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Our recent online discussion explored the challenges of working and learning remotely, and what you can do to help your virtual team succeed. Watch the recording below.

How to Succeed in Virtual Teams

No matter the field or discipline, remote work (and remote learning) are becoming increasingly crucial and may be the key to your success. Join Dr. Anne CampbellDr. David Wick, Thi Nguyen (International Education Management student), and members of Middlebury’s organizational development team, Melissa Sorenson and Sheila Cameron, for a rich exploration of how to succeed in intercultural virtual teams.

- Hi, everyone, welcome. We’re delighted to have you here for this session on how to succeed on virtual teams. And it’s nice to see so many of your faces that I’ve seen in prior events this week for preview days, so thank you for joining us. And thanks to those of you who are joining and watching the recording later. I know we’ve done this at every session this week and you’re experts on Zoom by now but we’ll just do a few quick reminders and orientation to get us started. In the lower left corner of your screen, you’ll notice your audio and video icons. If it’s comfortable for you, we invite you to turn on your video so that we can see who’s with us here today. We will be keeping mics muted during the session, just to help us avoid some background noise. Please also look toward the center of the screen and you’ll see a chat box and we invite you to include questions in that at any point during the session and we’ll leave time at the end to review your questions. I’d also like to ask for patience with us and thank you in advance. We too are working from home and we might have choppy Internet or we might have pets come through or babies come through, so thanks in advance for your perseverance with us as well. And to get us started, I’d like to first allow our speakers to introduce themselves. So begin with you, Sheila.

- Good afternoon, it’s great to be with you. I am joining you from a cloudy, rainy, cold, Middlebury, Vermont today and I work in the Office of the Provost, I’m the director of strategic initiatives. And I’m happy to be here, thank you.

- Thank you. Hi, everyone, I’m Dr. Anne Campbell, and I’m associate professor in the international education management program. And I’m joining you from Monterey, California and from my vantage point, it’s also quite cloudy.

- Thanks Anne. David?

- Hello there everyone, welcome. I’m Dr. David Wick. I am a professor in international education management, joining you all here today from San Francisco, California and it’s a beautiful gray day here.

- Thanks, David. Thi, welcome.

- Hi, everyone, my name is Thi Nguyen. I am an international education management graduate student, currently in my practicum semester. Hi, I’m very honored to be here today and excited to be sharing my experiences. And I’m joining you all from Phoenix, Arizona.

- Thanks Thi, Melissa?

- Hi, everyone, my name is Melissa Sorenson. I work with Sheila in the Office of the Provost as the assistant director for strategic initiatives. I’m based at the Middlebury Institute in Monterey and happy to be here today.

- Thank you. And to kick us off, we’ll start with Sheila.

