by Crystal Smith
If you told me when I closed my office door roughly eight months ago that
this journey would take almost an entire year, I would have thought you were being extreme. Yet, here we are in the same space and it appears we are going backwards after making progress.
What have these eight months taught me? What did I learn about myself and my team? What will I take with me when we open the doors again? What are the true nuggets that will allow me to be my best self as a leader moving forward?
When I wrote my first article, “Leading teams effectively in this new COVID-19 world”, I spoke a great deal about tools and platforms I utilized to help the team stay connected in this new environment. I am thankful I had those tools because they allowed us to engage efficiently as a team. Seven months later I can tell you that instead of using those applications to connect, I am now doing things that are less focused on technology, and more on things that allow us to just “talk”.
As with most organizations, we were building the plane and flying it at the same time at the beginning of this pandemic. We were trying to address budget issues, pivot in the midst of staff and organizational changes, be present and available to others and make major decisions about returning to buildings with new business practices.
After about four or five months, my teams began to ask fewer questions. I stopped receiving the 9-1-1 text messages. Software we depended on began to be used less. I woke up one Friday and what hit me was simply, “check on your folks”. I realized I was so connected to gadgets that I had not simply done the old school version of “checking in” with my staff. I spent that Friday composing an email message to each person. For some I asked about their children, for others their parents or updates on progress towards a degree. Then there were those I knew who were struggling with remote work, so I gave them a call and simply said “how are you”. I took the entire Friday to do this for about forty-five people and I ended at 8:00 pm.
What I learned from this “project” was that technology is awesome, but people still needed a very basic thing called CONNECTION. It was from this that “Coffee with Crystal” was born and I sent everyone a Zoom invitation to join me for coffee on Thursday mornings at 8:00 am. This invitation was not required – it was a choice. Not everyone wants to get up a half an hour before the workday begins. Others simply have no desire to “chit chat” with colleagues. Wherever people landed was completely okay. I can honestly say that I was super nervous the first day. Afterall, suppose no one wanted to join the “zoom room”? I poured my coffee, sat outside on the deck and logged into the room. All of a sudden a message popped up notifying me that people were in the waiting room. Over time some stayed, some left, but what evolved was a consistent group of people who joined me every Thursday morning to simply laugh really hard. Out of everything that I implemented during this COVID-19 lockdown, it is the “Coffee with Crystal” that I am most proud of simply because it allowed us to have a sense of normalcy.
One thing still remains true from my first article. People are the same people in this remote world that they were in brick and mortar. Email messaging turned into what was often done in person. This means that instead of walking down the hall to communicate a concern or challenge, I had to schedule more virtual meetings or send email messages that communicated my preferred approach to a variety of business practices. I spent time during our weekly staff meetings asking team members to be patient, give grace and to ask questions. The delete button became a gift. It allowed me to not fight a battle that wasn’t worth my time and energy.
When we return to buildings and attempt to create our new normal, what will I bring with me from this remote world?
- “Coffee with Crystal” will continue in some way. Maybe it will still be virtual, but I will offer people an opportunity to just chat for thirty minutes with NO AGENDA.
- The delete button will still be a gift. Keeping peace is so much more important.
- Lunchtime walks will continue to be a part of my daily activities. Not only did I give myself time to decompress, I had mindful moments that became amazing projects.
- I attended so many virtual conferences for women in leadership. I will continue to attend these and add more tools to my leadership toolbox.
- The applications and software programs that I implemented will continue to be utilized because they allowed us to work more efficiently.
- I will continue to take time to check on my folks with an email, a phone call or an invitation to the zoom room. Either way, that very simple choice allows all of us to have a very human experience.
Crystal Smith is a lifelong educator who currently serves as an administrator at a community college on the east coast. Crystal is a graduate of both Hampton University and The College of William and Mary, where she received her bachelors and master’s degree in Sociology. Her area of expertise is in the fields of family and gender studies and research and development.
Crystal started her career in human resources and worked with several Fortune 500 companies, including Lockheed Martin and Arthur Anderson Consulting. This work led her to consider education and teaching as a possible career goal. After an amazing career teaching in the K-12 system for five years, she decided to pursue a career in higher education. Crystal has been a higher education professional for over 17 years and this work led her to start her own consulting firm that specializes in leadership development, strategic planning and branding development.