President and CEO
From Net Assets NOW, November 23, 2021. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.
Remote work isn’t in itself an obstacle to building trust among colleagues, but strong results require intentional bridge-building.
As we adjust to the new normal of the workplace, be it on a school campus, in a home office or in an office building, we have much to consider. In terms of NBOA’s staff, we have long been about half remote, and so adjusting to the pandemic was in many ways easier for us than our schools, although nothing has been easy. Like our member schools, we transformed paper-based processes, introduced technological efficiencies and focused on connections among staff while worrying about the health and safety of our colleagues and what the future might hold.
I would wager that those of us based in schools and those of us in offices have learned another lesson together — that despite the stress and limitations of the pandemic, many employees did, in fact, enjoy the flexibility of remote work. Now that we have dispelled the myth that our schools cannot maintain baseline business operations unless we are all on the same campus together, the door is open to allowing more flexibility about where employees do their jobs.
If your school does decide to allow employees to work remotely, either part- or full-time, the next question may be: How do I maintain the relationships that are core to my high-functioning team now that more staff are based in different locations? A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Rebuilding Relationships Across Teams in a Hybrid Workplace” by Ron Carucci, may help you, as it did me, think through this question.
Carucci acknowledges that even the best teams have experienced some “fracturing” over the last 18 months. He disagrees, however, that it is a natural by-product of a remote workplace. Rather a “lack of intentional bridge-building” is more likely the culprit. To use NBOA as an example, even with our proclivity for remote work, we amped up communications by team and across the staff. We instituted weekly all-staff check-ins, for example. Sometimes these were focused on work projects at hand and other times they were very social, focused entirely on connecting with each other.
We have all changed because of the pandemic, Carucci reminds us, and astute leaders will take the time to find out who their staff have become as a result. He suggests three techniques to help leaders establish strong connections among staff members. To reduce the “tribal” nature of remote work, whereby most employees interact only with those they work most closely with, leaders can implement more cross-functional teams. Another strategy is to provide leaders on different teams with shared learning opportunities to develop their leadership style.
The tactic for accelerating team solidarity that I found most compelling was an intentional check-in with team members regarding where they have been throughout the pandemic and where they are today. Carucci offers several prompts to guide these conversations, including:
- The most significant thing that’s different about me since the pandemic started is…
- The thing I’m most concerned about returning to work in our hybrid approach is…
- I’m most excited about this team’s ability to…
These conversations can reopen and re-establish trust among your team. A 15-year longitudinal study by Carucci revealed “stronger cross-functional relationships are six times more likely to produce trustworthy behavior.” That is, the more that colleagues on different teams can trust each other, the better work they can do. That means more effective teams whether they are in offices side by side or in rectangular frames on a Zoom call.
I understand the urge to return to “normalcy” whatever that may mean to each of us. But we would be remiss to ignore that the workplace has changed, and we as individuals have changed. It does not mean that the work relationships that make our work meaningful and make each of us feel valued in our schools or organizations need to change for the worse. With intentional leadership, they can be maintained, and even strengthened, by facilitating conversations that support candor and care.
President and CEO
Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the National Business Officers Association (NBOA) for over ten years. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. The association has grown from 23 founding member schools in 1998 to over 1,300 U.S. member schools, plus member schools in Mexico, Canada and 20 other countries around the globe. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), is a member of the 2008 Class of ASAE Fellows (FASAE) and has earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation. He currently serves as a member of ASAE’s board of directors as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association (EMA). Previously, he served as a trustee for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. He holds a B.A. from Shippensburg University and an M.A. from The Ohio State University.