What Online Schooling During Covid-19 Can Teach Us About Leadership

Best practices from being executive of the household

These days, if you’re a work-from-home parent like me, your Wi-Fi is probably maxed out, your children are mastering Google Hangouts more than social studies, and you’re getting pretty adept at making breakfast while simultaneously videoconferencing with your team (challah French toast with a side of quarterly coverage recaps).

Parents who find themselves feverishly working at home among their families might hear their school-age kids laugh out loud to TikTok videos between bouts of frustration about their “new normal” of missing friends and teachers, operating in silos and trying to absorb subjects that now seem harder to grasp than ever before.

Recognition goes a long way, especially when you’re far away.

The struggle is real, as are the many similarities between kids adapting to online schooling and business folks discovering how to effectively work from home. What I’ve gleaned from this process are some important lessons that can help any leader better relate to their team and guide them successfully during this trying time.

Stick to a schedule but adopt a flexible mindset

A few weeks into the shelter-in-place mandate, we’re seeing our kids thrive when forced to follow a schedule. Some are waking up and putting on uniforms only to sit at home. They more quickly understand expectations, form good habits and are more fulfilled than simply going with the flow. For our workers, this same stick-to-itiveness dynamic applies, but it’s important to be willing to try new things if the process grows stale.

Check in frequently to offer assistance

Like kids craving attention from their teachers, it’s perfectly natural for workers—particularly junior staffers—to need more guidance, even though they may feel awkward asking for it. Supervisors should remember to constantly reach out to teammates who could be feeling lonely and isolated amid quarantine. This will promote learning, and they’ll also feel more connected to the work at hand. At the same time, keeping in regular touch will provide a better understanding of your employees’ emotional state and stress levels and can even uncover telltale signs of depression.

People tend to get overwhelmed with their job responsibilities in normal times, and health experts say the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and the fear of what’s next can amplify these feelings intensely. Monitoring your team’s mental health and proactively discussing it with them is a very good practice you can’t take too lightly during lockdown.

a mother and her two daughters sitting at a table in front of a laptop
Mauricio and her daughters at home.Ditas Mauricio

Make new resources available

Every day, our school sends out an agenda with a list of websites that offer valuable information to supplement their lesson plans, like Kahn Academy, without which we wouldn’t survive. By the same token, leaders should go out of their way to share any online resources, such as LinkedIn LearningCoursera or EdX, that can help staff work smarter and more efficiently. This should also include ongoing tips for stress relief, suggesting free yoga classes or relaxation apps that provide guided meditations and mindfulness exercises as the anxiety and emotions continue to build. 

Remember to make it fun

When you’re always working or schooling from the same place without social interaction, every day can feel like Groundhog Day. Encourage your employees to break the monotony by switching up their workspace, sharing playlists, hosting a virtual happy hour or trivia contest or inviting them to take their pets to an online meeting. Anything to build morale and bring joy to an otherwise tedious schedule will help promote productivity. The better your employees feel about themselves, especially during this difficult time, the better their work product.

Integrate everyday praise

At the end of each day, my daughter’s class reviews what they’re proud of, which is a nice touch that keeps the students engaged. This reminds us leaders to make a point to send our teammates a shoutout or smiley emoji for work that’s well done. Recognition goes a long way, especially when you’re far away. 

Above all, we need to adapt and accept that this is a new situation. This is the mantra our school has been following since the first day of the stay-at-home mandate, one that is widely accepted by the workforce and beyond. By its very definition, unprecedented means it’s never been done or known before, which ultimately means we, as leaders, need to remain open to modifying our practices as new developments occur.