- Well, again, welcome everybody. I have the honor of kicking off this conversation and I just have to say it’s been a lot of fun working with my colleagues and getting to know some new colleagues virtually, which is really what this conversation is about today. I’d like to kick off the conversation with a polling question and I’m going to put it in the chat right now. And what I would like you to do is click on the link, include it in the poll and if there’s any problems with that link, please let me know. And pick one or two words that best describe the changing nature of your work, or school over the past six to 12 months, just what comes to mind. And again, if anybody has any trouble with that link, please do let me know and I’ll let my team members indicate whether or not that link works, because I’ll ask them to participate as well. I’m seeing some population of it, so that’s a good sign. I’ll give you about 30 seconds or so, put a little pressure on us. Thank you, so Melissa is gonna do me the favor of sharing the screen, I just pasted that in a slide and Melisa’s gonna do me the honor of sharing the screen with everybody. So you can take a moment and see what’s going on here. And I also invite you, if you wanna put your comments in chat as to what you’re seeing, happy to hear that. But it’s literally all over the map, family, disrupted, connected. So there’s definitely some positives, but then also some challenges, uncertainty, pivot, big word in our lives the last few months, creative, so opportunities to be creative. So this is a really, really great map. Isolating and exhausting, I’m sure all of us have felt that at one time or another. Learning process for sure. Non-stop, constant and engaging. I think somebody put Zoom in there. So a lot of us are doing this work virtually and so this is a great representation of really what we’ve been experiencing over the last six to 12 months. And so, what we wanna talk about today, is really as a result of a lot of the work that we’ve been doing over the last six to 12 months and prior to that as well, but definitely, especially during COVID, as we find ourselves working remotely and then find ourselves working more and more in virtual spaces and on virtual teams. So I’d like to share with you, just a couple of statistics to get you primed for thinking about why it would be important to be thinking about this, not only because we’re in a pandemic at this moment, but you know, virtual teams are often geographically distributed, but also oftentimes, they’re distributed within one location within an organization. So this is something that’s really prevalent and on the rise. I’ll give you an example at Middlebury, I reside in Vermont and Melissa is based in California, but our Office of the Provost team, seven out of eight of us, are in Vermont. In pre-COVID, we actually agreed to start working as a virtual team completely, even though Melissa was our only person who was not on the same campus as us. We started having our Zoom meetings and our meetings virtually so we could level the playing field. So luckily, we had some practice with that and that was great. But just thinking about the rise of virtual teams, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2019, 22% of U.S. workers are working completely from home and 50% are working in some capacity on virtual teams. The biggies, Google, Facebook, Twitter, are all on the rise in terms of having their folks working from home. Google says that their 200,000 employees will continue to work from home indefinitely. Facebook says half their workforce will be working from home within the next five to 10 years, and Twitter has already said everybody can stay home and keep working from home as long as you like, so this is definitely on the rise. A recent survey by the congress from the Harvard Business School said that post-pandemic, one in six workers is projected to continue working remotely. If not completely, at least two days a week, so there’s going to be a lot of flexibility in the workforce and the learning force. And in that study, they also identified some, what we might call obvious impacts of this because we see it in our word cloud. Some have reported increased productivity, creativity, a lot of ingenuity and a lot of innovation going on and reduced costs. On the flip side, others have reported lower productivity, disconnection and loss of community, if virtual teams are not managed well. And so, the pandemic has moved us more towards working and learning virtually and this is more than likely to continue. So we’re gonna find ourselves in this space, even beyond the pandemic. And that’s why we’re here and this is going to include an increase in learning more about technology, but just as importantly, context about where people are from and how we connect with folks interpersonally on a virtual level. So that’s essentially gonna be our discussion today, for the rest of our time. And David and Melissa are gonna discuss the importance of establishing that context and making that connection and providing us some tips and then Thi’s gonna take it home. And she’s gonna talk to us about her own experiences while working virtually on virtual teams, actually three different teams simultaneously, I believe, so she’s gonna share her real-life experience with us. So I’m gonna pass that on to Anne and I look forward to hearing what my colleagues have to say.

