Management 101, Pandemic-Style

Working from home is something I am adept at managing. I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. When the pandemic sent millions of workers into guest-room-offices and makeshift desks in bedroom corners, I was already comfortably ensconced at home in a fully outfitted and appropriately equipped home office. When friends and acquaintances complained about work-life balance and figuring out how to make this “new world” work for them, I silently smirked at their struggles.

I have this work-from-home routine on lock. I can juggle Zoom meetings and conference calls with ease. I generally have no problem tuning out the unwashed dishes, small piles of laundry and the pleas from my dog to play.

One thing, however, that has presented a challenge is managing my new “home” team. 

Managing a team of spirited individuals – each with his or her keenly intelligent and informed approach to accomplishing top-level work – is challenging on any given day. The highs and lows of watching your direct reports soar one quarter and flail another come with the territory. And, let me tell you, it’s a territory riddled with both landmines and buried treasure. One week I am mentoring my young professionals in pre-algebra and the next I am leading them down the path of reading for comprehension.

Oh, wait, you thought I was talking about my team at Newbold … I’m actually talking about my kids who, like 90 percent of the rest of the country, are HOME with me now. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Distance learning and its effects on parents – and, let’s face it, mostly moms – has been covered ad nauseum across every possible media platform. So this is not necessarily something you haven’t heard. And chances are good you are experiencing these specific management challenges yourself. I am completely averse to comparing managing a team of professionals to parenting; although I have heard and read many comparisons between the two. No, parenting is much more difficult and the recipients of your “management” at home are a whole lot more self-absorbed. And constantly hungry.

I could give you tips on how to “juggle it all” but, let’s face it, you can find those gems in sources ranging from Parents Online to Yale Medicine to Vox. What I can give you is a short list of things I’ve learned about my own management style and workplace preferences, while overseeing children who are supposed to be “working” at school from home.

I need to remember that my schedule is not the driver for everyone else’s schedule.

Yes, my conference calls and professional deadlines are hard-and-fast, and I pride myself on being early to the first and meeting the second without fail. But I am reminded almost daily that my “home” team’s schedule can easily take precedence over mine. It’s up to me to support them in meeting their deadlines and hitting their marks even as I must do the same for myself. That, my friends, is called juggling and after the past nine months, I am Ringling Bros-ready. I have learned my team’s schedule is MY schedule and I’ll treat it with respect, support and urgency.

I should invest in a snack vending machine.

All the cool workplaces have them. In fact, at many upstarts and hip advertising agencies, the snacks are free. Wait a minute – the snacks ARE free to my minions. And goodness do they take advantage of my generosity as manager. When I have in-person meetings again, I will honor the value of granola bars and fruit snacks in building community, and will supply my team with said treats.

Continuing education for professionals should be a priority.

Or, as an enthusiastic sixth-grader I know puts it, “Learning is fun!” I am continually reminded that I can learn a lot from my team if I am open to it. Yes, I have more experience in both life and in the workplace. But any good management or mentoring relationship provides benefits for leader and direct report. For instance, I recently learned that McKinley is the highest point in North America. (I also learned Mt. McKinley’s name was changed under the Obama administration to Denali!) Aside from geography, there are so many interesting professional education opportunities available online – many of them free. I plan to take advantage of those this year and will encourage my team to do the same.

I need to budget more aggressively for teacher gifts.

There is no gift card, candle or homemade desk décor that could convey how thankful I am for my children’s teachers. As much of a strain and burden the pandemic has placed on parents – and let’s be clear, it really has put a serious strain on many families – it’s our teachers who deserve the credit for managing to guide our kids through content and curriculum from afar. For helping them learn the difference between cumulous and nimbus, Isosceles and scalene, frog and toad.

Cheers to teachers for the gift they give parents  — and their direct reports – every single day.

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