COVID-19 has caused an abundance of challenges for businesses everywhere. With protective restrictions, nonessential businesses were forced to send employees home and, in many cases, shut down due to the threat of the rapidly spreading virus. These businesses deemed "nonessential," however, are essential to the livelihoods of many, leaving businesses in a state of panic. How were they to continue when they couldn't remain open? Many businesses that could feasibly function as a remote workforce have attempted the transition, and as COVID-19's threats persist, many schools have made the decision as well.
A common concern is that a remote workforce isn't feasible, and in some cases, that is true. However, AAIS has functioned as a predominantly remote, or distributed, workforce for the past seven years, an environment that required an adjustment period, but has allowed the organization to thrive since its implementation. Having both attended university and interned at AAIS remotely in the past six months, I can attest that both virtual learning and remote working are tangible tasks, they simply require time, responsibility, and a small learning curve. If you don't believe me, turn to AAIS
While AAIS has two physical office locations, one in in Lisle, IL (near Chicago), the other in Boulder, CO, most of its employees work from the comfort of their homes across the United States. AAIS's remote workforce abides by Agile, a product development methodology that emphasizes collaboration and a block approach to time management. Agile allows for transparency across the company, with regular stand-up meetings, in which teams update each other on their work statuses, as well as the use of Rally, a project management platform that supports cross-functional planning of tasks that ultimately build up to completion of a larger project. With cross-company visibility, employees know the current state of work and can easily collaborate.
While schools may be physically out-of-session, an Agile-like methodology would maintain the collaborative energy of a virtual school environment and allow teachers to have clear visibility of what their students are working on. It is also a great tool for group work, aiding students in their collaborative efforts while also strengthening their project development skills for the future.
Another key aspect of working remotely is a heavily reliance on the cloud! This ensures the protection of data and allows for work to be easily handed off and shared by others. AAIS has cross-trained its staff so anyone could easily step in and complete assignments during absences, by accessing files in the cloud. While most schools have implemented technology into their curricula, some fail to take advantage of technologies like the cloud, which is safe, monitored, and can make collaboration easier–depending on the cloud technology used.
Microsoft Outlook is another important communication and calendar application used by AAIS. Employees use it to write and send emails, and Its calendar function allows all employees to see the schedules of their peers and quickly set meetings. Calendar indicate whether employees are busy, tentatively available for a meeting, or available, making scheduling simpler. For schools, this would simplify the scheduling of conferences and office hours, allowing for students to select a time without having to wait for a response, or go back-and forth discussing times.
Like many companies, AAIS utilizes Zoom, not only for meetings, but as a communications hub. All AAIS employees are on the same Zoom channel, with a large channel for all employees and smaller channels for collaboration and communication within groups and teams. It allows you to quickly 'ping' a message to a peer or hop on a quick call, all in the same application. It even lets employees see if their peers are available, away, don't want to be disturbed, or in a meeting. Another valuable function of Zoom is its Outlook Plugin, which enables users to schedule a meeting in Outlook, select who to invite, check availability, select a convenient time when all are available, and notify them of the meeting. This saves time, eliminating the back and forth to schedule meetings and adds the meeting to all participants’ outlook calendars.
Zoom could be a great hub for classes and courses to use. While many are familiar with Zoom’s basic capabilities, many overlook beneficial features that would improve their virtual experience. Using break out rooms, having a class chat, and more, would allow students to interact, solve issues together, and have easy access to their professor. No longer would students have to wait for emails from their professors. Rather they would receive a quick “ping” with a response to their question.
AAIS's approach to a remote workforce sets an excellent example for other organizations, as well as schools. As schools begin to reopen, there will be a lot of apprehension about virtual learning and how it will work. How will students stay engaged? Connected? How will they work on projects?
In times like this, school administrators could look at the successes of other schools and organizations like AAIS for successful examples of new trends in communication and remote work. Going virtual is not a hopeless, last resort option for successful groups. With time, a learning curve, and student engagement, AAIS's approach to remote work could be a great benefit.