There’s No Place Like Home

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There’s No Place Like Home

By Sherree Hyde
Sr. Optimization Executive

When I arrive on campus to help a college reimagine and redesign its processes, my first order of business is creating a judgement-free, safe space in which all participants feel comfortable discussing their professional successes and challenges. Over the years, I’ve mastered breaking the ice and establishing rapport through a mix of eye contact, listening, and a little humor (“I know your job title, but what do you really do?”)

Zoom forward to quarantine, which has put a computer screen and countless miles between me and the participants, making the art of connecting with people virtually impossible. Take, for example, the simple task of introductions. You can imagine how quickly this important first impression becomes a logistical nightmare on a Zoom call with 100 people or more. No longer can I move towards people as they tell me their names and explain their roles. Gone are the days of using subtle body language to show that I’m listening. That I care.

The early days of leading these virtual sessions were challenging, but I was determined not to let our physical distance stand in the way of our personal connection. I experimented with different techniques and refined my approach until I stumbled upon one that worked—movies! During one session, I asked participants to introduce themselves by using the chat panel to enter their name, job title, and years of service along with their favorite movie. Immediately, I felt the anxiety and tension ease as people shared not one but several of their favorite films—and offered cinematic insights to boot—with laughter and camaraderie setting a new tone.

This simple question did such an effective job breaking the ice that I was able to take it a step further and rib them about their preferences for horror, musicals, or rom coms—like the research analyst who startled me when she named Hocus Pocus as her favorite movie, an observation that gave the audience a laugh. To my delight, they ribbed me right back by responding to some of my process questions with famous movie references—like the associate registrar who described feeling as if he was trying to outrun tornadoes, like in Twister. Or the senior advising director who remarked that she would rather be Under the Tuscan Sun, far away from the challenges her college is dealing with. Or the staff member from the Veteran’s Resource Center who wanted to segment their data like the Karate Kid.

In addition to providing levity, these virtual engagements have also given us a small window into each other’s personal worlds—something we’d all miss out on if we were on campus. One participant had unique Native Indian family photos arranged behind him. Another had a gallery of amazing artwork. Someone else displayed hockey memorabilia. These mementos enable me to respectfully ask questions about their surroundings and personal interests, which are answered with pride and appreciation that I’ve taken notice of their space.

Despite my initial reservations, I’m convinced there’s no place like home for creating meaningful personal connections with clients. Now, if only we could click our heels to instantly improve their processes.

Thanks to Sherree and all our team members who go stay the distance to serve our clients! 

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