Vanderbilt University Learns a New Way of Working During COVID-19

Vanderbilt Unversity

Company: Private research university, founded in 1873 in Nashville, Tennessee



While nearly everyone was scrambling toward a more digital workplace at the onset of COVID-19, higher education institutions like Vanderbilt University also faced another challenge: The need for the most speedy, accurate communications to keep students, faculty, and staff up-to-date and safe.

While students were still on campus, the big push was for flyers and other printed materials that were light on information and directed students to the university’s website, which could be updated in a more agile way. Because the situation was evolving so rapidly, print pieces with too much detail would have been out of date as soon as they were printed. They were also time-consuming to distribute, with the creative team once spending four hours putting up the flyers to ensure that information was available to students as quickly as possible.

Once everyone was sent home to avoid spreading the virus, focus shifted from the flyers to some new digital alternatives:

  • The Spring issue of Vanderbilt Magazine pivoted to a COVID-19 Special Edition – with the content that was originally scheduled now being set aside for the Fall issue.
  • Other departments were also beginning to find solutions and alternatives for their upended plans. They needed new creative to support their own pivots – and the requests kept flooding in.
  • The importance of tone became clear, with everything needing to be carefully targeted to the audience and mindful of the current situation. As Michelle McMillen, Director of Creative Strategy, put it, “can’t pretend that it’s business as usual, because it’s not. Messaging just won’t hit the right chords if you don’t target it.”

The Solution

When the time came for the Vanderbilt team to move to more digital experiences and to working from home, the biggest issues were getting monitors home for employees and working together in a new way, since they hadn’t really worked remotely before. There were concerns about keeping collaboration and team camaraderie going from the necessary safe social distance. But the team had already been using Lytho and ready for what was next. “I spoke with our project managers and we all agreed, this was why we got it, so that we could be more agile and work in other places,” she said, adding that not having Lytho would have put them “in rough shape.”

The Outcome

One way Michelle found to help the team collaborate during remote work involved using Lytho’s Review + Approval function. Team members would upload something they were working on and the rest of the team would provide feedback. They coupled this with a Zoom call for real-time interaction. “We’re able to just feed off each other and get that creative energy that we get from being together,” Michelle said. The team also kept their spirits up with some fun projects, like making coloring pages that parents of kids at home from The Acorn School – an early childhood care and education program for the children of Vanderbilt faculty, staff, and students – could print out to keep their kids entertained. “It was a nice thing for our team to do, a small gesture to brighten somebody’s day.”

Vanderbilt by the numbers

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