Category Unified Communications

Advice for Managing Your Remote Teaching Staff

As the school year draws to a close, AVI-SPL wants to help your teaching staff and administration stay connected and focused during this difficult time. Our Together We Are series about online learning from home offers helpful ideas and resources. Read all Together We Are posts.

By now, teachers across the country have been figuring out how to prepare and teach lessons, assign homework, grade it, and provide feedback — all while working from home. Add to this the effort it takes to understand the supporting collaboration technology, and it’s easy to imagine that nerves can quickly be rattled. In previous posts, we’ve tried to help by giving advice for online teaching from home and engaging with students.

Today, let’s look at ways principals can provide feedback, address performance issues, and resolve conflicts among their teachers and administrators. Here are a few tips for successfully managing and supporting your staff and ensuring that they are able to provide the high-quality learning experience that students deserve and their parents expect.

Be Transparent: By letting your teaching and administrative staff know what’s expected of them, you’ll be setting standards of performance. Those expectations can help ensure students are receiving the quality education they deserve, and they’ll form the basis for one-on-one evaluations and resolving areas of disagreement. For example, teachers and admins will want to know policies for taking attendance or how summer teaching may unfold for students that require additional help in order to advance to the next grade level. If they’re lacking in technology support, they will expect updates on when the situation will change. During your check-ins (which we cover below) and in emails, you can keep them apprised of the latest developments with status reports.

Check in daily:  Teachers across all levels of education are struggling with a situation that could be perceived as more stressful than managing students in the classroom. Classwork has become homework, and instead of being able to grade that homework by assigned due dates, teachers are facing the reality that the only due date that matters for students is the end of the school year.

In this remote situation, teachers and administrators may inadvertently deliver contradictory information to their students, which could upset the students and their parents, and cause rifts among your staff.

For these reasons, schedule daily video calls that recur at the same time each day and send meeting invites so that teachers and admins can save them to their calendars. During these team calls, you can deliver the transparency mentioned above by providing updates on policy changes. For their part, your staff can let you know what’s working, where they need help, and what questions they have. Microsoft Live Events is one option for delivering announcements to a large group while also being able to field individual questions. Upvotes on the questions will let you know which ones you should prioritize.

Have virtual office hours: Not every teacher is comfortable teaching virtual classes. Some may be unfamiliar with delivering what’s expected of them, or they may be unsure of the video conferencing and unified communications tools that the corporate world takes for granted. Send a meeting invite that lets your staff know that you will be available online throughout the day if they have questions, recommendations, or need to vent. Encourage teachers to reach out to you, and keep each appointment to a limited duration so that you can have face-to-face time over video with as many teachers as need to speak to you. Update your online status so they know if you are busy in a meeting or temporarily away from your desk.

Follow best practices for resolving conflict: In our post on resolving conflict during remote work, we include tips for planning and hosting video calls that address performance issues and conflicts that may arise among employees. That advice can also be applied to teachers, administrators, and other support staff. I recommend you read the post, but I can quickly summarize what you should do in your education setting: 

  • Gather facts about the conflict: Meet with each person involved in a dispute separately over video to get their side of the story. This may include parents and students who have a complaint or need to resolve an issue.
  • Set the ground rules for the meeting: At least a day before the meeting, send an email to the group and host one-on-ones with the involved parties where you explain how the conflict resolution meeting will run. You’ll also share your expectations of behavior and protocol. Explain that these rules are being administered in fairness to all involved.
  • Make sure all participants can see and hear each other: Seeing reactions and body language is important for you, and it’s important for those expressing themselves. Microsoft Teams will display up to four videos at one time. If you have more than four participants, you’ll see the video of the active speakers. In our post about online learning best practices for educators, you’ll find advice how to prepare yourself and your home office for a video experience.