- Thanks so much, Sheila and hello everyone. For those who joined late, I’m Anne Campbell and I’m an associate professor in the international education management program. I’m really glad to have you here today and great to see people from all over the world, so welcome. So I wanna start my section by asking you to participate in a poll. So Devin, if you’ll launch that. And just take a few minutes, if you’d like, responses are completely confidential and voluntary, but we’d just be curious to know kind of what is your experience in working in virtual teams or being part of virtual groups. So while you’re looking that over and answering, I thought I would continue with my comments to make the most of the time, but also I know that everyone’s so distracted and able to do multiple things these days that this won’t be too much of a challenge. So, the two main points I want to highlight in talking about intercultural and international teams, is first, the context matters. So I know for me, it feels like these virtual teams that we’re part of just kind of exist in the ether and aren’t very situated or rooted anywhere, that something is happening out there. But actually what’s happening, I think, is that we have a fractured nature and that we’re all joining these meetings from our homes, or our offices or our cars, wherever we can get a quiet space and good bandwidth. And that those contexts, wherever we are in the world, should be recognized and actually matter quite a bit to the team. So each person has their own place in reality and that context is important. And so, what happens in virtual teams, is that it’s often not made explicit, which context, which culture is considered dominant, or default. And so, I would recommend to you to really consider that for your team, which culture, which style, which language, do you want to center? And then also, what might you do to decenter the more dominant culture? So just three quick examples of work that I’m doing right now. The first is that I try very hard to make sure that everyone can join a meeting at a time that is natural to their work day. It’s not always possible, of course, but I’m putting here in the chats, my favorite and most popular space that I use on the Internet, which is World Clock Meeting Planner. And what I try to do is make sure that when people join meetings, that it’s after 7 a.m. for them and before 9 p.m. And I know that sounds absolutely wild, but in the global nature of our work and global teams, that’s just how it’s come to be. And so, I really recommend checking that, this is a good site. And also, keeping in mind daylight savings time shifts, that has derailed one project and it took us awhile to get back on track. And also, what is considered are typical working days, in which culture? So one of my closest collaborators right now is based in Algeria. As you probably know, from much of the Muslim world, the weekend is different than the American world. It’s a Friday-Saturday weekend, so we’ve had to adjust to have no meetings on Friday and then for me to play catch up on Monday and it’s worked, it’s just taking some time for us to think about that. So being aware of those cultures and schedules. And then also think about what’s happening around the world in that person’s space. You can check the news, you can check the weather. So for example, another project that I’m working on right now, is with a woman in Moldova and in Moldova, they have elections this coming weekend. So when we talk about elections, it’s is a very different situation for me, based in the United States, for those of you in the U.S., you may have been following what’s happening, very different election context than what’s happening in Moldova when they’re getting ready to vote on Sunday. And then the second main point that I wanted to highlight, is try to use your skills in cross-cultural competency in the virtual space as much as possible. And we have a whole suite of great classes at MIIS in intercultural competency, we talk about it a lot across our curriculum. And so, really thinking about sense of time, identity and power, gender issues, human rights across the spectrum and other ways that our identity show up and those systems replicate themselves in the virtual space as well. So two quick points on this, consider being explicit about how people should participate, how people jump into conversation, how they share their ideas, do they wait to be asked, these kinds of things are different across cultures. So being explicit, like Jill was at the beginning and saying, please put your questions in the chat, it’s a very good technique for helping everyone to understand how to best participate. And then also think about sense of time, how do you wanna spend your time together? David’s about to speak about community building in the virtual space, but that sense of connectedness is really essential for having virtual teams work and again, it’s very cross cultural, what do you share? How do you share it? What’s appropriate? So keeping all of those skills in mind when building virtual teams is also quite helpful. Okay, so before I turn it over, could we see the results of the poll?

- [Devin] Yep, they’re shared now.

- Sorry, they’re hidden behind the screen. Okay, so I hope you got a chance to look at those. I’m seeing your message now Devin, thanks. And I’m going to turn it over to my colleague, David Wick, who’s going to carry forth this conversation about building community online, thank you.

