By Maya Herran

A first impression matters. When I started in the role of Operations and Event Coordinator for Career and Employment Services this fall, first impressions were on my mind. The ambiguity that often accompanies a new beginning was fresh, along with an added layer of working remotely and navigating the supervisory relationship through a computer screen.

As I’ve begun to build relationships with the students I supervise, I find myself missing the natural interactions that I’ve taken for granted when I’m in the same physical space with my team. This has prompted me to approach the way that I support student staff a bit differently than in the past, and given nuance to what it means to start strong.

Here are a few things I’m reminding myself to do as a new supervisor in a remote context:

Communicate: As someone who thrives on small connections that feel natural in an office environment, like a conversation in passing about our weekends or the ability to pop in to a student’s work space to ask a question, remote communication is challenging!

I’ve also realized that these opportunities for unplanned connection are a large component of how I build relationships with students and express interest in their lives and selves beyond work. In this remote context, I’ve noticed myself being much more intentional about communication.

I’m incorporating conversation starters in my one-to-one meetings and thinking of unique ways to recognize the work of my student staff members. From scheduling regular check-ins to utilizing Slack instant messaging to replicate more casual connections, it’s been a priority to communicate my availability and support.

Set boundaries: In June I completed a graduate program while also holding a professional position at the same university. When my courses and work moved to a remote format, I felt an immediate challenge to define boundaries that had previously been easy to maintain.

Overnight, my work, classes and personal life were consolidated to the same physical space and the same personal laptop. A lack of separation of these responsibilities made it especially challenging to switch from one task to another – once my work hours were over and I transitioned to homework or class, I found myself struggling to stop thinking about work projects or checking my email.

As I’ve spent time getting to know the students I supervise here at Puget Sound, I’ve learned that they’re grappling with the same challenges. Sometimes that manifests in decreased motivation because they’re working and going to school from their bedrooms. Other times it appears as difficulty setting boundaries and logging off from work when their shift is over. And sometimes students experience both decreased motivation and boundary challenges at once.

I’ve noticed that in this time of ambiguity, I can help the students I supervise to set boundaries by creating ample structure with lots of grace. Giving deadlines and specific instructions can help to combat decreased motivation, and firm reminders when a student responds to emails outside of their scheduled working hours can help build healthy habits and boundaries.

Practice grace with yourself and those you work with: It’s my belief that the increased structure I’ve incorporated while beginning remote supervision has to be accompanied by increased grace. My mind has felt crowded with thoughts of my own safety and the safety of my loved ones, tackling personal projects that have become more challenging while physical distancing, and just feeling exhausted by seven months of heightened stress and precautions.

Similarly, the students I supervise are feeling heavy with the weight of our world. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that simple tasks might feel more challenging than they did before. I try to bring this perspective and empathy to the students I supervise as well – while it’s important for a task to be completed, what’s more important to me is the wellbeing of the student who is completing it. And the conversations that are sparked by the challenge of remote work provide important opportunities to affirm students and support them in building resilience in an unpredictable world.

I’m seeing this season as an opportunity to adjust my approach for a strong start. Whether you’re new to campus and a supervisory role or have a long history of supervision and have built relationships with the students you supervise, the transition to remote supervision provides an opportunity to reflect on how we might begin this new season:

  1. During times of ambiguity, what helps you to feel confident and grounded in your work? How might you provide opportunities for confidence and grounding to the students you supervise?
  2. How will you build (or maintain) authentic and holistic relationships with the students you supervise?
  3. What new tools and strategies will you utilize to provide structure and community for your student staff team? (Here are some thoughts to get you started!)

Photo Credit | Ross Mulhausen
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