In the last few weeks we have seen a huge shift to home working and use of online technology to connect with others and carry out core business in social care. Where we previously sat side-by-side in the same room for one-to-one supervision, we are now more likely to be talking to each other on a computer screen or speaking on the phone.
Whilst remote supervision can seem daunting at first, it is important to remember that effective supervision is relational, emotionally literate, reflective and curious regardless of whether you connect virtually or in person. This blog offers some guidance about issues to consider as you start to supervise remotely inspired by the work of the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP).
Give yourself space to mentally prepare to be in the zone for supervision
In stressful circumstances we can understandably become focused on the challenges we are facing and what work needs to be done. This can distract our attention away from ensuring that supervision provides a containing space for supervisees to process their own responses to how coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing what they do at work.
When talking with practice supervisors on the PSDP, we often use the metaphor of the gearstick to help us think about how we can move from fourth gear (working at top speed to get things done) to first gear (where we can listen and attend in supervision).
For this reason we suggest that you make sure to give yourself a little time before supervision to reflect on how you are feeling, and what thoughts or work you need to temporarily put aside to move to a calmer, more attentive stage of mind. Perhaps where you can focus on the needs of the other person (as well as the tasks you need to achieve).
Ring-fence time at the start to talk about the process of connecting remotely for supervision
As you start the supervision discussion it is important to highlight some of the challenges of supervising remotely. Given that many people are working at home around family members, home schooling, pets and deliveries – it is important to acknowledge that there may be interruptions.
We recommend that you share expectations and agree ground rules about what it is realistic to achieve in remote supervision and how much this impacts on the ability to speak freely.
If you are connecting by phone it is helpful to acknowledge that you are not able to pick up visual cues about how they are feeling in the same way as you would in a face-to-face discussion and talk with your supervisee about how you can address this.
If you are connecting via an online platform you should talk through how to use this with your supervisee. For example, explain how to turn the camera and microphone on and off and how to navigate around the platform you are using. There are little tips too like turning off your camera if the internet signal is poor and affecting the sound quality which it is important to share. Another recent Research in Practice blog offers top tips for getting started with video conferencing.
Pay attention to checking in
COVID-19 affects us all in many different ways- both personally and professionally. Take the time to highlight this upfront. You might want to use different check in methods in these circumstances to try and circumvent the tendency to ask ‘how are you?’ and get the reply ‘I am fine’.
You could use a free resource like the Blob Tree to prompt initial discussion about how your supervisee is feeling. If connecting online you could use the screen share function to look at or email them the link if connecting by phone.
Alternatively, you could ask your supervisee to imagine having a pot of felt tips in front of them. What colour pen would they choose and why? Structuring a discussion slightly differently offers the opportunity to have a more meaningful follow-up discussion when checking in. We commonly use check in activities like this on PSDP.
Make time to talk about carrying on working during a global pandemic (and put this high on the agenda)
You play a key role in modelling emotional awareness and in acknowledging the huge challenges that dealing with COVID-19 brings for everyone in the organisation. It is absolutely right to praise workers for the way they respond in a time of crisis. However, it is equally important to acknowledge specifically what is difficult.
Make time to ask in online supervision about what has been working well (in spite of everything) but also ask what is not working well or is worrying? Thoughts, feelings anxieties and fears that colleagues may have at this time should be acknowledged and discussed.
Using tools can be helpful to promote discussion about working in challenging circumstances. These resources on the PSDP Resources and Tools for Practice Supervisors open access website are useful for this regardless of whether you are meeting face-to-face or remotely:
Difficulties that can arise if we expect to have the same degree of productivity as we deal with COVID-19 are now being acknowledged. Our ability to give attention and focus on work can be diminished as a result. Discussing this blog with your supervisees might be helpful.
Pay attention to checking out
Remember that your supervisee may need more guidance, support or direction than is the case normally in the context of COVID-19. As you draw to a close, pay more attention to reviewing your discussion and clarifying that decisions or actions you have discussed are clear. It can be helpful to plan together what the next priority actions are and talk through daily or weekly priorities.
Before you complete your discussion return to relational principles. Seek feedback, share your experience of supervising online. Reflect on what worked well and give permission to talk about what did not (including any idea about how you can address or live with these next time).
Make sure that you have your own space to de-brief and get support
On the PSDP we often ask the question ‘who contains the container?’, which prompts practice supervisors to think about their own support needs given their role in providing containing, emotionally literate supervision. Please remember that as you continue to supervise staff during COVID-19 you also need reflective, relational supervision from your own line manager and support from peers. We would encourage you to ask for what you need within your own organisation.
The PSDP Resources and Tools for Practice Supervisors open access website contains over 100 resources to support practice supervision in children’s social care. These are open access to use and share and were developed to support children’s social care, but are relevant to practice supervisors in a range of settings.