The Maternal Health Learning and Innovation Center (MHLIC) launched in November 2019, so the first part of 2020 was spent hiring new team members that would make up the “Hub”—the folks spending most of their work time on MHLIC projects. Hiring for several positions was underway when COVID-19 caused much of our work to move remotely. That meant many new staff joined the Center coming on-board and trying to figure out how to work together as a new team, while being apart. We expect that many of the state and RMOMS teams had a similar experience.
It’s fortunate to be employed and able to work remotely in this time, but it’s challenging to orient to a new job when the team is not physically in the same space.
What’s helped our team?
First, MHLIC’s commitment to be a continuous learning organization has been a helpful orientation as we all learn to work in this new way. Leadership has continually emphasized that everyone is encouraged (and expected) to keep learning, try new things, and not be afraid to fail. After all, we can all learn from our mistakes and can always change directions if something isn’t working. It’s made it easier to ask questions and admit when you don’t know something—which can be harder when you are not physically together.
Building in time to get to know each other is also important. During scheduled virtual business meetings, it’s sometimes hard to take the time you might during an in-person meeting to catch up and personally connect. Creating dedicated time, especially for new staff, to get to know colleagues is really important. This may mean setting up one-on-one time or setting aside a portion of group meetings to chat. This may take up more time, but it’s helpful in the long run.
Each time a new person joined the team we had a virtual breakfast or lunch hour where people could drop in (well, zoom in) to say hi and chat. Zoom can also create a space to greet each other’s families and pets as a way to build strong connections.
Setting up an instant messaging platform can make communication quicker and easier. At MHLIC, we use Microsoft Teams for a lot of group work and collaborating. While we are all still learning to love this platform, one thing that is helpful for new staff is the built-in instant messaging feature. It’s a great way to ask questions that you would normally pop into someone’s office to ask. We even have a Teams chat that is dedicated to saying “good morning” and talking about the status of our gardens or weekend plans.
Providing a well-organized system of file sharing has helped everyone store information in one place, increasing transparency and collaboration across teams and cores.
It has also helped to set some expectations as to when people will and will not be working. It can be harder to shift away from work at the end of the day when your work is at home and can be particularly challenging for new staff to understand the expectations. This is a strange new world and making sure that new people help to create a positive remote culture is important.
MHLIC’s team is made up of folks that live across the country, so we may often be working apart, even after the pandemic is over. But we have learned that we can be physically distant but still collaborate, be productive, and have fun together.