many organisations have created a series of video diaries or updates from their Exec teamShare the link with staff to watch in their own time and on their mobile, so they don’t have to be sat in front of a PC.  


2. How can we best manage remote teams, and understand what’s going on?  

Keep listening! And don’t be afraid to adapt 

The University of Liverpool had surveyed their staff in 2019, analysed their results to find 4 institutional priorities and were close to promoting these to staff when the pandemic struck. They postponed survey comms and in July 2020 chose to run an additional pulse survey that would better reflect current employee perceptions. Their pulse survey dug into the 4 institutional priorities from their full staff surveyas well as specific ‘Working from home’ survey questions. In August 2020, they collated results from both surveys to share with managers and inform action planning.  

People Insight’s pulse surveys match the speed of your business – see how they could help you.  

Lead with compassion 

Line managers have played a key role in helping remote teams feel connected and settled even while physically separate from one another. Alongside shifting the way people workHEIs like the University of Bradford have adjusted expectations of staff to focus on output rather than hours. And with wellbeing on the radar of every HEI we have spoken to, managers should continue to remind staff of the support & resources available and use regular 1:1s to look out for signs of stress or isolation.  

Find practical tips for identifying and managing employee wellbeing in this brilliant guide from Birkbeck University.  

Inject some creative energy into your team.  

With remote working came the loss of the informal conversations and ‘watercooler’ moments which helped managers and colleagues check in with one-another, build connections and de-stress. Claire Bell, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Nottingham Trent University, shared how she brings her remote team together.  

  • 10-minute daily drop-in has become vital for motivating people and keeping them engaged. It also lets Claire check in on how everyone is doing, trickier to do now she isn’t seeing them face-to-face.   
  • Claire’s team also launched a Wellbeing Challenge to share how they’re keeping themselves motivated and healthy. The challenge grew into each team member sharing a photo/video updatethen nominating a colleague to take up the gauntlet and share theirs 

Listen to Claire’s full presentation  

Keep checking in  

The thing that has endured over the last year is making sure we spend time catching up personally when we have work meetings. Starting each call with a chat, asking ‘how are you’ and checking in with one another will help everyone in the team feel more connected. 


3. How can we avoid continued “Zoom fatigue” when trying to stay connected with remote teams?  

Switch off Zoom! 

Rather than catching up virtually for 1:1s, suggest a walking meeting. It gives managers and colleagues a break from screen-time and builds a more human connection; you may find that conversations about wellbeing, stress and experiences of the pandemic are easier to have this wayThe University of Warwick have also introduced team “ring arounds”Directors are given a list of staff they may not usually interact with to call, check in on and ask how they are doing.  

Lessen the impact of video calls 

A lot of colleagues now have schedules packed with back-to-back video calls, which we know require more focus than a face-to-face meeting and leave people feeling more exhausted Share these behaviour swaps with your team to lessen the impact.  

  • Next time you’re on a video call, close any other tabs/apps that might distract you and put your phone out of reachMulti-tasking can cost you 40% of your productive time. 
  • Suggest your team schedule meetings for 25 or 50 minutes (instead of the standard 30 or 60) to allow everyone a break from the screen. 
  • Help your team limit the number of calls by setting protected diary times, or even a day with no video calls.  
  • Recommend that your team switch off cameras during some calls to give them a chance to recharge.  

Create a sense of community  

Virtual events can be overwhelming so make it clear that all socials are ‘opt-in’ and suggest alternative activities that peoplcan participate in at their own pace. You could start a drop-in book or cooking club to share recommendations and tips or set a ‘wellbeing hour’, where everyone in the team is encouraged to take a break for a walk, exercise or a chat with a friend. People Insight recently took on a team challenge of our own, to rack up 2000 miles during Lockdown 3. To support our charity partner Eden Reforestation Projects, People Insight will be planting a tree for every mile our team run, walk or cycle 

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