Author: Guest Blogger


About Guest Blogger

From time to time we have professors, students, staff, alumni, or friends who are not regular contributors, but want to share something with the community. Be sure to look at the bottom of the post to see the author.

Ben Dalton, MBA ’20, is an 11-year US Army veteran and lives with his wife and two children in Ballwin, Missouri. He taught leadership psychology at the US Military Academy.

Ben Dalton, MBA ’20

In the rush to separate because of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams were not prepared to be apart for this long. Co-workers are immersed in their home life more than ever before and have to act like a team at home rather than the touch-and-go points through calls, Zooms meetings, emails, etc.

With the new normal that has lasted more than a few weeks (and as long as two months for some), your work team has established new norms and practices that are either universally accepted or adequate for now until the business and team get back to steady state. When the moment arrives to return to a new normalcy, old norms and new norms must be reconciled. The time to plan team reintegration is now.

I lay out five topics to think about as teams reintegrate. Those areas of focus include: maintaining digital systems, setting clear expectations, planning gatherings for smaller teams, providing mental and physical support, and updating work-from-home plans and policies.

I first heard the term “reintegration” when I was preparing for return from my first deployment.

I was told I would be spending the first 10 days in Colorado Springs, Colorado, upon returning from Iraq—a scheduled plan 4,000-plus soldiers would also follow. The plan involved some time off, some classes to talk about the rules back at home, couples’ classes for those with significant others and medical screening.

The Army protected its human capital by investing in opportunities to transition from deployment to home-state operations. Rather than soldiers paying for their own therapy or classes upon return, the Army spent money to build this reintegration plan and provide additional resources to soldiers (behavioral health clinical support and new equipment).

Similarly, the return to school during a normal year when students return from winter break or summer vacation can create similar problems. When I was a student teacher in college, my first-graders hated coming in from recess. But there was a plan to redirect their attention.

Reintegrating a team into a new normal allows you to protect your human capital. How much focus each of these five topics requires depends on how a team operated or practiced their team norms.  

Maintain digital systems

My neighbors are spread across a few industries. They have set up workspace in their homes in order to get work done now—with a few kids running around. Not everyone is coming back to the office on the same day. Teams using digital platforms or conference call numbers should continue to do so for some time. Adding the Zoom link or the conference number, even when just one team member is not yet back in the office, will allay any fear of being the odd person out.

A Gartner survey sampling CFOs found that more than 70% intend to have some employees permanently work from home post COVID-19. Individuals who stay remote will look for assurance that they are still fully integrated with the team.  

Set clear expectations

Employees have been dealing with many different scenarios in their remote workplaces. The team leader will be responsible for ensuring the team gets back to producing at pre-COVID-19 levels.

Setting clear expectations early and often will open up the conversation.

One approach: Take stock of where the team member is starting. Ask about their remote setting. What detracted from or enhanced their focus and work effort? Then, adjust and align their priorities with team goals.

A few of these conversations may need to happen due to changing strategy or operations within the overall company. This is also a good time to align a teammate’s roles and responsibilities with the company and the team. Do they make sense? Is the teammate doing a different job than they were hired for? To set them up for success, make changes now, while a teammate is in transition. I advocate matching roles and responsibilities to what the teammate is actually doing, not returning to the original roles and responsibilities.

Plan gatherings for smaller teams

As teams come back together, they will want to celebrate. After my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, my unit always threw a big party a few weeks after everyone returned to celebrate being home—among other things. Given the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and limitations on groups of more than 10, a big party may not be possible.

Regardless, most are looking forward to seeing someone other than their family. The plan can be simple. Be sure to include team members only, get input on the details from the team, communicate the plan to outside groups and incorporate time for people to share (if they want). Host this gathering near or at work to get the group back to a team again.

Imagine seven or eight people coming back from a six-week “vacation.” To get the team involved in the gathering, ask where they ate or wished they had while they were at home. If a team supports others within the organization, communicate to stakeholders when no one will be available.

It is important for all team members to join and not have one person stuck at an on-call station.

A teammate may want to share some of the things that occurred that didn’t make it to a Zoom happy hour or email chain. While these opportunities should not be forced, make sure all teammates have the ability to share if they want to. Just remember all teammates might not return to work at the physical office, ensure the timing of the event allows for all teammates to join in the gathering.

