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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

May 12, 2020

Remote Work-Just Trying to Figure It Out!

Submitted by Trudy Rice

This week we are featuring a success story from K-State Research and Extension Sedgwick County Director, Jennifer Brantley. I had some of Jennifer’s staff share with me how caring she has been during the last two months so I invited her to let us all in on the secret! Jennifer shared that on most days she feels like she is “just trying to figure it out” but has graciously agreed to share some things she has done that we can all learn from.

• Open door policy. When I first started as Director last year, I wanted to make sure that the staff understood that I still have an open door policy. Now it is in the form of a phone call or zoom meeting. Nonetheless, I encourage staff to call, email, or text if they have questions or need to chat. It is always my goal to get back with them before the end of the day.

• Weekly staff meetings. Lately, our meetings have been about 2 hours in length. We start by sharing what each person is doing for the week, and lately I have added a personal question for everyone to answer. I have found that it helps to personalize the interaction, even though we are not in the same room. I have asked questions such as “what is a movie or TV show you have watch recently that you would recommend?” or “what is something you would like to do in the next year that you haven’t done before?” This idea was introduced recently at a Local Unit Director training, and I feel that it is helpful to engage every staff member, learn something about them, and perhaps have a take-a-way for yourself. For example, I appreciated learning what shows others enjoyed recently as we were looking for ideas at our house. This goal of mutual respect has been important to me throughout my career – even as an 8th grade science teacher. That is what I strive for each day – it is important to me.

• Weekly staff reports. I took the idea from my metro county colleagues to have staff do a weekly report. They answer three questions: Goals or planned actions for the upcoming week, Progress on goals or planned actions for the last week, Questions, concerns, or challenges you are currently facing. I think that it is important that we all take time to evaluate what we are doing, and to have the opportunity to communicate any challenges. I have been able to address questions and concerns when my direct reports turn this in to me. It is another opportunity for us to stay in touch.

• Agent one-on-one meetings. We did this each month before the stay-at-home order. I cancelled these during March and April to give us time to figure out our new processes, but I plan to ramp this back up again in May. I find that the personal time with agents is the opportunity to learn more about their programs and plans, but to also develop a camaraderie that is essential in successful work relationships.

• Authenticity. I believe that staff wants to hear the truth, good or bad, and to have a leader who is genuine. I don’t try to be someone I am not. At times, I am goofy or say the wrong thing, other times I may be brilliant and have good ideas. I own it all. I want the people I work with to understand that we are all human, and we are all a team. As long as we are all working towards the common goal of being the best Extension team we can be, I will support them any way I can. I have found that two of my signature statements are “there is so much opportunity…” meaning the sky is the limit, and change can occur. Which then leads to “will anyone die?” I use this to keep people grounded. Change is scary, our work is important; but really, if no one dies – it may be worth the risk to get to greatness. ????

At the end of the day, I think that it boils down to the fact that I enjoy working with my coworkers and I like to be around them however that can be accomplished.

Thanks Jennifer for sharing. Please feel free to send to trice@ksu.edu, your “Best Practices” so they can also be shared. We want to highlight success stories from all forms and sizes of local, regional, or state units!