Effective Solutions Through Partnership

Higher Education Insight: Pain Points and Pivots for Students in 2020

College, Distance Learning, General Life/Work, Higher Education, Learning, Virtual Learning, Virtual Work

By Shyanne Long

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the higher education system to rethink their operations in order to accommodate for the health and safety of their students. 

As a community college student, I have seen the shift in higher education operations firsthand. Students were moved to an online environment very quickly and for many, it was their first time not sitting in classrooms and lecture halls packed with students.

My community college made a full switch to distance learning in March and plans to remain online through the end of the Fall semester in December.

There has been push back from students and families who do not agree with paying full tuition for online classes—colleges are trying to avoid a decrease in enrollment while trying to keep everyone safe.

While I know some people do not prefer online classes, I enjoy them! 

I have had a lot of experience with distance learning. I have taken most of my college classes online because I work full time and I like being able to have more control and flexibility in my learning. Community college distance learning classes have allowed me to create my own schedule, learn on my own time, and work full time to support myself.

All my classes were already online while everyone else was making the transition to a virtual environmentbut it was still a tough transition, even for me. I also began working from home during this time, so I had to get used to that while also continuing my studies. I’m a creature of habit and I do well when I have a routine that I can rely on. Everyone experienced a lot of change all at once and it has been difficult for everyone involved.

A struggle I experienced during the transition to my new normal was not having an event in between work and school to separate the two activities. Usually, I have a commute home after work, and I take that time to decompress and listen to a podcast or music. This breaks up my day and I can shift my mindset from work mode to school mode. With no transitional event, I would go straight from working on the computer all day to doing schoolwork on the computer. I quickly began to feel technology overload and needed a break.

To help myself get through it, I knew I would have to create some sort of event in between work and school time. I began going on walks, cooking dinner, or reading a book. These simple activities helped me adjust and pivot to my new schedule and kept me off the computer for a while.  

Here are some other ways I saw myself, my professors, and others pivot to the new way of learning:

Some of my professors voiced that they were struggling with not getting social interaction and facetoface time with students. A professor of mine implemented a couple of group projects to give us the social aspect of an in-person class. Some of my peers struggled with using Zoom at first. Luckily, I had a lot of experience using Zoom at work and I was able to help my classmates learn how to use the tool. 

Another professor had a few live lectures on Zoom during the semester, and she included students from the other college at which she works. It was nice to see some new faces and gain different perspectives.  

After several months of getting used to distance learning and working from home, I have found a good routine and I am ready to start the Fall semester on the right foot! I am thankful to all my professors and fellow students who worked together to make the transition easier. Colleges are making a conscious effort to support their staff and students while making it possible to continue our education.

What is your experience with education during this time? How did you pivot? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author: Shyanne is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator for KAI Partners. She attends Sierra College and is studying Marketing. Ms. Long plans on transferring to a university after completing her units at Sierra College. Shyanne is passionate about expanding her knowledge, working collaboratively, and making powerful connections. For fun, Shyanne enjoys spending time with her family, reading, listening to podcasts, volunteering, and (attempting) to recreate recipes she finds on Pinterest.

Communication is Key to a Successful Remote Work Transition

Communications, KAI Partners, Remote Work, Virtual Work

By Mia Di Miceli, PMP, CSM, CSPO 

From In Office to Home Office: The secret ingredient to shift an entire workforce to a remote working environment.

I have worked in Executive Communications and Employee Engagement with private sector businesses for over 15 years; the immediate reaction to Shelter-In-Place requirements of COVID-19 put my knowledge and experience to the test. Supporting a public sector client where the practice of remote working was just a nice thought made responding to the COVID-19 pandemic seem daunting. 

The first question that came to mind was, how was I going to help my client shift their entire workforce from the office to working from home, with littletono productivity loss? The answer became immediately clear–by using the best secret ingredient around:

Strategic, thoughtful, and focused communication.