- Thank you Anne and thank you others. Thank all of you, actually, for participating, seeing, basically, this picture of the world you live in with all these teams. We have a couple of folks with zero to one team, but quite a few with three or five. I click those high boxes where I’m participating in so many groups at the same time now and yet I don’t move, right? I’m in the same space and having to create that and so that was the topic that I’ll talk a little bit about which is this idea of building community and creating interpersonal connections, when what we have is occasionally video, but not always, voice and text, which is very different from when we walk into a room to collaborate together and we say hello and we see what things are on the table in front of us and whether everyone has their coffee or their water and things like that. So, we thought we’d share a few ideas that may be helpful when we’re starting a new team, or when we’re bringing a team together and have different types of relationships. For example, in this team that’s presenting to you today for preview day, we didn’t all know each other before we came together to collaborate on this. All of us are connected to Middlebury, the Institute, the College, both and other parts, but we have to become a team. So how do we do that? And why is it important? One reason it’s important is, of course, we can all best contribute when we feel valued and respected, when we know our role and when our role matters to the team. And so, in every communication, connection or meeting, we need to really consciously demonstrate that everyone who is there is necessary and that their contribution is vital to the work that we’re doing together, right? So this is why we make sure to, as Anne said, schedule meetings at a time that is conducive for work for all of us and that we make adaptations to account for when weekends are held or when people are observing celebrations in their local culture or in their spiritual belief system, so things like that matter. And we talked about three key ideas that I’m going to bring through to talk, the idea of inviting, accepting, and engaging. And I’ll give a couple examples of what this can look like. So meetings and collaboration, we find most productive when we become a community. One way to do that, is to invite more details. Here we have 20 of us on this meeting. Individual introductions may be one way, but it can also be cumbersome. And so one way we can share who’s in the room, is in Zoom, by leveraging our names. For example, I see all of you who have joined us have your full names in your Zoom, so we get a little bit of a sense, we know a little bit more about you, but we can also do things to tell a little more about us. And I’d actually invite you all now, if you are able to play in Zoom with how you present yourself. So for example, you can go in and by hovering over your name, or going in the participants, you have the option of renaming yourself. And we would love it if you would add in a little bit about your connection to the Middlebury Institute. So you might add what program you’re thinking of applying to, if you’re a guest, or partner, because we invited many of those today. And I’ll put an example in the chat of what you might do. So if I were adding that I’m interested in the international education management, I can add in parentheses after my name, that program. If I’m a guest, I could add guest, if I’m a partner, I could add partner. And if you’re able to do that, in your Zoom screen, all of us who are here together today will start to know a little bit more about the community and we’ll start to see some of the connections we have. So I’ll let folks play with that. You may notice that all of us who are presenting from Middlebury, have added in our pronouns to let you know how we identify in terms of our gender. And also, we’ve added where we are within Middlebury, the provost office, the Institutes, the others and our role as faculty, enrollment office, students. And the idea is that it gives you a little bit of a connection to who we are and how we come to the conversation. So in other contexts, we might do other things with this, but it is one way to begin building those connections. The idea that Anne talked about with accepting, has to do in part with that recognition of our identities and talking about coming to a conversation as faculty, which in an academic context, is a position of power. Age is another one of those identities that may change things. So, if we really want everyone in the team to be able to contribute, we have to consciously take note of those identities and create spaces for everyone to participate in the ways that are comfortable for them. So we might invite folks to add video, but make sure that it’s okay that they choose not to. We may make sure that we give phone-in opportunities as well as link via computer, depending on whether we expect all those who are contributing to be able to digitally access via Internet or smartphone or if we need to provide different things. So those are some of the ways we might accept how each person comes to a conversation. Another thing we might do if we want feedback on an idea in a meeting, is make sure that everyone knows that they can provide feedback by voice, by chat, or even follow up privately via email. Sometimes we might also have an anonymous form, like a poll, that allows a way to weigh everyone’s opinion, without everyone having to publicly state their opinion, which may allow for different identities and different placements in terms of the power structure to be able to share their voice without maybe putting themselves at risk, depending on the nature of the conversation. And the final piece that we’d look at in terms of this community, is engagement. Many of us have probably been in meetings where we found ourselves wondering, why am I here? Because we’re listening to all the things but we never get asked our opinion, or invited to share or change it. So we tried, in fact, to model a few of the techniques many of us use in meetings, by having the poll that Sheila led, or the word cloud that we co-generated with Sheila that brought in many of our ideas and experiences and gave us all a sense of how we all think about these virtual spaces. We use polling, which was a way to know a little bit more about the range of experiences we have. And we’ve also invited things like chat. So those are all different ways that we can try to create engagement online and in fact, I’m finding in my teaching, I can do some engagement things now in remote teaching that I couldn’t do in the classroom. So now, for example, I can pose a question, have everyone take the time they need and respond via chat and we can hear every voice in the class, before we move on to the next idea. In live sessions, once one person starts talking, some of us are thinking about listening to what they’re saying we hope, which means we’re no longer having our own ideas, so engagement and virtual meetings does create some new ideas. So I hope this gives some examples of how we can invite, accept, and engage in virtual teams. They can be used in synchronous and asynchronous settings. So when we’re together, or when we’re collaborating through other channels. And these combined with clear roles, preparation, follow through and really a lot more communication, we’re finding, can be ways to get the most out of our virtual teams. So now Melissa is gonna talk about some tips and tricks for success in virtual teams. Melissa, to you.

