Jul 27 2021-07 Business Administration Faculty

How to apply online teaching insights to the emerging hybrid workplace

As the world struggles with whether – or how – to shift to a hybrid workplace, we asked Gies College of Business Professor Fataneh Taghaboni-Dutta to share her advice on how to make the most out of online engagement and collaboration. The clinical professor of business administration has experience teaching on-line and on-campus one of Gies’ toughest courses – statistics. She is one the most popular faculty members in the College’s innovative iMBA program, which reaches 3800 students from nearly 80 countries. She focuses her research on integration of technology with management and on process improvement.

Q. A PwC US Remote Work Survey finds 47% of executives think you can maintain a company culture with three or four days a week in the office. How can they apply successful online learning practices to a hybrid workplace?

Acknowledge this shift isn’t going to be easy, focus on the benefits, and find common ground. I teach statistics, and students immediately put up more barriers than they might for other classes because they’re sure it’s going to be hard. I acknowledge that and don’t minimize their feelings. Instead, I focus on the benefits of learning to do a hard thing well and remind them that doing so will require patience. Once they see the power of what they can accomplish together with a hybrid work environment, they’ll work harder to overcome barriers and become more confident.

Q. How do you best share information online and ‘read the temperature’ of a hybrid room?

When I began teaching online courses, I had to rethink space and time. When everyone’s in the same room you can read body language and I could easily change things up if people looked lost. When you’re running a meeting with an online component, it’s important to make everything concise. Every point should add value to the discussion. Also, don’t shy away from explaining the obvious. What you assume is obvious, might not be so to everyone in the room and on the online platform.

Try to always break things into smaller chunks – micro-content interspersed with silent activities and group work – to keep everyone’s interest and attention. For larger projects, build activities that encourage people to co-create with peer review. As a leader, interact with each group as they work.

Also, encourage people to use the live chat room that’s running alongside your primary content and identify someone to monitor it and facilitate discussion. You’d be surprised how many people are open to share an idea there instead of speaking up in a crowded Zoom room.

Q. What’s the best way to kick off and run a collaborative assignment with online participants?

Start by helping the group find relevant common ground. Instead of focusing on something like what’s the weather where they are, I start with statistics that analyze delays at O’Hare airport and how weather affects them. Kick things off by giving everyone something real, relevant, and applicable to the assignment to connect to.

Then create small breakout groups. You’ll eliminate wasted time and that awkward dance that people do when trying to find their place in a new group. We’ve found group work online creates strong team bonds in amazingly short periods of time.

Q. How do you create one-on-one personal connections remotely?

Think about applying the concept of office hours. Set time aside when someone can ask or share something outside of a formal setting. Few showed up to my on-campus office hours, but dozens visit me online. They are much less intimidated to ask a question or share an idea in a more intimate format. It also gives you a way to address someone who has a good question in a larger meeting, but it’s not one that’s relevant to 99% of the participants. 

Q. What would you say to a business executive who’s reticent to embrace a hybrid workplace?

Since launching the iMBA program five years ago, we’ve learned that an online environment creates a place not just for intellectual engagement but also human engagement, strikingly among students from around the world who may only have this class in common. We’ve embraced every technological advancement and work to continuously improve our offerings with incredibly successful results – a 97% satisfaction rating for overall program quality. Done well, a hybrid workplace can create a highly motivated and satisfied talent pool ready to move your business forward.