Organizations frequently underestimate the value of thoughtful communication, but communications can be a game-changer for any organization. As a Communications Consultant, you might say I am biased, but really, a communications professional is one of the most impactful resources an executive should have at the ready.

Creating a strategic, thoughtful, and focused communication approach does not have to be hard or complex. Here are 4 tips for creating a quick communications plan to help transition your workforce for any situation–pandemicpost-pandemic, or otherwise.

  1. Determine the overall theme of the message. Does the organization want to convey a specific message such as: business as usual, we are united, or do not panic? Work with executive leadership to determine and help guide a thoughtful theme to be conveyed to the workforce. 
  2. Identify the two or three best channels to deliver the message. In times of crisis such as COVID-19, the usual channels may not be the best for quick, concise, and efficient messaging. You may have to adopt something new like a vlog (video blog) or virtual office hours. Deciding the channels upfront will help streamline the volume of content and will set expectations for future communications with the audience. The channels chosen should also lend themselves to a natural feedback loop. Whether it’s as simple as advertising an Outlook inbox location or just capturing comments from the vlog hosting sitea feedback loop is imperative to a focused approach.  
  3. Ensure all content supports the overall theme message. As an example, if the theme is, “We are united,” then all content distributed should have a tone, language, and relevance to support the feeling of unification. For this theme in a teleworking environment, you could produce a vlog series with tips and tricks on staying connected while working remotely. 
  4. Document the frequency of publishing/distributing for each channel. With the theme determinedthe channels identified, and the content outlined, you will need to work on a cadence calendar. This calendar will help leadership understand how often the workforce will receive the push of content, and it will highlight opportunities for leadership to insert additional instructions or relevant information. 

Utilizing these 4 steps, I supported my client to successfully mobilize over 300 staff members and contractors from a 100% inoffice environment to a 100% teleworking environment in 2 weeks. This approach to thoughtful communication guided direct support of the executive team through daily crisis management meetings where we identified and approved appropriate messaging, determined the frequency with which we would engage the management team and staff, and helped ensure we had a plan for technology training and the comfort level of staff in being able to perform their regular job duties in a remote environment.

As mentioned at the start of this post, strategic, thoughtful, and focused communications can be the secret ingredient needed to support an organization to engage with what might now be a remote workforce. Communications will support the process of acceptance and can help you inspire what might be the new hybrid way of working. The days of everyone in the office every day might be over. Embracing teleworking as a long-term possibility now will help you ramp up for the next inevitable transition.

How will you get your organization through the next acceleration?

About the Author: Mia is an Executive Communications Consultant for KAI Partners. Mia joined KAI Partners in late 2019 with extensive experience in the private sector technology industry. She has successfully supported C-Suite executives in transforming their organizations through employee engagement, strategic communications, and organizational change management. She is an active member of International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and holds PMP, CSM, and CSPO certifications, and is trained in Six Sigma Green Belt.

How our Team Performed Remote Design Thinking

Continuous Improvement, Decision-Making, Design Thinking, Digital Transformation, Information Technology, Innovation, IT Modernization, KAI Partners, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Team Building, Technology

By Terry Daffin, PMP and Denise Larcade, Prosci

KAI Partners has recently been using design thinking to help create new products and improve existing processes to support the work we do for our clients. Even before the stay at home orders, one of our design thinking teams held a design sprint that was done almost completely remotely—and resulted in a product ready for implementation!

Here are some of our experiences and what we learned through our remote design thinking experience.

Remote Design Thinking Challenges

As with using any kind of new approach or methodology, there were some challenges and we certainly went through the 5 stages of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning.

Working remotely added another level of complexity with the addition of anonymity or facelessness. With a lot of strong personalities on our team, it was easy for some folks to disengage from the group.

So, how did we get past this?

To get through the storming phase, we had to work together to develop trust and respect.

True trust and respect empowered the team and were ultimately what led us to the norming and performing stages.

Because we met virtually (over Zoom) once a week, we had to become more vocal than usual. It was not uncommon for members of the group to speak up in order to keep others on task so that we did not go down a path not in scope or bring up topics that should be added to the backlog for future discussion.