Teaching can be a difficult, at times thankless profession. Having to perform its duties from home may add to the stress for some teachers, causing conflicts among them and perhaps a struggle to deliver the quality they are capable of in a live, in-person classroom. By following these tips, you can help mitigate issues and be proactive in addressing them.

5 Tips for Resolving Conflict During Remote Work

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Are series on working from home offers helpful ideas and resources. Read all Together We Are posts.

As companies and their staff adjust to remote work, one of the areas they have to focus on is remote management of employees, a topic we’ve covered in previous posts. Today, let’s look at ways managers can address evaluations, performance issues, and conflict when their direct reports are working remotely.

Even when the threat of COVID-19 is past us, millions of employees will continue to work from home, at least part time. That means they have to be managed remotely, which can pose a challenge for managers and those they supervise. Workplace conflicts still happen, even when we aren’t sharing an office. Supervisors must still monitor performance and productivity. Under a remote-work scenario, addressing those issues can appear as significant, even frustrating challenges.

Here are a few tips for successfully managing staff when you have to evaluate performance, address issues, and resolve conflicts among employees.

Communicate: Part of being a manager is letting your team members know what is expected of them. By being transparent, you’re establishing a foundation for required levels of behavior, cooperation, and performance among staff. Those expectations will be your reference points when it’s time to review employee performance, respond to feedback, or sort out conflicts among them.  We’ve said it before on this blog: You have to engage with your staff on a frequent, regular basis. Better to have too much communication than too little when you and others are working remotely. It’s easy to fall out of normal communication routines when you don’t see each other in meetings or common areas. By checking in every day or at least multiple times a week, managers let their staff know what is expected of them, where they’re doing well, and which areas need improvement.

On a related note: Being able to check in every day means you and your staff are available to each other. As we explained in this post for managing remote teams, require team members (including yourself) to keep their status icons updated so that others know when they are available to answer questions or have an on-demand chat.

Document the issues: When you communicate issues with an employee, let the call be a discussion where they understand the nature of your performance standard. Explain to them what the issues are, e.g. “You missed two meetings or a call with the customer.” Then you should set forth the improvements that you expect to see within a reasonable time frame. Be clear about your expectations and where they haven’t been met. Some positions will lend themselves to a clearly data-driven analysis: When supervising call center staff or service technicians, you likely have access to analytics for objective evaluation. Other positions are less visible in that aspect, but you’ll still need to reference defined standards.

Resolving conflicts among workers can be more challenging. If someone has a performance issue or a conflict with another employee, it’s ideal to handle those types of issues in person, where all parties are in the same room. However, that’s not always possible during remote work.  The following tips would apply during in-person gatherings and will help you be successful during video calls when dealing with sensitive personnel matters.

Set out ground rules in advance: Passions can run hot when it comes to workplace disagreements and conflicts. And it can be difficult to referee reactions and behavior over a video call. That’s why you need to establish some ground rules. This can be an email you send before the meeting or a quick one-on-one with each person involved in a dispute. Clarify the order in which the parties, including yourself, will speak and make their case.  Make clear that once someone has said explained their version of events, the other party or parties will be given the opportunity to deliver their side of the story.

Gather the facts first: Prior to having a group meeting about a workplace conflict, meet with each person over video and let them share their story in a private conversation. Then when you get to the joint discussion about it, you will have had time to investigate, get input from others, and understand what’s relevant to the discussion and what still needs to be determined.

See and hear everyone: Some social exchanges can get lost on a video call, and an in-person meeting may be preferable when it comes to resolving conflict. But even when these meetings are held over video, the visual cues are still there and the process is mostly the same as the in-person event. Even with those cues being visible, you want to verbalize more than you normally would so that attendees know they are being heard and understood.

One consistent piece of advice you may have heard when it comes to video conferencing: The video part matters less than the audio. Because without good audio, it doesn’t matter who or what you can see. However, because you want to see body language during an evaluation or conflict resolution so that you can anticipate someone’s need to talk — or you just want to see how they’re reacting — you need both aspects to be high quality.

