3 Ways To Make Sure Your School Operations are Ready For Next Semester

Anything could happen in the upcoming school year.

Last year, the only constant seemed to be change. Learning models were fluid, with a mix of remote learning, in-person, and a hybrid of the two. College and university administrators had to adjust and adapt quickly, changing how they taught and learned.

It wasn’t easy, but everyone started realizing that the future “normal” was going to be something new. Operating under these conditions was tough, and continues to be so. No one really knows what the near-term and long-term operational state will be. 

That’s because there are a lot of external forces at work. 

They could change at any moment and affect how you will be able to operate, leaving you with a lot of unknowns to account for at any given time. Success in the coming year depends on operational agility.

So how can you make your institution more agile? How do you embrace and even thrive in this landscape?

There are three key areas that can help you be ready for anything.

1. Create and communicate your contingency plans

What if huge numbers of staff call in sick? Or the computer network goes down and you’re in the midst of distance learning? Maybe new regulations require you to limit class size but still provide access and a great education for your students? What if COVID-19 clearances are necessary but you don’t know how you’ll manage them?

Without a plan, all you have is happenstance and chaos. You open yourself up to risks because you’re making it up as you go along.

You need to put a contingency plan into place to deal with all possible scenarios. While it’s true you can’t perfectly predict the unknown, you can use what happened last year during the pandemic, as well as observe patterns that are the common structure between otherwise different scenarios. 

Once you do that, you can create plans based on:

  1. What is known. These are things that have already happened and that you’ve gotten experience in how they should be dealt with. 
  2. What is likely. These are things that haven’t happened, but seem very possible based on historical patterns and other indicators. You may also learn from others who have dealt with situations you haven’t yet.
  3. What is unknown. Your team might brainstorm plausible scenarios to include in a plan just to have something in place. The unlikely can become the likely in a very short time, as we’ve all learned last year.

You can approach building a contingency plan by identifying key risks or concerns, and then breaking those down into more detail. That helps you get an idea of what your plan should cover, with the details making it more clear how to manage the larger scenario. 

After that, you’ll want to prioritize those things that could have the most impact on operations. Some parts of the plan will be more urgent than others, depending upon that impact.

The end goal is to create operational plans that you can turn to when the ground shifts, no matter what direction that might end up being. There should be a plan for every area of operation, from top level on down. At some point, all operations will feel the impact, whether directly or through a ripple effect.

Contingency plans give you confidence and minimize the impact that sudden changes have on your institution, but if you don’t communicate them, it’s as if you didn’t have them in the first place. 

That’s why you have to think of contingency plan development in two stages, the second of which is to communicate it to staff, ensuring those communications are: 

  • Understandable. Too much detail or jargon make things difficult to understand and easy to skim and ignore. While administration or other officials may need a lot of detail, not everyone further down the chain will. The best contingency plan is one that is communicated clearly and succinctly.
  • Accessible. Information about the contingency plan has to be easily accessed. Digital bulletin boards and classrooms, staff and student email, or on the campus internal network are plausible. Choose locations that are easily accessed.
  • Applicable. Your staff and students don’t necessarily need to know every part of a contingency plan. They only need to know what applies to them. Over-communication can cause people to tune out and miss crucial details.

Poor communication with your team comes at a cost. Simply letting everyone know you have contingency plans in place is, in itself, reassuring to everyone. There’s less anxiety among your team when they know there’s a plan to rely on if things get upended.

2. Focus on employee engagement and flexibility

Agile organizations are made so by employees who are engaged.

It’s no secret that employee engagement is directly tied to focus and productivity, but it’s also part of being agile. 

This past year has certainly forced people to be flexible in how they do their job, but as you start bringing back employees after COVID-19, there are bound to be some challenges. Disengaged employees aren’t connected; they’re not moving in the same direction. They are going to struggle and even push against how you’re trying to adapt. 

Engagement matters because it’s an indicator that employees see themselves as part of a team where they play a key role in team success. This past year has probably seen your team become more disengaged simply by being absent, whether they meant to be or not.

Disengaged employees might be unwilling or unable to change. Change is hard, and not everyone is able to adapt as easily as others. Or, there might be stressors prohibiting them from going all in with the program. Right now some employees are anxious about returning for a variety of reasons. They might feel like they’ve hit their limits of change and only want to surround themselves with familiarity.

That’s a problem for agility.

No matter how great your contingency plan is, you have to have everyone on board for it to work, especially in the times where it’s activated and calls for doing things a different way.

The first step to re-engagement is communication with all employee types (e.g. full-time, part-time, work study, contract, etc.). No one slips through the cracks; you must communicate with them all, and clearly.

You must also be willing to accept that the kind of work and distance flexibility that was required last year is here to stay in some form. Employees and students have adapted to it, and even thrived. It’s not going away, and it’s part of the new normal. Get creative and find ways to keep the kind of flexibility that was required last year to be integrated going forward.

It’s a bit of a self-feeding circle: engaged employees are more willing to adapt to change, while offering increased employee-centric flexibility will create more engaged employees.

3. Use flexible scheduling for quick adjustments

Shifts in demand call for shifts in strategy.

This truth ties directly into your employee schedule which also happens to be one of the best ways to offer your employees flexibility. Nearly everyone got a taste of what real work-life balance looks like this past year. Going back to a rigid and compartmentalized schedule isn’t an option for many who like what they now know. 

That means returning to your old scheduling mechanism isn’t an option for you, either. 

Flexible scheduling with When I Work checks all the right boxes when it comes to building a contingency plan that is able to respond to every situation, as well as giving your employees the flexibility necessary to keep them engaged.

Flexible scheduling is one of the few ways that let you adjust staffing models for whatever comes along. Whether you’re operating with remote learning, on campus and in-person, or somewhere in between, flexible scheduling naturally allows you to adjust.

Employee scheduling has traditionally been notorious as time consuming and a bit chiseled in stone. Managers hate it, and employees grumble about it. When I Work fixes that with flexible scheduling software that allows you to:

  • Adjust staffing numbers, adding or reassigning them quickly within the system.
  • Define shifts according to what your operations plan currently calls for. When the plan changes, so does how you define or lay out the shifts.
  • Give your employees some control over what shifts they’ll take. After setting parameters, you can open up shifts and allow them the ability to choose.
  • Put communication in employee hands so they can talk to each other when it comes to swapping shifts that fit within the parameters. You’re no longer the middleman.

Flexible scheduling is a win for everyone, and it’s a key component in staying agile in a constantly changing landscape. You can’t control those external forces, but you can inject flexibility into your response.

Agility in outcome requires agility in how you think.

Understanding that employee engagement is tightly woven with flexibility is the first right thing to be thinking. As your labor scheduling pace changes rapidly, your institution can keep up.

We don’t know what the “new normal” will look like, but with tools like When I Work, you’ll be ready. From staffing adjustment to making sure skills and certifications (including COVID-19 clearances) are in place, we’ve made a complicated future much easier.

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