Provide mental/physical support

Students at Washington University in St. Louis receive weekly emails with the resources for mental, physical or emotional well-being. Many of these resources existed before the global pandemic, some are new, and all are accessible wherever a student resides. Some individuals will not be severely affected by COVID-19. Others may be devasted by the loss of family members. This range may continue as individuals return to a common workplace. Team leaders should keep the individual reaction in mind when planning for resources.

Leaders might allow some to work from home more frequently to slowly transition back into the office. If a teammate needs more time because they are uncomfortable with the situation they are in, work a plan to ensure the teammate can get their work done and feel supported. Restate the available resources—not just through email—to ensure people who need help will see it.

Update work-from-home policies

In the Army, after an event is completed, troops conduct an after-action review to determine what went well and what can be improved. Chances are teams and businesses are updating as they go and establishing new rules over time. If work-from-home becomes necessary again, a plan could already be established based on this experience. It may be time to update policies that did not work for remote work or to allow more of employees to work remotely.

As the team leader, solicit feedback from the team or one-on-one: What good came out of the team? What needed improvement? Focus on team improvement, not individuals. Assign teams to design fixes or solutions to the problems and report back. Share best practices with the organization and senior leadership. Publish policy updates to ensure teammates are on the same page.

While these are some ways to start thinking about team reintegration, a team leader should know their team best and decide how to prepare for the comeback.

The classmates of Brinda Gupta, MBA ’20, chose her to deliver the student speech at their graduation recognition ceremony this year. This is the speech she delivered.

Thank you to all family and friends watching this in support of our graduating class today. And thank you to the university and school administration, faculty, and staff who have tirelessly worked to make the Olin experience truly incredible and transformative for us.

Although this is not how any of us expected our program to end, our gratitude for all of you is so steadfast—during such chaotic and unprecedented times, one thing that has truly remained constant is the support and love you have provided to our class and to the greater Olin community.

And personally, a special thank you to my parents and sister, and those who made St. Louis feel like home to me: the Reichold, Weiss and Harkins families.

Most importantly though today, thank you to my fellow classmates for an unforgettable two years. I feel so deeply humbled and honored to represent our class today. I can’t believe how fast this all flew by! Congratulations!

Back to the beginning

Let’s go back to the fall of 2018. We’d just started the program. We were still figuring out how to best work with our core teams, or determining the effort needed to “high pass” a class (and honestly, determining whether that effort was even worth it).

It was a little messy and awkward—but I expected things in the classroom to feel that way in the beginning. What I didn’t expect is how we’d all come together to stretch new muscles outside of the classroom—and how that would transform our experience as a community of learners.

The fall of 2018, this time of awkwardness and insecurity, coincided with one of my favorite times of year and a tradition which I grew up with: the Indian holiday of Diwali.

I was so ecstatic to see how wonderfully WashU embraces this unique holiday—from Dean Taylor dressing in full Indian attire to our administration fully supporting the Olin India Club leadership to host a Diwali event on campus.

This high-energy, on-campus event allows the WashU community to learn more about the Indian culture… through dancing! In a time when we barely knew each other and had so much school work, our class came together to learn Indian dance—something entirely new.

Learning to dance—together

We did not know each other, and we were a uniquely diverse group: Our entire class includes students from countries all over the globe, parents, veterans, nearly 1/2 women and so much more.

This was shown during Diwali: People who signed up to perform were actually unfamiliar with the Indian culture. And, I don’t think my classmates knew what they were signing up for!

We were going to be in full costume and learning choreography that includes a blend of both powerful and graceful steps, jumping with each other in unison and choreographed gestures. 

We would transform our classrooms into practice dance studios by pushing tables against the walls, following the lead of choreographers and trusting each other. Our practices were messy: accidentally hitting or pushing each other, forgetting steps, having people come in and out at different times because of our busy schedules…

We couldn’t figure out how to control a classroom’s temperatures, so there were times when we would just run outside in the middle of practices (even in the pouring rain) for a breath fresh air. We only could practice in the real stage and auditorium once.

But the final show day—a sold-out event, bright lights, music, excellent food, made it all worth it. It didn’t matter how perfect we were on stage. What mattered was that we made it there. 

Not unique

These expansive experiences showed me how people stepped out of routine and out of their comfort zones. It showed me how sharp, funny, and beautiful our class is when are together. And this wasn’t just when we were performing for Diwali.