To capture the in-person experience, take into consideration the number of people who are visible at the same time on a video conferencing system. Unified communications solutions like Microsoft Teams allow you to see and hear multiple people at once, so you’ll be nearly as comfortable and effective during those types of interactions as you would be in the same room. You’ll just need to limit your meeting to the number of people who can be seen at one time.

The challenges of remote work can be compounded when you have to deal with difficult and sometimes uncomfortable work-related situations. But these are the realities of the workplace, whether we’re sharing a physical office or connecting from our homes. I hope the tips above help you see that with a high-quality collaboration solution, and by following good practices, you can effectively deal with these challenges.

 

 

 

 

AVI-SPL Experts Share Their Favorite Tools for Collaboration

For organizations of all types — schools, businesses, government agencies — and millions around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has seriously disrupted the way we work. Even if your company or institution had already embraced video collaboration among team members, you may not have ever used it to the extent you have to now. 

AVI-SPL wants to help by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

I strongly encourage you to bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

Favorite Tools for Collaboration

At AVI-SPL, we know the value of digital workplace transformation, and we practice what we preach.  We’re grateful for the ability of many of our employees to work remotely and stay engaged, especially during this difficult time.  Our teams and employees use a variety of different tools and methods to keep up with their projects and collaborate with their team members – many of whom may be across the country or elsewhere around the world.

We recently surveyed a handful of our staff for insight into their favorite collaboration tools. Here are their responses, which I hope you’ll find enlightening:

Michael Rombouts, project manager, San Francisco

I generally find a lot of success with Microsoft Smartsheet. It’s nice since it’s basically a live spreadsheet that multiple users can interact with simultaneously. It isn’t polished, but it doesn’t really have to be since it’s mostly for internal communication and task lists. The fact that it’s live means the team doesn’t get caught up in logic loops of “what version are you looking at?” and/or “that’s not what my document says.”

I love Microsoft OneNote for my stream-of-consciousness note taking. While it doesn’t provide something for me to directly share, it is awesome to catch everything, as you can add docs to it and snips of drawings. Think of it as a digital old-school whiteboard.

My compatriots swear by Trello. It is useful for the integration team and boots on the ground. It’s easy to use and a great way to quickly share brief information among technicians, engineers, and commissioning agents.

Lastly, Microsoft Teams, is how I communicate daily within my team for informal communication. While there are several tools that are available for chat, file sharing, or conducting video conferences, Microsoft Teams is simply more intuitive to use. If I need engineering clarification, I could send an email and add to the digital pollution of an inbox, or I can use the chat feature and get an answer quickly. It is as effective as looking over a cubicle and asking my neighbor a question. I use it to conduct page-turn meetings with engineering and technicians, sharing drawings and SOWs. The meetings are seamless, there’s not a busy signal –as when I connect via telephone — and the call quality is stellar. I probably have three or four Teams meetings a day, with no hiccups. 

Doug Seaman, account manager, Omaha:

I love the ability to video chat.  As much as face-to-face contact is the best for sales, video chat is the next best alternative right now.  Personally, I call clients using both Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  A friendly face and the ability to chat brings a level of normalcy to our lives and allows us to get done just as much as we would in an in-person meeting. With background-blurring or background-masking abilities, I can maintain a professional appearance.

Rich Daugherty, solutions architect, Chicago:

When collaborating on a project within Microsoft Teams, I like that certain Office applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint can be edited within Teams. This ensures that the shared file is the most updated version, so colleagues working on the same project will have access to the latest and greatest version.  We can even edit together in a group call, so everyone is on board with the final product and fewer revisions need to be sent out later.