- Thanks so much David. So yeah, again, I’m Melissa Sorenson, assistant director for strategic initiatives at the Middlebury Institute. And yeah, I’m excited to share some more specific tips and tricks around succeeding in virtual teams. And from Anne’s poll that she conducted earlier, we realize many of you have or are working on remote teams right now and we can all learn from one another. So I’m gonna post a question in the chat, asking if you’re willing to chime in, what’s one tip you might give someone who wants to succeed in a virtual team, so we can build on the knowledge of the group. So these pieces of advice that I’ll be sharing, come from both my reading and experience, facilitating and leading remote teams, but also from student insights and observations that we’ve gathered through surveys on what supports success in our remote context. And there’s three main takeaways here. The first is intentionally design for the remote environment. The second is to increase communication, clarity, and structure. And the third is to make time and space for relationship building and wellness. And so, I’ll briefly dig into each of those three and then I’ll have the pleasure of turning it over to one of our students, Thi, to talk about some very specific experiences that she’s had and what’s worked for her. So, the first is intentionally design for the remote environment. And this first note might seem obvious, but while teams can draw in many of the skills that support in-person communication, it’s important to acknowledge the different dynamics and needs that emerge in the remote environment. And I’m intentionally using the word design, versus adapt. It’s easy for us to think like, well, how would I do this in-person? And how can I accomplish that in the virtual space? But if we designed with remote in mind as our as our starting point, it might unlock even different ways of engaging and as David was referencing, some new things we can leverage in the remote space that might even improve the experience beyond what we had in person. These might include everyone when they’re working in the remote space, we’re navigating technology, different work environments, different work settings, we’re balancing those boundaries between personal and professional spaces, I know a lot of this came up in the word cloud that Sheila shared, different times zones, different comfort or ability to have our videos on or off and many of the elements that David outlined. And so as with all teams, no one approach will work for everyone and it’s important to be on this constant learning journey of what works well for your team. And so, as you’re intentionally designing for the remote environment, it’s an ongoing practice. The second piece of feedback that we got, especially in our student survey was, it’s so important to increase communication, clarity, and structure. These are essential in the remote environment and our students especially helped outline this by expressing a strong desire or expressing that what helps their success in the remote setting, is really clear expectations, assignment checklists, well-organized course resources and sites, consistent and predictable deadlines, a limited number of tools and platforms that it’s easy for the group to stay focused. And I know some of you chimed into Anne’s poll saying you work on many virtual teams at once. Finding opportunities for consistency across those teams, using the same platforms in multiple spaces, or some of the same practices, can really help that mental overload of trying to have each team use a completely different set of practices. With clarity, keeping it as simple as possible, so limiting that number of platforms, using tools team members already know and are familiar with. And again, continuing to check in and adapt those practices along the way. Increasing structure in your own space, as well as the team space, can be an important part of greater success in the remote environment. So on the individual level, that might look like you identifying what time management practices, routines and structures work for you, that can be especially important in helping establish those boundaries between that personal and professional space that we’re all navigating, blocking time for focused work and finding your system for managing multiple tools and platforms and tasks, which is the reality for many virtual teams. We touched on time zone awareness, being mindful of effective meeting length and helping really prepare your group in advance, what is expected of them when they join the remote meeting today, all of that really helps lay the groundwork for more successful work in remote teams. The third piece is to make time and space for relationship building and wellness. And we need to manage and renew our energy in different ways in the remote environment, to maintain our ability to focus for a sustained amount of time. Something that we hear from our colleagues and our students is that, screen fatigue is something that we need to be really mindful of. And so how do we check in on our mental health and physical health? Use things like podcasts or taking a meeting over your phone to allow for a break from that screen time. We also realize it’s easier to feel disconnected and we need to think more proactively about connecting with others in the virtual space. And so that might look like creating opportunities before or after a team meeting to have some casual conversation and check in, thinking of what type of tool or platform your team might use to have casual exchanges or chances to just happen with ideas to one another and identifying practices that support your success, whether that’s, listening to music, scheduling time to move around, stepping outside, joining a meeting by phone, any of those things might be helpful in you maintaining the energy to effectively participate in the remote space. So I just wanna acknowledge, I really appreciate some of the ideas that have come up here in the chat and I hope everyone will take a chance to read those through. But I’m really happy at this point to turn it over to Thi, who’s gonna be talking about what’s worked well for her as she’s navigated working on multiple remote teams, the last few months.

