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This Is What Hybrid Classrooms Have Taught Us About the Future of Work

Six surprising lessons for adult professionals from the era of online learning.

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After 17 years in business, nine teaching graduate online and a year of on-campus teaching during a pandemic, I’ve discovered we need to rethink the way we work and learn. Previous models were not built for a new hybrid environment where we need to engage remotely and in person.

Traditional online programs cater to working adults. They’re designed for asynchronous, flexible delivery fitting school around full-time jobs. With on-campus students, their primary focus and full-time job is school, where in-person attendance is required.

Covid changed all that. With a mix of in-person and remote students, we knew an online asynchronous model wouldn’t work. Without a regular schedule and familiar elements, many would get lost and disconnected. We needed a hybrid model for engaging digital and physical environments. This is what I envision the future of work to be.

A LiveCareer survey found 61% of workers want to work remotely post-pandemic, and Gartner reports 90% of human resources managers will let employees work at least part-time remotely. But how do you manage and engage a team that’s not in the same building at the same time?

Related: How to Start an E-Learning Business

1. Touch base with team members weekly

Send out a weekly announcement highlighting what happened last week and what to look for this week. Make it conversational and not a formal project report. Share something personal and relevant that everyone on the team may be feeling. A little humility and empathy can go a long way. An alternative to a written announcement is a short weekly video. I had to do this in my classes to ensure that connection between in-person and remote students.

Also, touch base with each team member. When you don’t walk by someone’s desk every day, you miss informal check-ins. Stop by their virtual desk with a message to see how their projects are going. Connecting in a hybrid environment must be more intentional. Virgin Pulse reports 60% of employees say employer relationships positively impact their focus and productivity.

Related: 3 Trends That Will Define Remote Work in 2021

2. Use technology, but not too much

Have one main platform as a home base for work. Everything for our classes now goes through our learning management system (LMS). We set up standards and templates, so students know where, what and how to engage in every class. Multiple systems are a hassle for everyone.

Move team or project communication out of email. When you’re not in the same room, focus is hard. That is why I’ve moved course-related communication to messaging in our LMS. Course materials, schedules, and communication is accessed there, keeping it from getting lost in a sea of outside and unrelated emails that can lead you down an unrelated rabbit trail.

3. Create virtual hallways

If you can’t stop someone in the hallway or catch them after a meeting or class, how do you get questions answered? In person, questions are asked and answered to everyone in real time. In the online classroom or work environment, similar questions get sent to team members and professors separately.

Instead of answering each question individually, I use a Q&A forum or message board. When one person has a question, I answer for all to see. Others also answer for quicker and sometimes better responses. Your Q&A from one project can become a FAQ for the next. Also, consider an internal wiki where team members can share knowledge about processes, projects and clients.

Related: 6 Tips to Make Remote Work Actually Work

4. Don’t make it all about work

If you want the best out of others, every communication shouldn’t be high stakes and high stress. During busy times, I send a message to each student asking how they are doing and if there is anything I can do for them. You never know what someone is going through.

When working remotely, time outside meetings is spent alone. You miss chance encounters with cross-discipline team members that can lead to innovations. GPS was invented at the Applied Physics Laboratory over a casual lunch conversation, not an official project. Consider no agenda lunch Zooms with random attendees. Diverse backgrounds broaden perspectives.

5. Create virtual project rooms

For remote work, project management and collaboration software is a must. Previously, students relied heavily on in-person meetings for group project work. But with remote and in-person people on the same team, they needed digital workspaces.

I choose to implement project management and collaboration software for class during the Covid classroom. There are many solutions, including Asana, Monday.com, Trello, Basecamp, and Slack for scheduling, document sharing, message boards, live chat and task assignment.

Related: What Nobody Tells You About Remote Work

Related: Remote Work Is Here to Stay: Are You Ready for the New Way of Life?

6. Engage everyone in live sessions

With the pandemic, I’ve had to learn to engage in-person and online audiences at the same time. Our COVID-19 response team came up with a solution for a future where teams will rarely be in the same room.

Everyone in person and remote must see your material, see you and see each other. Slides are projected in the room and remotely through screen share on Zoom. A secondary monitor displays remote participants. Additional cameras show them me, people in the room and the whiteboard.

Everyone in person and remote must also hear the presenter and hear each other. We use a noise-canceling ceiling mic that picks up everyone’s voice in the room. Remote participants unmute and are heard on the in-room speakers. For working sessions, people collaborate through Zoom breakout rooms.

The classroom can be the lab for engaging digital work environments. The lessons learned during this year can point to a reimagined future where the workplace is a hybrid of the best of in-person and remote communication.

Keith Quesenberry

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Keith A. Quesenberry is an associate professor at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He is an expert on social media and digital marketing and author of Social Media Strategy: Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations in the Consumer Revolution.