Thomas Luczywo, programmer, Calgary:

In my case, a good sound-isolating wireless headset, such as my Plantronics headset, is a key tool.  It allows me to collaborate with team members with solid quality, and it’s much better than speaking into a laptop and listening to my laptop speakers alone.  This experience immerses me into conversations and helps me to focus so I have a better quality experience with them and also with clients.  The headset can also isolate out environmental sounds (such as traffic or common noises experienced when working from home or at a client’s site) so that I can better focus on my programming projects.  Better focus is the key to being more successful in our industry.

Get expert advice on choosing your collaboration tools

The AVI-SPL team is here to help you find the collaboration tools that will keep you connected and productive. These efforts are paramount during the coronavirus, but they will be just as important as we get back to our workplaces and incorporate a liberating way of working into our daily routines. As businesses, schools, and government agencies get back into the swing of running at full capacity, you want your organization to have the resources that make that process as efficient and effective as possible.

Our mission is to provide the tools, experience, and support you need to connect teams between the offices and remote locations. Because when your talented individuals work together, you can reach your business outcomes. If you need assistance launching or upgrading your digital workplace collaboration tools, contact us now or find your local AVI-SPL office.

Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S: Collaboration Tools for Today and Tomorrow

Today, nearly five million people in the U.S. are working remotely. Well before the coronavirus disrupted work as we know it, we were being told that remote work was an essential part of doing our jobs and that remote workers would dominate the workforce. The proliferation of remote work articles popping up in the wake of COVID-19 have made this an even more salient feature of our work lives. Millions of people around the world have had to adjust to a new way of working — a way that requires them to be at home but perform as if they were in the office. 

One of the tools getting high-profile coverage is Microsoft Teams. Whether I’m in the office or working from home, I use Teams many times a day. It’s how colleagues chat me up with ideas and suggestions. It’s how I share editable documents that a specific work group can view and edit. It’s where I can scroll through a conversation to refresh my memory about where we left off a certain project or deliverable. And it’s where I attend video meetings with colleagues to brainstorm, share ideas, and get work done in real time. Let’s look in greater detail at how Microsoft Teams helps me — and can help you — work from home and anywhere else.

How to Work Remotely With Microsoft Teams

For the past couple of weeks, Microsoft Teams has taken on more prominence and importance as my colleagues and I work outside the office. Working remotely doesn’t have much meaning or benefit unless we’re being productive. And Microsoft Teams is supporting that productivity. Since so much of the work we produce is the result of collaboration, it’s easy to see why Microsoft calls Teams its “hub for teamwork.” You could click a link and see the kind of features and capabilities it offers. But for me — I hope for you as well — the best way to share what Microsoft Teams can do is to speak from experience.

Like you, I work on a lot of projects that involve collaboration with a wide range of colleagues. Within Microsoft Teams, I can create (or be added to) a group that is named for a particular project. For example, we formed one project to gather content for our forthcoming podcast. Within these dedicated virtual spaces, we can add files that anyone can edit and download. We also added a section for conversation topics. To those topics we can attach our names and notes so that we know who has responsibility for recruiting guests and scheduling their appearances. It’s a great way for me to remind myself what I’ve done, still have to do, and my deadline. 

Another great reminder is the Posts tab, which includes the typed chats we’ve had about a topic. I frequently reference these conversations if I need to refresh my memory about what was discussed so that I know to work on a task or follow up with someone about theirs. This persistent chat is visual proof of our brainstorming, questions we’ve asked and answered, and announcements we’ve made to each other.

And speaking of visuals: It’s easy to jump into a video call with anyone in my contact list, which includes everyone in the company and anyone that I add. Once in a call, I’m two clicks away from recording the session, an essential tool when I’m interviewing a partner for one of AVI-SPL’s white papers. For most of these meetings, at least one attendee needs to share their content in the Teams window for all to see and understand. Another great feature: how easy it is schedule a Teams meeting from Outlook. I can schedule meetings from within the Microsoft Teams window, but I’m a creature of habit and I’m used to using the Outlook calendar. Whichever way you prefer, know that Teams accommodates your work style.

