Managing Now

The Center for Workplace Development (CWD) asked managers across Harvard to share their best practices for managing in these times. So that these good practices can easily be shared, responses have been categorized and curated into top tips located on this site. Managers will find ideas on how to prevent burnout; communicate and connect with employees; stay focused on priorities; and have important conversations and make progress towards enhancing diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity. For more comprehensive, step by step guidance for topics like these, please reference CWD’s toolkits here.

hand holding a sparkler in a field

Making time to socialize, connect, and talk about topics that are non-work related.

  • I begin each weekly one-on-one meeting with my employees with a real check-in about how they have been doing in their lives.

  • I have leaned into the practice of beginning my one on ones focusing on the things that I know are important to employees (family/music etc.). I've always done this, but now I linger on this for several more minutes than before. Sometimes I use prompts, such as "what's the best thing right now/what's the hardest thing."
  • Mailing small gifts and poetry each month to members of my staff; Simple words of loving support and gratitude regularly via Teams.
  • We have standing Friday meeting to use to socialize. At the start of WFH, I started a show and tell. I would send some random items each member can bring to talk about. We have switched to playing Trivia that we have created via Kahoot or spending the time catching up.
  • Using Jamboard to do team Shout outs/moments of gratitude.
  • Weekly "survey question" style email - non work-related topic (ex. favorite Disney movie, a place you'd like to travel, famous person(s) you'd like to have dinner with, etc.).
  • We start every single meeting with 5-10 minutes of non-work talk.

Acknowledging and empathizing with all that’s going on for people and the challenges of the times.

  • “No Meeting Tuesday” – it's too easy to fill up days with endless meetings and no time to accomplish one's own work. We try to keep Tuesdays clear of scheduled meetings, although staff can check-in with each other to keep projects moving.
  • “Walk and Talk” – occasional go for a walk in our respective locations and talk on phone, no zoom.
  • Regular check-ins regarding workload, support needed, reminders of resources (well dependent time off, Employee Assistance Program (EAP), etc. and encouragement around taking breaks and rest).
  • I emphasize wellness, health and safety first and foremost. One way to foster this is to encourage everyone to take their regular lunch hour as they used to do before remote work. Taking a break from work helps to structure the day and eases the sense that we’re not “working from home”, but “living at work”. Reframing lunch hour as a time to holistically take care of oneself is one way of being supportive to wellness every day.
  • Empathy and patience, lots of patience. Everyone has additional stressors during COVID, so I try to be being a bit more understanding and flexible. We also do an informal daily meeting where we cover work items then after the work talk, we check in and discuss our worries/stressors.
  • We try hard to have 25- or 50-minute meetings so that everyone has a short break if they are switching from meeting to meeting.
  • The best idea I have had was allowing for what I call "Tech-Free Time" where staff can have a break from the computer/phone/zoom and have a break from constant requests. This is typically a period of time one afternoon or one morning per week (per team member) and this has really helped everyone with technology fatigue which is all too prevalent these days. Whatever helps. This is the time for unique leadership and "outside of the norm" ideas.

Considering and implementing the most effective channel, method and frequency of messages and meetings.

  • We use several slack channels - for teams, and for specific topics of interest (anti-racism, for instance). We share recipes, pictures, etc.
  • We have an almost daily early morning 15-minute "stand-up" meeting over Zoom.
  • All-day-long chat window open in Skype for Business for our own team - both chat and work talk is allowed. We still hold official team check-in meetings as well.
  • We’ve been using "Teams" chat for virtual coffee breaks, "morning" hello's, as a virtual poster board for items we would have otherwise posted in the copy room.
  • We're using Sharepoint/one drive to collaborate "real time" during meetings as a replacement for a whiteboard.
  • Phone conversations. I feel that in these times we have a lot of technology driven contact and I am finding that a simple phone conversation is effective and much more personal at times.
  • Chat/phone calls for quick questions; emails for more in-depth updates.

Encouraging realistic productivity and making progress on the most important priorities.

  • We created an Excel spreadsheet that houses “Daily To-Do’s” that everyone in all the departments I manage accesses daily. This replaces daily informal hallway and “over-the-cubicle” work conversations. The spreadsheet gives us a place to let others know when a task is complete. This has given us a sense of awareness and appreciation of what others are working on (and the big picture of what we are all working towards). This also helps me gain insight into the workflow of the department.
  • I have created multiple opportunities for individuals to discuss priorities through monthly department meetings, bi-weekly team meetings, and weekly individual check-in meetings. Additionally, we have attended frequent and intentional updates from senior management to keep everyone informed and engaged with the vision for the future.
  • One-on-one skip level conversations with staff who report to my direct reports (the department managers). Staff are welcome to ask me whatever they want, share any information they desire, and I take the opportunity to emphasize how their work connects to the department priorities.
  • I make an effort to ensure my vision for the future and our collective current priorities reach everyone. I constantly repeat myself to emphasize that we are aligned and are heading in the same direction. I try to use the same words to be consistent and understand this virtual world.
  • I acknowledge that these are unusual times and respect that people are in different places with home/life responsibilities. I look for incremental progress toward priorities every week, and I track forward motion toward deliverables.
  • I provide more balanced and frequent feedback than I did in person. I let people know when work is on track and when it isn’t. This seems to help keep priorities in focus.
  • I state, ‘we can’t be all things to all people’ and back that up by saying ‘no’ to work that doesn’t support our current key priorities.

Fostering an inclusive work environment and committing to practices and dialog that address racial and social injustice.

  • In response to anti-black racism, #shutdownSTEM, #shutdownAcademia, we conducted a teach-in and the department decided to continue to engage over these concepts so an allyship committee was developed.
  • Bi-weekly anti-racism discussions. Some are optional while some others are required depending on the content. We’ve had open discussions, discussions based around an idea, documentary, article, video, or podcast.
  • We established working groups as a way to engage collectively with social justice issues.
  • We started an anti-racism working group which helps the team keep engaged and connected and share ideas and strategies on these important topics.
  • We have been completely revamping our hiring practices to be inclusive and free from bias. We are partnering with our recruiter for an open position and have publicized the role in a variety of places to reach a diverse audience.
  • I am constantly reflecting on my actions and how they impact individuals. I ask myself: Am I making a biased decision? To whom am I delegating this project and why? Is everybody receiving feedback and input from me? Am I treating everyone equitably (not equally)?
  • I have been rewriting all existing job descriptions using inclusive language.