- All right, thank you, Melissa, David and Anne, for a very comprehensive overview of working in a virtual team. I’m here today to give you a student perspective, my perspective, on how one can deal with the transition of the modern workplace, the modern office from an in-person format to a virtual format. Thank you, Jill for sharing the screen. So just to give you some context, I’m working virtually at three different jobs for my practicum semester. So for my international education management practicum, I serve as program coordinator at World Chicago, which is a citizen diplomacy nonprofit in Chicago, Illinois. I also serve as a development graduate intern at D.C. Immersion, which is a language advocacy nonprofit located in Washington, D.C. And aside from that, I’m also working part-time alongside Dr. Anne Campbell, who’s here today, on a qualitative study funded by the Middlebury Institute on global education and climate change. So you can see sort of like my distribution being presented on the screen. So in total, I deal with four major time zones. I’m physically in Arizona, which is the Mountain Standard Time Zone. I’m also dealing with the Central, Eastern and Pacific Time Zones, so four major time zones in total, I have three different job functions, so programming, development, and research. I’m also immersed in three different workplace cultures, from like a somewhat hierarchical environment in World Chicago, to a friendly and inclusive environment at D.C. Language Immersion Project. And for my graduate research assistant position with Anne, it is sort of like a strictly one-on-one setting in my position. So three totally different workplace cultures. So from my experiences, there are indeed a lot of challenges working in multiple virtual teams at once. The first, like Melissa has mentioned, is trying to not mess up time zones. It’s also harder to trust your co-workers sometimes when you have never seen them in real life and most of the time, you just don’t really know what they’re up to. And because of this, the relationship building between coworkers might also take a little bit longer, because, well, you don’t get to be in the same space and you don’t get to converse spontaneously with them. There’s also some level anxiety, associated with occasional tech issues, I think most of you can relate to that. There’s also Zoom fatigue again, most of you can relate to that, where you get like super tired after video chatting for an hour or more. And last but not least, for those of you who plan to work in program design administration, just FYI, engaging and recruiting people during a pandemic is very difficult and it’s for reasons that are mostly beyond your control and I will talk more about that. So here are my tips as your fellow student in regards to managing virtual teams and managing the potential difficulties with working, not being physically in an office. So, to manage your work across different time zones, personally, I would make it a habit to add your time zone every time you schedule meetings. So for example, you can email your colleagues and be like, hey, let’s meet at 3 p.m. Central Time, be really clear. And just bold it, 3 p.m. Central Time, bold it, highlight it, whatever. And always make sure to send calendar invites. This task seems a little minor, but trust me, it is a great way to use technology to double check time zones with people. To facilitate trust between coworkers, always make sure that your team has an agenda for every meeting. Your team should also set up policies that mandate everyone to provide constant follow up and updates. It’s always good to know that your workers are trying their best to complete their work and not neglecting you, just because you don’t see them. You should set deadlines for yourself and for others, maybe just like try dropping a project management timeline before the start of every project, I personally found it really helpful. To enhance understanding of your coworkers and the workplace dynamics, I would suggest doing small icebreakers during team meetings to get to know your colleagues better. You can google icebreakers for Zoom meetings, there are plenty online. Always make sure to ask how are you before diving into work-related stuff. And make sure to organize virtual social hours every now and then, it really keeps the spirit going. To mitigate the stress associated with tech problems, I have no other advice other than, make sure you have a backup communication tool, maybe like you can ask your coworkers for their phone numbers, maybe just make sure that you have a neighbor with strong Wifi or a nearby coffee shop that you can visit in case you don’t have strong Internet connection on some days. If you can, also designate a coworker, as someone who can take over your project in case you have an emergency or you’re not available. To combat Zoom fatigue, I personally prefer having some amount of text-based communication before every meeting to lessen talking time. An agenda, again, will come in handy. Make sure to schedule Zoom-free days, like you must have days where you don’t do any video chatting, just do not have video meetings like every day, especially if you’re an introvert like me, it can be really exhausting. I also recommend setting a default limit to every meeting and try to stick to it. So my current limit is 30 minutes per meeting, so 25 maximum for talking and five extra minutes to do a quick break before returning to the screen. So that’s like how I manage my time, but I know that you guys will have like different ways to manage your time. To overcome obstacles with engaging and recruiting people during COVID, I will say I learned this over the course of the summer, but please make sure to acknowledge the reality that all communities out there are mentally occupied with issues other than your programs and your projects. And the sooner you adjust the standards to respond to that reality, the less stress there will be for your team and the more productive and collaborative your team will be. I found that at the end of the day, the well-being of your team matters a lot more than just achieving some target. And programs have ups and downs and they come and go especially during a pandemic, like you can’t really expect your program to achieve the same performance as it can during usual years. Yeah, programs have up and down, but your team must stay sane and that’s like the number one priority. Be sure to thank your colleagues for all the hard work that they’re doing, despite all the 2020 hardships. Make sure that workspace, even if it a virtual workspace, like make sure it is a safe space for everyone. And last but not least, be sure to put extra effort into nurturing people who are interested in your programs, even if your programs are usually supposed to be competitive or selective. For example, you can make the time to get to know your participants better on a personal level. Make sure maybe, if you don’t have the time for, that you can also try your best to personalize your communications, like your emails and stuff like that, try to personalize them in any way you can, it can make a big difference in the end. So those are my insights and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have or provide more specific examples. And thank you all for listening. And on behalf of the panel, I will now open the floor for Q&A.