It’s worth noting that I’ve used only a fraction of Microsoft Teams’ capabilities. There’s plenty of apps that you may find helpful to support your work style or needs, including Stream, Wiki, OneNote, and a host of other built-in Office 365 applications.

I know I’ve given only a taste of what Microsoft Teams can do. Talk to one of AVI-SPL’s experts and you can ask about a host of other features like third-party solutions, the ability to integrate workflows, and the Teams developer platform that works with your business apps. If you choose, we can also take a deep dive with you into important benefits like security, manageability, and compliance, along with the room devices from our manufacturer partners that bring Microsoft Teams into the meeting space. With all I’ve shared, I’d be remiss to not include this overview of its key features:

  • Works across desktop, mobile, browser and a wide range of devices
  • A digital whiteboard (which I’ve never used til I started writing this post. It was a breeze to start.)
  • AI capabilities
  • Interoperability with other video systems
  • The features that ensure a quality audio and video experience
  • Actionable IT analytics

There’s much more to cover, but here’s the takeaway that I hope resonates with you: whatever industry you’re in, Microsoft Teams can improve your operations and processes when it comes to work and collaboration.

How to Be Productive in the Office With Surface Hub 2S

As we get back into the flow of on-site meetings and collaboration sessions, we’ll want to be in the same conference rooms and huddle spaces to connect with people who are in those areas or working from other locations. I don’t have the personal experience with Surface Hub 2S that I have with Microsoft Teams, but I’ve seen the demos — enough to know that it’s the kind of tool that you want in your office when it’s time for groups in and out of the workplace to get together on a shared, high-resolution canvas. And it’s not just any digital canvas, but one that has all the power of the Windows 10 operating system and has the great Microsoft Teams software built in. Going back to what I said earlier about the value of familiarity and comfort in the way we work: This is another way that Microsoft is delivering that kind of experience.

Surface Hub 2S is an interactive device that acts as a meeting platform, digital whiteboard, and so much more. Bring it into a conference room, huddle room or open area and you’ve created a space for teamwork. That includes the ability to use Microsoft Teams to collaborate with remote workers, replicating the great experience you’re used to from your PC. It also includes video conferencing so you can see your teammates while working on shared content in real time. Here are just a handful of the features that make the Surface Hub 2S so valuable:Surface Hub 2S image

  • 4K camera and 4K screen
  • Wireless content sharing
  • Microsoft Whiteboard
  • Window 10 OS
  • 50-inch display size
  • Cart or wall-mount installation

The Surface Hub 2S is the tool you’ll want to have to bring your remote teams together, work from anywhere in the office, and have an easy, fluid collaboration experience among the talent that drives your company’s success.

Talk to AVI-SPL’s Advocates About Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S

If you’re new to Microsoft Teams or Surface Hub 2S, or you’re new to remote collaboration, there are experts at AVI-SPL who are ready to answer your questions and give you guidance. Whatever questions you have, ask them, as our representatives can discuss:

  • Product demos
  • How to migrate from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams
  • Planning and designing an enterprise-wide Teams launch (including network assessment, device strategy and migration planning)
  • Microsoft Teams meeting-room configuration with certified devices (Crestron, Poly, Yealink, Logitech, and others)
  • Training and adoption services
  • Room system and device management
  • How Microsoft Teams can help your specific industry
  • Integrating the Surface Hub 2S into areas across your enterprise

It can seem like a lot to take in, but keep in mind that all of these features and benefits are meant to serve your clear goals: better team collaboration and a better way of organizing you and your teams’ work. I would venture that a lot of us are looking forward to the day we can get back into the office and have that in-person experience. But for those of us who are set up to collaborate from home, we know how easy it is to be just as productive and contribute just as much from wherever we choose to set up our personal devices. Our current circumstances will pass; what will remain is the freedom, flexibility, and support that tools like Microsoft Teams and Surface Hub 2S bring to our work lives.