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Bita Gholamian

SFU Co-op Student
Health Sciences

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Remember, leadership isn’t always easy, and it will look a bit different for everyone. That said, everyone has unique strengths and capacities when it comes to leadership, so don’t be afraid to explore the unique leader in YOU!

Congratulations! You’ve landed your very first Co-op work term. You’re likely experiencing a frenzy of emotions: excitement, anticipation, and perhaps a bit of nervousness. But why? Well, your offer letter highlights exactly what you signed up for: a leadership role. 

At baseline, stepping into positions of leadership can be daunting and stressful. Given the added pressures imposed by COVID-19 and remote work, this stress is only exacerbated.

I completed my first Co-op term as a Team Lead with PIVOT. PIVOT is an urban research project across 27 Canadian cities, exploring youth voices amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to create a stronger post-pandemic response. PIVOT is a collaboration between the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for DialogueYouthful Cities, the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity, and funded by the Government of Canada.

My position as a Team Lead spanned 12 weeks, with 7 of those weeks spent directly onboarding, training, and leading an incredible team of 11. As such, I bring you 7 tips for remote facilitation amidst a global pandemic.

1. Be Present

While working remotely has its perks, some vital elements of working in-person are eliminated. One being the face-to-face interactions. As a lead, you want to make yourself as present as possible. This may be as simple as being the sole person with your camera on amidst a series of black squares while facilitating a Zoom workshop. Sure, there will be days where you don’t feel camera-ready and that’s okay. Other ways you can be present with your team are by:

  • Incorporating interactive check-in and check-out activities to start and end every workday.

  • Periodically checking on your team via direct message.

  • Making yourself available for one-on-ones.

There are numerous ways to be present with your team, so choose what works for you both.

2. Engage Your Team Members

Zoom fatigue is real. This is another barrier posed by remote work, especially in team settings where you and your team are required to be on for an upwards of 8 hours per workday. As the lead, consider incorporating virtual hands-on activities to engage your team throughout the day. Some examples are included here to guide your facilitation:

Interactive Check-In and Check-Outs

  • Whether it be a fun question or group activity, take the opportunity to engage with your team.

  • Alternatively, pass the torch to your team members to facilitate check-ins and check-outs once they are comfortable.

Dance Breaks

  • This is a short, sweet, and often awkward way to boost the group’s energy.

  • Just play some tunes and let the magic unravel!

Scavenger Hunts

  • This is a perfect activity to get team members moving.

  • Create a list of items that your team must find around their home and bring to their workspace as fast as possible.

  • Invite members to volunteer and share the story behind their items.

“Live” Games

  • Don’t hesitate to incorporate some fun from time to time.

  • There are numerous popular virtual games available, including Among Us and Skribbl.io.

  • However, I encourage you to try live games such as Charades, Forbidden Words, and Trivia, to name a few. Have fun with it!

3. Practice Empathy

While working on a large-scale project with numerous moving parts, there are bound to be hiccups. On top of these work-related mishaps, everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about, as noted by one of my team members. Although you are not expected to understand the details of these personal battles as a lead, you can navigate the circumstances and provide utmost support to your team. At the start of your collaborative work, ask each member what they require to feel supported and thrive. Each member’s needs will be unique. Whether it be an extended coffee break or group debriefs, your team members will appreciate it.

4. Ensure Your Team Members Are Heard

It can be easy to feel like you’re another Zoom participant amidst thousands of other participants across the nation. Therefore, assure your team members that their unique identities are valued, heard, and respected. Set the expectation for incorporating pronouns as part of Zoom names and the cruciality of respecting these pronouns. Moreover, refer to your team members by name whenever possible to amplify acknowledgment for their presence and contributions to the team. Lastly, ask your team what they require from you to thrive in the work setting via direct or anonymous feedback and apply this feedback to your work. Pronouns, names, and feedback are simple yet vital measures to ensure your team feels heard throughout their work. 

5. Create Safer Spaces

As a lead, it is your responsibility to facilitate discussions and activities toward creating safer spaces. Given the social inequities infesting our societies, safer spaces aim to bridge these gaps by making shared spaces as inclusive as possible. Aim for safer spaces as opposed to a safe space because ultimately, nurturing such spaces is an ongoing process rather than a finite goal to achieve. Some ways to collaborate on creating safer spaces are outlined here:

  • Leave communication venues open. This includes the Zoom chat function for group and private messages, the option to pass during check-ins and check-outs, and opportunities to provide anonymous feedback.

  • Collaborate on a Community Agreement to highlight expectations for respect. A Community Agreement is a set of guidelines established as a group at the start of a new project or endeavor. This agreement sets concrete expectations of what each team member requires to feel safe in their shared collaborative spaces, creating a culture of mindfulness and empathy.

  • Create mindfulness murals throughout the work period as reminders of expectations set out in the Community Agreement.

6. Keep Communication Clear and Consistent

Juggling numerous communication platforms and work-related tabs can be stressful while working remotely. To make this easier for yourself and your team, select one primary platform for exchanging work-related updates, schedules, and resources. Additionally, consider organizing a shared Google Drive to house all work-related content for the duration of the work period. As for keeping you all on track, create daily schedules with respective activity times, descriptions, and accompanying resource(s). Trust me; you and your team will benefit from clear and consistent communication. 

7. Recognize the Leadership Potential of Your Team

Just because you have been designated as the lead does not mean you must always bear this responsibility. Leadership is incredibly versatile. The last but surely not the least tip is to recognize the unique leadership qualities of your team members, and to nurture a space where they can put these into practice.

I had my team explore facilitation by opening the floor for team member led check-ins and check-outs starting our third week together. We then transitioned to team members co-facilitating full days for our final two weeks. Provide your team members with the tools for success and leave the rest to them. Remember, you’re a team, so use that to your advantage.

So, there you have it: my 7 tips for remote facilitation amidst a global pandemic. Remember, leadership isn’t always easy, and it will look a bit different for everyone. That said, everyone has unique strengths and capacities when it comes to leadership, so don’t be afraid to explore the unique leader in YOU! While doing so, do your best to be present, be engaged, exercise empathy, listen to your team members, create safer spaces, communicate clearly, and believe in your team’s leadership potential! After all, teamwork makes the dream work.

About the Author

Bita Gholamian

SFU Co-op Student
Health Sciences
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