How Parents Can Survive Virtual Learning While Leading a Remote Team

Stephanie Davis Smith

31 August 2020

Cuttlefish can blend in with their surroundings so well you may never see them hiding in colorful coral. Somehow tubeworms turn the only toxic bacteria in their environment into nourishing food. And wood frogs freeze their bodies solid during winter to later thaw and come back to life when temperatures rise. All these animals have adapted to their environments over time. 

Another curious creature that is learning to adapt right now? Working parents—especially those who lead teams. 

While I’m envious of that wood frog (I’d love to be able to freeze and wake up next spring and this whole pandemic be over), I know I must adapt in these ever-changing times. Like most company leaders with school-age children, I’m trying to keep my head above water at work, supporting my staff and helming a virtual team, while acclimating and navigating my son’s virtual learning. I know my family is depending on me to keep it all running smoothly, just like my colleagues and direct reports.

Positive affirmations to both yourself, your family and your direct reports can go a long way.

Featured Resource: Leadercast 2020—Ripple Effect

New call-to-action Since we did virtual learning the first go-around in the spring, I have learned some tricks and tips to apply this time as my son goes into first grade. Here, some advice that works both for running a virtual team, as well as navigating virtual learning with your kids.

1. Get on a schedule and communicate it, but remain flexible. 

We are in our seats ready to start school at 7:55 a.m. This way there’s no mad-dash to the computer or wishy-washy ideas on when the day begins. 

The same should apply to your virtual team. Know when your team is starting work, what special considerations they may have if they need to start later or earlier for virtual learning/hybrid education with their own families. Structure is key. Know what time everyone is signing off most days, so that if any last-minute projects need to be moved to later in the day or the following day, you’ll be ready. Communicate more than normal on Slack, Google Chat or whatever communication software you use. Consider investing in project-management software like Pivotal Tracker, Scoro, YouTrack,, Asana or others. People feel connected and it keeps communication flowing. 

Our teacher is using Google Classroom, Google Meet, Zoom, and a host of virtual learning and tracking tools to keep our kiddo on track. But be flexible. Sometimes Wi-Fi drops the virtual classroom, and you have to make up the work at some other time. The same goes with your virtual office. Keep calm and positive when the unexpected happens or technological issues throw you off your schedule and everyone will follow your lead. 

2. Delegate where you’re able.

When you’re leading a virtual team, knowing what everyone’s workload looks like can be difficult. Check in every day, or every other day, to see where your team members are at and if you need to take something off their plates or if they can take on more

The same applies to virtual learning. Knowing what we know now after the spring semester, my husband and I brought in reinforcements this time around. We have my dad who is retired come and sit with my son for a few hours a day to keep him focused. We’re working in shifts and splitting up hour or two-hour blocks. For those kids with longer school days, think about breaking up the monitoring/help with other family members, or facilitators if you’re in a pod. 

For you and your colleagues, be ready to pass or delegate items you once would have been able to complete on your own. Your team members are looking for instruction, so it’s OK to map out what you need from them. 

3. Give yourself and your employees some grace. 

A fellow mom, who is a global brand director for a hotel chain, said to me at the park, “I’m not hitting many three-pointers these days at work.” I feel the same way. I have been an outstanding, overachieving employee for my entire career. But right now, I’m absorbing other jobs for those that have been laid off or furloughed, while handling my own workload and getting interrupted by kids constantly. It all means the work day is a bit longer than usual and you have to double-check everything you and your team does to make sure there are no mistakes. Give yourself a break. Give your team some grace. You’ll hit three-pointers again soon. Talk to your boss about the realities of the situation. Be super honest. Set expectations. There is a global pandemic, recession and market disruption happening all at once, so we have to go easy on ourselves and others.

4. Take time away from your desk. 

I tell my team to take breaks and often. Self-care is paramount right now. These are unprecedented times for anyone who wasn’t alive during the 1918 Spanish Flu. I find myself nervous my boss and my team will think I’m not working as hard if I’m away from my computer getting a snack for a minute or out for a 10-minute walk around the block to get some fresh air when someone calls an emergency Zoom meeting. In the office, we would expect people to take snack breaks and walks, so we can be understanding that they need to do the same things while working from home. 

Kids need brain breaks, too. Sometimes I have my son take off his shoes and walk barefoot in our backyard for a few minutes. Our family also tries to end each day (unless it’s raining) with a walk outside so we can have a hard break between the work day and family time. Otherwise, it can all blend together. 

5. Be strong like a bull.

Remember, you’ve got this. I repeat the mantra, “We can do hard things,” not only to my husband and kids, but to my team members, too. We are resilient. Many of us are doing this quarantining, virtual learning and #wfhlife for our fellow human beings and to make sure our kids are safe. In a sense, it’s noble and a great calling. 

Positive affirmations to both yourself, your family and your direct reports can go a long way. Kids and team members alike are looking to parents/workplace leaders for guidance on how to feel. If you’re saying it’s all going to be OK, they will believe it too. Sometimes it's better to be a bull than a frog. 

Stephanie Davis Smith

Stephanie Davis Smith is a multi-media and marketing maven who strategically guides product direction, content curation and brand overhauls to accelerate business growth. Currently, she's the VP of Content and Marketing at Connect Meetings. Prior to this position, she was the VP of Editorial for Modern Luxury Media and has worked at some of the best media companies in the world including Cox Communications and Conde Nast. Over the course of her 20 years in media, Smith has had an undeniable track record as an instrumental influence in helping companies shift with the times. She's a creative, results-producing, senior level communicator with experience as a social media pro, pioneering editorial director, voracious writer, public speaker and online community cultivator.

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