- I guess I’ll start off by posing one to Thi while we’re letting people start to put the questions in. If you had to narrow it down to one big lesson, what have you learned about being a successful team member in this period? If you had to choose one.

- I would say like to be a successful team member during these times, means trying to be there for your team members. I think that’s like the biggest lessons that I have learned throughout my practicum period. And it’s not really something that I thought about coming to Middlebury. I thought, here, I’m gonna learn the skills in order to apply to the industry, to certify certain objectives, certain targets of the programs out there in my industry. But coming into the workplace and during this time, I think that a lot of the time, I suddenly felt like many bad things that we never expected they would happen, they were and I was just like, oh, they were bound to happen during this time. And so, I think that managing my expectations, managing my expectation on myself and on other people, it’s really important and I think that it can honestly, like I said, I mentioned my presentation programs have ups and downs, but your teammates are the most important people and like you have to stick to them, you have to push them, you have to keep that spirit up and you have to keep everyone positive. And I think that’s the key thing and the outcome seems less important now during this pandemic.

- Thank you very much. David, I’m gonna pose a question to you and this is about conflict. Do you have any advice or tips on how to handle conflict on a virtual team?

- Thanks and I see Dion, thank you for posing that question. It’s one that becomes potentially a little more sensitive. In person, we’re used to reading a lot of signs to know when someone’s experiencing discomfort, frustration, uncertainty. So one thing is, we do have to tune into more clues about behavior and really notice how people are showing up and how they’re participating. I find that with conflict, it goes back to some of the intercultural advice and I imagine the other panelists may have something to share here, but we often have to take extra time to reach out to individuals to find out how they’re doing, separately. So what this has meant for me is, if I notice changes in behavior, for example, in a classroom, I consider that potentially conflict and I make space to reach out individually by email, or text or voice, to make sure that we can connect and find out what’s going on. At other times when there are different aspects of power and distance involved, I may ask a trusted connection to the person who I perceive as having a problem or conflict, I may ask someone else to reach out and make the connection and offer advice or support. So it does feel to me like it takes some different things when we’re about to both identify conflict and also to find ways to unpack it and then create ways to that. I’m eager to hear what others think in relationship to that great question.

- Thank you and there is a follow up question that, Anne, I think I’m gonna ask you, because I know, this semester, while you’re taking a break from teaching and working on a variety of research projects, you’re working on a number of teams, with people around the world who you’ve never met before, so you’re living this practice right now. And how do you make sure that people are going to deliver on time or are carrying their weight on the team?

- Yeah, thanks and thanks for the other answers as well, I have been learning myself. I think two things that have really helped and this echoes, both Thi’s and David’s point, one is, assume the best. I think oftentimes, by default, we assume that if we don’t hear from people, that things aren’t being done and that’s not proven to be the case, so that’s the first. And then the second point is, I think a lot of times and I know some of us on the screen have talked about this, do you prioritize the relationship, or do you prioritize the results? And sometimes that can lead to conflict. As someone who historically has prioritized results, I am really working hard during COVID, to prioritize the relationships and that does take longer and it does mean that new projects are starting slower and that deadlines get pushed back. But we’re living in a global pandemic and if we were all doing our best and producing our best work at the fastest pace and getting incredible outcomes for our projects, something would be very wrong. So being honest with ourselves, giving ourselves the break, realizing it’s a marathon, not a sprint and to really understand how to build these relationships and think of that more central to what the work is in these virtual teams, I think that’s been very helpful. And also, I think others have mentioned this as well, but also just asking questions, having icebreakers, having ways to do what we could do when we were in an office together or a classroom together, which doesn’t happen naturally in the virtual space.