Remote Design Thinking Successes

Despite our initial challenges, we did make it to the norming and performing stages! How?

We didn’t wait for people to join in order to begin—we jumped right in and started working.

What made this easier were our tools—we used MS Teams to share files, document meeting notes, have team conversations, and even to build our prototype. There was rarely an occasion where people felt out of the loop, because all the notes, resources, and information were right there in Teams.

Working remotely also allowed us to reach more people, cross more boundaries, and include more perspectives, as opposed to in-person coordination.

People are busy (and that’s a different problem for another blog post!) but working remotely gave more people the opportunity to participate and contribute.

Self-Organizing Team Tips

Part of our remote design thinking method was to truly self-organize within our team. Here’s what worked for us:

Set expectations and make team agreements from the start.

Because there was not one person designated as our “Lead,” we created a list in Teams with the Facilitator and Scribe for each meeting. If someone was unable to Facilitate or Scribe on their appointed day, it was their responsibility to find coverage.

This helped promote ownership—we were all one team of equals and therefore equally responsible for the team’s success.

Of course, since we are a firm that provides organizational change management (OCM) services, OCM was always on our mind. Design thinking was new for some folks and people are often wary of change. Assigning the rotating roles was a good way to share the workload and learn a skill—we were all in this together!

Another tip is simply to have patience. We were learning a new way of working and change is hard. Trust and respect had to be established and re-established and that process took patience!

At the end of the day (or sprint), it was satisfying to see how we created a product through sheer teamwork—even though remote design thinking was a challenge at times, the final product was worth it!

Have you done any kind of remote design thinking work on your team?! Let us know your experience in the comments!

About Terry: Terry Daffin is an Executive Consultant within KAI Partners. He has worked in the IT industry for more than 30 years and has over 25 years of project management experience. As a public sector consultant in the health care industry, Mr. Daffin assisted in the development and implementation of Project Management Offices that include project management, service management, lean agile and traditional product development lifecycles, and governance processes. He has been an innovation advocate and evangelist for 15 years and has implemented innovative processes for projects that he has been engaged in since 2001. Mr. Daffin currently works as the Project Manager of the KAIP Academy, KAI Partners’ training division and is the Community Manager at KAI Partners’ coworking space, The WorkShop Sacramento.

About Denise: Denise Larcade is an Organizational Development Consultant and Merger and Acquisitions Expert. She is a Certified ScrumMaster, Certified Scrum Product Owner, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, and is Prosci certified. She has over 25 years of experience in training, development, and leading companies through organizational change management. Denise has worked in corporate retail, technology, and government healthcare and most recently has experience with large-scale implementations nationwide. She currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing client support to KAI Partners’ state clients. Denise lives in a 55-acre walnut orchard and enjoys the early morning hours when wildlife is stirring and the many birds are chirping. Since working from home as of recent, Denise has found she enjoys that extra cup of AM coffee without the commute…just her and nature.

In Case of Emergency: Have a Crisis Communications Plan

Communications, KAI Partners, Risk Assessment, Sacramento, Strategic Plan

By Stephen Alfano, PMP®, CSM, Prosci 

There is no sure-fire way of predicting when (or how) a crisis will occur in an organization or a business environment. Crises, by their very nature, are all too often unpredictable and all-consuming events. 

However, with the practice of risk management, organizations and business leaders can assess potential crises and quantify their ensuing impact. More important, they can use the assessments to create mitigation plans to prepare for potential emergencies. 

One such mitigation plan is preparing a crisis communications plan. 

A crisis communications plan provides a framework for timely and clear messaging from when the crisis hits through its evolution. A crisis communications plan often extends well beyond the end of the crisis to ensure that everything and everyone is on the same page or narrative. Like most proactive business management strategies, crisis communications plans fall into categories that mirror the most critical operations and functional areas.

Here are the top five crisis communications plans and what they aim to mitigate.

