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Business, but not as usual: Staff get creative when connecting from home

Alumni Engagement Staff Zoom Meeting

Alumni Engagement staff connect via Zoom.

Working remotely isn’t stopping Illinois State University staff from working together. With a little creativity, many university teams are finding ways to take care of business—and each other—despite the distance.

Remote working platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams make connecting virtually with colleagues easier than ever. And that’s a good thing, because university staff are using this time away from their offices to brainstorm new ideas, stay up-to-date on industry standards, and ensure projects continue as planned.

Senior Assistant Director of Events Services and Catering Stephanie Morstatter said her team uses Zoom to make progress on future events, update menus, and research event trends. “The office has been handling the change quite well,” she said.

Alumni Engagement uses both platforms to make the best of being away from campus. Associate Director Rachel Kobus ’09, M.S. ’11, said her team checks in with each other daily, discussing business first and then their personal lives.

“We consider each other family,” she said. The group is also using this time to attend webinars with topics covering event management, virtual programming, and communicating with alumni and donors.

Division of Student Affairs Director of Marketing and Communication Megan Rolfs ’06, M.S. ’19, uses Zoom to check in with her graduate assistant. She is moving job searches forward by setting up virtual interviews with candidates, and participates in a daily phone call with members of the coronavirus (COVID-19) communications team.

“We discuss trends we’re seeing in emails and take shifts responding to constituent inquiries,” she said. “It’s been a challenging task, but being part of such an amazing team has made all the difference.”

Some units have taken long-distance connection efforts even further to ensure the well-being of their employees. University Marketing and Communications Assistant Director of Operations Tracy Widergren ’03, M.S. ’15, wasn’t worried about her team’s productivity while working from home.

“I was more than confident that they could execute their work responsibilities remotely,” said Widergren, “What I was most concerned for was their emotional and mental health during this time.”

To keep her team socially connected while physically isolated, Widergren’s staff completes a team building activity over Zoom after checking in on a variety of design, trademark licensing, photography, and videography projects.

“Last week, we kicked it off with an activity called ‘Three Little Known Things,’” Widergren said. “Each person emailed me prior to our meeting with three things about themselves that they didn’t think the rest of us would know. I randomized them and sent them to the group to record who they thought each fact belonged to. During our meeting, we went through the list and revealed our guesses, then the real person revealed him or herself. It sparked a lot of conversation and laughter.”

Ideas for future activities include show and tell, sharing a photo or favorite Podcast with the group, telling a joke, playing Pictionary, and even showing up in costume to a virtual meeting.

Widergren has also helped implement University Marketing and Communication’s Zoom “Coffee Room,” which starts at 8:30 a.m. each work day. While the meeting is optional, no less than eight individuals typically join every day. Views into staff members’ homes spark conversation and give participants a virtual window into each other’s worlds.

“These efforts are designed to help us connect as a larger office,” Widergren said. “We find support and normalcy in everyday conversations.”

Regardless of how units across campus come together, it is clear that staff teams are committed to each other and to maintaining quality work that ensures all connected to the University remain Redbird proud.

If you’re looking for a way to enhance your work from home experience beyond these recommendations, University Marketing and Communications has made available Zoom backgrounds showcasing photography from around campus. Select an image and follow the instructions provided to upload. Happy Zooming!

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