Our entire class is so nimble and willing to absorb new experiences. One of my best friends Lael led a consulting team all the way in Madagascar.  Students self-designed courses in Scandinavia, South Korea, and Japan. People who worked in the corporate sector their entire life stepped up to help local nonprofits in need.

And, more recently, we managed to rush from our beds to the couch in the morning to get to class in record speeds. These meaningful experiences paired with our classroom learning set the tone for the rest of my MBA experience. 

I am so proud and privileged to be part of the Class of 2020. We are now entering a world that looks much more different from when we entered the program. But I can’t imagine a more resilient class to take on this challenge.

Similar to our Diwali dance practices, it’s the time for us to make space for generosity and nimbleness as we navigate a new world. While we are starting different roles spanning from nonprofit management to overseeing global supply chains, we will all have such a great impact on leaving the world a better place.

The world is calling us now to jump on stage again.

And I’m so excited to see everyone’s path, your own dance routine and continue learning from each and every one of you. 

Thank you. 

The classmates of Lexi Jackson, BSBA ’20, chose her to deliver the student speech at their graduation recognition ceremony this year. This is the speech she delivered.

To the Olin Business School Class of 2020, I am honored to be addressing you today from my small Missouri hometown to the corners of the universe you all call your home.

For those that may not know me, my name is Lexi Jackson, I am a double major in organization and strategic management and political science, and I feel just the way I am sure all of you feel right now: reflective. We are reflecting on our past four years and the abrupt end that we could have never expected.

We are contemplating our future plans and how they may have dramatically changed within the past few weeks.

Most of all, however, we are considering how our time at the Olin Business School has cultivated a new knowledge base, connected us to tomorrow’s leaders, and prepared us to enter this world that is more rapidly-changing than ever before.

Early memories from Olin

I remember my first day at the Olin Business School. I walked by the BSBA office only to be greeted by Dean LaRose and Dean Malter who both knew my name (even when I, admittedly, hadn’t yet learned theirs). I remember my sophomore year when Professor McLaughlin sat down with me in the Einstein Bagel’s atrium to learn about my passion for public service and non-profit work and to share some advice of his own.

I remember BSBA adviser Analisa Ortiz visiting our cohort in Chile while we were studying abroad our Junior Spring, sending her heartfelt condolences to learn about the passing of my father just a few weeks before. I remember walking around at the senior social just a few weeks before spring break, reconnecting with various former group project members, MGT 100 class members, and the people who had become to feel more like family members than peers.

These memories do not just happen at every business school. But Olin isn’t like any other business school. We are graduating from a business school that emphasizes ethical leadership above any profit-seeking motives. We are graduating from a business school that recognizes the global impact of our actions, and does not work to benefit one country alone.

We are graduating from a business school that inspires the entrepreneurial change maker in all of us—whether we are starting our own company or simply innovating an existing workplace from the inside out.

Succeeding in a post-COVID world

These are the skills we will need to succeed not only in the COVID and post-COVID worlds, but throughout our careers in the public and private sectors. As Olin graduates, we will be leaders in our companies and organizations—leaders that are not afraid to take calculated risks to produce change or to make the right decision no matter its impact on the bottom line. The type of leaders this world desperately needs.

So, class of 2020, as you watch this speech today and receive your diploma from a postal worker that you can only imagine to be Dean Taylor, I encourage you to continue the reflection that quarantine has naturally begun.

Reflect on the memories that Olin has brought you—the functional AND dysfunctional group settings, the sunsets through the Bauer Hall windows that cast a shadow on another problem set started a bit too late, the waves from professors, friends, and peers in the endless Simon hallways.

Reflect on the lessons Olin has taught you—the values-based, data-driven approach to learning and leadership that makes our community unlike any other.

And reflect on the role YOU will play in enacting change at every stage in your life and career. They say COVID-19 will make the history books, but so will we. Congratulations to the Olin Business School Class of 2020! Let’s go make history!

Part of a series about summer internships from Olin MBA ’20 students. Today we hear from Claudia Otis, who worked at Microsoft as a finance intern.

How did I prepare for my interview/land the internship?

I applied to the finance position at Microsoft through Prospanica’s job portal. Shortly after, I got an email saying that they wanted to interview me at the career fair.

I researched the company and the cultural change it was undergoing since Satya Nadella became CEO.

