When Your Team Struggles with Working from Home When Your Team Struggles with Working from Home

When Your Team Struggles with Working from Home

Erin Werra Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader
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No one asked for this challenge, and yet, here we are.  

Team members are looking to leaders in schools to help guide the response to remote learning and operations management. The trouble is, for most K12 school staff, working from home has never been a widespread possibility, let alone a mandate.  

This means leaders are facing coaching challenges they haven’t really faced before. Employees are trying to do a good job, but when their work looks totally different, they face understandable confusion. Leaders can prepare to support employees by understanding some of the common pitfalls. 

Challenge: Spinning wheels 
Employee confession: I can’t get anything done. Distractions, obligations, challenges, and/or plain lack of focus keeps me from finishing anything. 
Employees may feel: Frustrated, disheartened 

How you can help: Progress, not perfection, is the goal today. Working from home is still working, and expectations can’t be totally tossed out the door. But just about everyone is struggling in some way right now. Demonstrate that you understand these roadblocks. Make a little progress, even if it’s slow, and celebrate what was accomplished instead of focusing on what your team would have been able to do under normal circumstances. 

Challenge: Routine is trashed 
Employee confession: I try to set up a schedule for myself, but my new coworkers (toddler/dog/talking parrot) always find a way to interrupt.  
Employees may feel: Frustrated, inadequate compared to peers 

How you can help: Sometimes the classroom-style color-coded routine of hourly tasks won’t fit this new remote approach, and that’s okay. Instead, think of your time in terms of weeks, not days (or worse, hours). What solid time commitments can (or must) you schedule and honor? What needs to be more flexible?  

Challenge: Prioritization 
Employee confession: I’m struggling to figure out what to focus on next. Everything is important. Nothing is important. 
Employees may feel: Overwhelmed, lost, uncertain 

How you can help: First of all, this unmoored feeling is very normal, if uncomfortable. Our brains are tired and unfocused all the time because we’ve lost our routine: the way we used to file our activities together into a normal schedule that made sense and offered familiarity. Instead, now every experience is novel. It’s normal to struggle to create a new order.  

Still, our district’s primary mission is to serve students. From there, we have the following priorities. (These will vary depending on each district’s mission, so insert your standards here.) 

Challenge: Denial 
Employee confession: None! Nothing is wrong! Everything is fine! I’m thriving! I have no challenges! 
Employee may feel: Fantastic—or deeply dreading someone will figure out they’re not fine 

How you can help: That’s wonderful—this time has been a way to reconnect with core values and figure out what’s really important. Still, make it clear: it is not a failure on their part if team members do encounter some roadblocks. Reinforce you're here to help, not to judge. Check in regularly, and invite staff to reach out if anything does start to feel unmanageable or uncomfortable. 

Challenge: Burnout 
Employee confession: I’m managing to juggle, but I can’t seem to find the time or ability to recharge. 
Employee may feel: Numb, uncomfortable, exhausted 

How you can help: It is okay to slow down. Especially among those who tend toward being perfectionists (and high performers), having to manage a lot of things at once in less-than-ideal conditions can be exhausting simply because they cannot manage to excel at all of them to the degree they did before. Give yourself a break from excellence. Embrace some rest, and let a few things slide. It may feel odd at first, but you might find it growing on you! 

The challenge for leaders in this current season of life is radical empathy. It means embracing all sorts of reactions to our current challenges: good, bad, graceful, or aggressive. As district leaders, you’re seeing the full range of human emotion in your community. Likely it’s pushing you to the bounds of your own empathy. That’s okay. Give yourself the same grace you’re challenging yourself to show everyone else. 

We will all get through this together. 


Follow-up resource: 4 Strategies to Manage Educator Empathy 

Learn how to help naturally empathetic people balance their drive to give with their human need to recharge. 


Erin Werra Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader
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