- Thank you. I’ll pose this to Melissa. This question came in from Samira and she’s asking about how do you keep people engaged in a virtual meeting? It’s so easy to multitask or nap or make lunch in meetings in ways that we could not if we were in a room together, so how do we keep people engaged in virtual meetings?

- That’s a great question, thanks for raising that Samira. So a couple of things come to mind for me. The first is that we were grappling with the same question in developing this presentation because we recognize that anytime people are joining a meeting in the virtual environment, even though it was a panel format, we wanted it to be a chance for you to engage and feel like you were present in the conversation as well. And so, part of that is thinking of something early on in the meeting that can get people kind of reset and present in the space. Sheila demonstrated that today by inviting us to participate in the word cloud activity. It’s something that really came through, especially in the survey feedback from our students, was that varied engagement opportunities are really meaningful. And so, whether that’s the chance to pop into a breakout room and have some discussions, whether that’s Q&A format like we’re doing now, a poll, an opportunity to chime in on the chat, but not just focus on engagement, but also focus on how can we keep that engagement fresh and add a little bit of variety? Thi and Sheila both shared visuals during their presentations. And so, knowing that the same methods don’t work for everyone, so variety can help us create spaces where multiple people can find a way to participate, but it can also keep the meeting fresh and hold everyone’s attention during our time together. Hope that got to your question.

- Yeah, thank you. And Sheila, I’m gonna ask you, it looks like the questions are kind of slowing down, so I’m gonna ask you the last question here. And I’m thinking ahead to a time when we’re not maybe all remote, when we’re more in a hybrid world, like you were talking about where maybe some people are working remote several days a week, or the work might shift as we go into the post pandemic and new normal. And you do this already for us as an organization, but how do we work with people in-person in one group and then also having virtual team members located somewhere else? How do we do that effectively, so that everybody feels included and valued?

- Great question. We were living that reality before COVID hit. First of all, I think the team needs to have the conversation, what are the challenges around the different types of work modes that people are engaging in? And being clear as to what the benefits of that are and what is the need to the individual to do that, because if you don’t have that conversation, you could build resentment on the team. Why is that person doing this, versus why is that person doing that? So Thi talked a lot about building trust and relationship, so just being kind of candid and having those conversations. We haven’t talked about virtual team leadership here, but I think that’s a very important aspect of inviting the team to have a conversation about, hey, we have this kind of complex working environment and then inviting people into come up with solutions and ways to deal with it. Also, being willing to maybe make some, I won’t call them sacrifices, because they actually end up being benefits, but I’ll use the example with Melissa being in California and the rest of the team being in Vermont. We used to meet six or seven of us in a room and then Melissa on the screen and quickly realized that that was not a helpful dynamic. And so, because the team really cared about that connection, we all went to the screen and so that worked for us. But we didn’t figure that out right off the bat, so try some things, talk about it. There might be some failures, there might even be some conflict that comes out of that, but inviting people into a conversation about how are we gonna make this work? And being really kind of clear about why we are in this situation and how it not only benefits individuals, but could benefit the team.

- Thank you. And I wanna thank all of you participants for being with us today. We are aware that Zoom fatigue is real and there are lots of demands on your time and things to do and we’re grateful that you joined us here for this lively discussion and really showing some interest on how we can all learn to be better virtual team members, that will carry us through now and certainly in the post-pandemic time. And thank you to all of our presenters for sharing your insights and your experience and your wisdom with us today. Just wishing you all a great day and thanks for joining us for preview days and we look forward to more engagement with you. Take care, thanks again. Bye everyone.

Community Career Fair Goes Virtual

by Bryce Craft

Our annual fall Community Career Fair—held virtually this year for the first time—was a success. Nearly two dozen employers participated and the virtual format allowed for more individual contact between employers and potential recruits.