I prepared behavioral and technical questions. For example, the reasons why I wanted to work in tech and at Microsoft after working in investment banking.

After I passed the first round, Microsoft called me for the on-site interview. I prepared by doing mock interviews with my career coach at the WCC and with another classmate who was also going to the final interview.

Once the day of the final interview arrived, I just tried to be myself, relate to people and be confident about my preparation. I was so happy when I got the email saying I got the position!

How I am using what I have learned at Olin during my internship?

At Olin, I improved my networking skills, which helped me during my internship to interact with different teams and people, expanding my network within Microsoft.

Thanks to my class of Power and Politics with Peter Boumgarden, I was aware of the politics within the company. I was able to read the room and navigate conversations taking the lessons I learned from the course into account.

The CEL project I did over the spring taught me how to work on a broad end-to-end project and manage relationships with the team and main stakeholders.

How the internship is preparing me for my final year at business school?

Managing my own project at Microsoft has helped me develop the confidence to lead a CEL project in the fall semester. I also feel more comfortable with broad or ambiguous projects. The internship at Microsoft gave me the opportunity to interact with very talented people, interns and full-time employees, and make new connections I can leverage during my last year of the MBA.

Ashley Hardin, assistant professor of organizational behavior, wrote this for the Olin Blog. Her research interests include relationships at work and work-life boundaries.

Ashley Hardin

As areas of the country begin to relax and do away with stay-at-home orders, things will not snap back to normal for all employees and organizations. This may seem obvious, but it has huge ramifications for what employers can and should expect from employees during this time.

Some employees may continue to have childcare responsibilities. Some may have high-risk family members in their homes, or they themselves may have underlying health issues that put them in a high-risk category. It may be implausible for certain employees to return to work with the same routines as before the pandemic. Their working style and needs before the pandemic may no longer stand.

The best results are likely to come from treating each employee with care and compassion, rather than trying to enforce one uniform policy for all. For large organizations, one answer could be for leaders to empower lower-level managers to customize their own teams’ working habits.

Care and compassion pay dividends

We wrestle with productivity at this time. An overarching message could be that care and compassion must supersede productivity. Taking care of one’s self and loved ones may inhibit work progress. And that’s OK. Research shows that extending compassion to one’s employees has incredible benefits for individuals, relationships and organizations. Productivity may decrease in the short term, but making the time and space to take care of employees will have real long-term rewards for all. 

My main advice is to be flexible and offer different support to different team members, while trying not to make assumptions. It’s difficult to know what demands individuals are facing. They could have health issues, a partner who is a frontline responder, children in need of care, extended family members who are isolated.

Many workers are balancing many roles simultaneously for the first time. Given this blurring of personal and professional roles, managers should seek to grant more flexibility and open the door to sharing of circumstances. But they also should not demand to know all the details; that can seem invasive. When managers express care and concern and a desire to understand, their direct reports may choose to open up. With that information, managers can seek to be more accommodating. In these times, flexibility and adaptability will be critical in enabling team success.

These times are challenging. People are enacting their professional selves while working in their own personal spaces. The situation opens a window into individuals’ lives that they may or may not find comfortable. Research shows that learning about one another’s personal lives can help to humanize colleagues and foster more responsiveness to their needs. So these breaches of boundaries actually may strengthen teams in the new work reality. Reacting positively to learning new information or sharing information about oneself can help put someone at ease when the boundaries do blur.

An opportunity to adopt new routines

Routines that typically enable productivity no longer exist to rely upon. Newly remote workers or those continuing to be can take lessons from prior research investigating gig workers who are accustomed to working alone and setting their own agenda. Scholars Petriglieri, Ashford and Wrzesniewski found that cultivating connections to routines, places, people and a broader purpose are the most critical. Managers can assist their employees in doing this. 

In addition to the complexities of meeting the differing needs of employees, employers and individuals can use this shift as a time to mindfully adopt new routines. Fantastic innovations in work practices may have taken root during the period of staying at home. Through a practice known as appreciative inquiry — asking about what is going well — organizations can uncover new practices that they can rollout more broadly.

Perhaps some teams found new ways to build connections or new uses for work platforms that ease collaboration. Take advantage of this shift to shed old routines that were not working.

Similarly, organizations can inquire about what employees miss most about work patterns pre-pandemic. What practices should be retained and returned to? The invitation to open up and revamp the ways of working may lead to better organizational functioning in this new phase.