This pandemic has taught us that our SCORE team has a penchant for rescuing animals and plants, is obsessed with Costco, finds joy in gardening, hiking, reading, and cooking, and loves a good dance party. We light up when junior team members (a.k.a. kids and fur babies) make surprise appearances at virtual meetings. And while the quarantined kids have entertained us with exercise moves and grand make-believe travel plans, they have also served as shining examples of why we do what we do: advocate for students.

Beneath it all, our team is united around five core values representing the shared beliefs that are fundamental to our organization and inform how we work both internally and externally. At an October team retreat, we reflected on our core values and refined them to be truer to who we are today and who we want to be moving forward. We are now channeling these words into action to guide our day-to-day decision-making and our response to changing circumstances around COVID-19.

Virtual Offices: Same Ocean, Different Boats

In mid-March, we encouraged team members to work from home and our office building closed. For some, this was an easy pivot. Others, newer to remote work, met testing new virtual tools and makeshift home offices with optimism. Carving out space in homes bustling with children, pets, and other family members was a challenge for some, while those living alone sought out family in neighboring states. Everyone is experiencing this pandemic differently, so we are embracing this newly scattered team by offering flexible work hours, equipment and services reimbursements, and optional virtual gatherings for team members to find community when they wish to drop in.

When In Doubt: Communicate

We hold ourselves to a high standard of excellence and challenge each other to think critically and strive for more. At the same time, we acknowledge the need for self-care during a crisis. To maintain our student focus, we recognized that we had to prioritize health and well-being in order to continue being present for students, schools, districts, partners, policymakers, and other advocates. Team communications became:

  • Frequent: In a crisis, gaps in communication provide space for people to fill in the blanks. Even when we have nothing “new” to say, we make sure we stay in touch as a group and 1:1.
  • Humble: We prioritize getting information out over having all the answers. We are learning through this crisis together, and we are not afraid of sometimes having more questions than answers.
  • Honest: We call out what is working as much as the personal and professional challenges we are facing. We have regular, open conversations about the shifting environment and create space for group reflection. But we focus on solutions, neither dwelling on uncertainty and challenges nor pretending they do not exist.
  • Two-Way: Team communication is sent top-down from our president & CEO so that everyone is working from the same information. To inform those communications, however, we opened multiple channels for team members to offer feedback and ask questions. This ongoing dialogue ensures we’re meeting the needs of our team and allows us to fix what isn’t working.

Moving Forward: Collaboration + Innovation

As a team, we do our best work when we focus on collaboration and build connections between different roles and diverse perspectives. In this moment, when our old ways of working may not directly translate to virtual space and the “new normal” is just beginning to emerge, we have an obligation to experiment. Some experiments did not work for us, and others have brought exciting innovation that serves us now and will likely improve how we work when our office reopens. What are we learning?

  • Virtual meetings can be as — or more — effective as in-person gatherings. Keys to success: planning, clear norms, and intentional efforts to coax people to “unmute” and join the conversation. (Or to “mute,” when appropriate).
  • “Surprise” moments brighten our days. Examples: virtual birthday cards, choreographed virtual backgrounds and signs, bi-weekly team newsletters, and small care packages.
  • We have grown confidence in ourselves and our team to speak up when we need something and know that someone will meet that vulnerability with compassion.

While our revised core values no longer include “courage,” we find that courage is even more present now; it is at the root of each of our values and in how we are managing, together, in this new world.

Abby Goldenthal is SCORE’s director of operations.