  • Financial Crisis Communications Plan: This plan focuses on controlling the narrative surrounding revenue loss or asset devaluation caused by external factors (like decreased customer demand) or internal factors (like poor purchasing decisions).
  • Personnel Crisis Communications Plan: This plan focuses on controlling the narrative surrounding either illegal or unethical behaviors of staff or stakeholders which could damage the organization’s reputation. 
  • Organizational Crisis Communications Plan: This plan focuses on controlling the narrative surrounding negative press coverage or media attention when an organization mistreats or manipulates customers in pursuit of profits or market data.
  • Technological Crisis Communications Plan: This plan focuses on controlling the narrative surrounding technology failures, such as a customer-facing website crashing or errors in codes that disable business processes and limit or shut down operations. 
  • Environmental Crisis Communications Plan: This plan focuses on controlling the narrative surrounding operations disruptions ranging from one-time or temporary delays or closures (like a power outage or gas leak) to sustained, long-term delays or closures (like a plant shutdown or a devastating hurricane). 

Most Crisis Communications Plans have the same core phases and steps, including:

Pre-crises Phase 

Step 1: Identify Potential Crises Risk

Step 2: Designate and Educate Potential Crises Risk Owners and Spokespeople

Step 3: Standup Notifications and Monitoring Systems

Step 4: Test Response Regularly

Post-crises Phase

Step 5: Assess the Situation

Step 6: Create and Rollout Key Messaging

Step 7: Wind down/Wrap up Response as Quickly as Possible

Step 8: Perform Postmortem of Response Steps

Step 9: Revise Plans with Postmortem Insight

For more insight into Crisis Communications, check out these links:

Your Survival Guide to Crisis Communication – HubSpot

3 Best Practices For An Effective Response Plan – Business 2 Community

Crisis Management: Communications Best Practices – Department of Energy

If you need additional information or support creating crisis communications plans explicitly designed to fit your organization or business, contact us to learn more! We would love to help!

About the Author: Stephen Alfano is an Organizational Change Management Consultant and Communications Expert. He has over 30 years of experience in leading and managing initiatives for both private and public-sector clients. His résumé includes providing both new business and business process improvement services to Apple, American Express, AT&T, California Department of Transportation, Chevron, Entergy, Levi Strauss & Co., Louisiana Office of Tourism, Mattel, Microsoft, Novell, SONY, Sutter Health, and Wells Fargo. Stephen currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing change management and communications expertise and project management support services on several active contracts.

Technically Speaking: How to Create a Functional Home Office

General Life/Work, Information Technology, KAI Partners, Managed IT Services, Sacramento, Small Business, Startup Company, Systems Engineer, Technology

By Chris Koroluk

For many of us, working from home has become the new normal. However, some people may find it difficult to recreate an office environment at home without a little technical guidance. Luckily, our IT team is here to help!

While laptops are portable and convenient, the screens are usually small. The small screen will often condense websites and make the text much harder to read. Reading small text for long periods of time can strain the eyes and cause headaches, thus slowing down your work.

Our IT tip: Use a spare TV in place of a computer monitor.

Since most laptops come with an HDMI port and using an HDMI cable, you can connect your laptop to a spare TV! You can use the TV in addition to your laptop screen or make the TV the primary display. Here’s how:

  • Once you have your laptop and TV connected using the HDMI cable, press the Windows Key and the P on your keyboard. Then select ‘extend,’ or ‘second monitor only.’
  • Adjust size scaling and resolution in the Display settings.

Next, you can change the power settings to keep your laptop on after the screen is closed, which allows you to use your laptop as a desktop PC. Here’s how:

  • Go to Settings > System > Power & Sleep—the additional power settings are on the right.
  • Click ‘Choose what closing the lid does.’
  • Choose ‘Do Nothing’ on either or both ‘Battery’ and ‘Plugged in.’

This is just one way to make your office more functional so you can remain productive throughout the workday! Is there something our IT team can help you with? Let us know in the comments and we’ll talk about it in a future blog post!

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