COVID-19 has caused an abundance of challenges for businesses everywhere. With protective restrictions, unessential 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 "unessential," however, are essential to the livelihoods of many, leaving businesses in a state of panic. How were they to continue business 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.
The common complaint is that a remote workforce isn't feasible, and in some cases, that is true.
However, AAIS has functioned as a predominantly remote 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 just require time, responsibility, and a small learning curve. If you don't believe me, turn to AAIS for inspiration.
While AAIS has two physical locations in Chicago, IL, and 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 constant stand-up meetings, in which teams update each other on their work statuses, as well as the use of Rally, a project development platform in which teams complete smaller tasks that ultimately build up to a larger project. With cross-company visibility, employees know the current state of work and can easily collaborate.
While schools will be physically out-of-session, an Agile like methodology maintains the collaborative energy of school and would 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.
A key aspect of remotely working is that everything is in the cloud! This ensures the protection of data and allows for work to be easily handed off and shared. Due to AAIS's cross-training of staff, someone can easily step in and complete their duties if there are absences.
Most schools have already implemented technology into their curricula. However, some fail to take advantage of technology’s advantages. For example, use of the cloud is essential, for work is safe, monitored, and easy to collaborate upon–depending on the cloud technology used.
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 individuals can make for their teams and collaborations. Zoom is a secure space for communication. It allows you to quickly 'ping' a message to a peer or hop on a quick call all in the same location. It even lets employees see if their peers are available, away, don't want to be disturbed, or in a meeting. A fantastic function of Zoom is its Zoom Outlook Plugin, which allows you to make a meeting, select who you'd like to invite, check their availability schedule, select a time when you're both available, and notify them of the meeting. This saves time going back and forth, trying to figure out when you're both available and adds the meeting to your outlook calendar.
Zoom would be a great hub for classes and courses to use. While zoom is already being implemented, many overlook the beneficial features that will heighten their virtual experience. Using break out rooms, having a class chat, and more, will allows students to interact, solve issues together, and have easy access to their professor. No longer will students have to wait for emails from their professors, but rather receive a quick “ping” with a response to their question.
Microsoft Outlook is another important virtual function at AAIS, for all employees can see the schedules of their peers and quickly set a meeting. Your calendar shows whether you are busy, tentative on an event, or available, making scheduling simple.
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.
AAIS's approach to a remote workforce sets an excellent example for other organizations as well as schools. As schools begin to reopen, there's a lot of apprehension about how virtual learning will work. How will students stay engaged? Connected? How will they work on projects?
In times like this, I urge administrators to look at the successes of other schools and organizations like AAIS. Going remote is not a hopeless, last resort option for many successful groups. With time, a learning curve, and student responsibility, AAIS's approach to remote working could be a great benefit.