COVID-19 Pandemic: Supervisors’ Guide to Managing Remote Workers

This document will evolve as circumstances change. This guide is designed to support supervisors in managing University of Pittsburgh employees who are working remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the latest COVID-19 resources and guidance from the University, visit the Public Safety and Emergency Management website. For resources and guidance from the Office of Human Resources, visit COVID-19 Resources for Faculty and Staff.

Some key items for supervisors to consider are:

How should I maintain communication with my employees?

  • Establish a clear plan for communicating with each member of your team.
    • Determine the best mode. (Phone, email, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
    • Make sure everyone knows how to use the selected communication platform. 
    • Set a schedule for regular communication that works for your team’s needs. (Every morning, twice a day, several times a week, etc.)
  • Establish a clear plan for your team’s communication with key stakeholders.
    • Make a list of who needs to be updated and what those communications will be.
    • Communicate within your team about the status of those communications.
    • Reach out to stakeholders, providing updates as needed.

What technology and other resources does my team need to work remotely?

  • Do an equipment and capability inventory.
    • Do your team members need University equipment to work remotely, or can they use a personal computer?
    • Do they have a strong, secure home internet connection?
    • Do they have the necessary hardware, software, and access to shared drives?
    • Do they have proper security systems installed on their systems?
    • Do they have a physical space to work uninterrupted?
    • Do they have contact information for remote IT support? 
    • Visit Pitt IT’s Remote Work Resources page for more information about working remotely.
  • Prepare employees for what to expect from remote meetings. Provide guidelines, for example:
    • Log on at least 10 minutes ahead of set schedule to resolve tech issues and start on time, without interruptions.
    • Mute the microphone when you are not talking.
    • Consider using earbuds to reduce echo if you experience feedback during the call.
    • If you have to step away during the call, notify the group in the chat window.
  • Determine other options when necessary.
    • For employees who do not have the technology available or whose work is not usually carried out over the computer, what projects or professional development activities might be possible during this time? (Review suggestions on professional development activities below.)

What work can my team perform remotely?

  • Review job descriptions and identify tasks that can be performed remotely.
    • Prioritize critical and high impact tasks.
    • Discuss which critical tasks cannot be performed remotely and generate alternative plans.
  • Identify long-term projects or tasks best accomplished when dedicated time is available.
    • If possible, ask employees about “wish list” or “pet” projects they have been wanting to pursue. 
    • Make the most of this time to engage in these projects, which may be valuable in the long term but may not have otherwise been given the time to come to fruition.

How can I be sure that employees are staying productive and working regular hours?

  • Like any other project, establish a plan and goals for each task identified.
    • Clearly communicate priorities and expectations to hold employees accountable.
    • Set appropriate deadlines.
    • Maintain communication around the status of projects.
    • Ask employees for feedback on areas where they need support.
    • If projects are extended, are there deadlines along the way that can be established to help to keep everyone on pace?
    • Don’t micromanage but set check-in milestones regularly.
  • Identify standard methods for communicating required tasks and obtaining status updates on projects.
    • Be clear about what you need to know, and discuss with employees ways to communicate information that works for both you and them.
    • Is there a folder or shared drive your team can use to maintain a schedule and post completed project components? Is email the easiest approach?
  • Establish time tracking methods to ensure accurate timekeeping.
    • What kinds of check-ins would work best for your team?
    • What method is the most effective for everyone?
    • Review section on managing non-exempt employees for specifics on FLSA compliance.
  • Take necessary steps if you do have suspicions that an employee is abusing remote work.
    • Reiterate or clarify productivity expectations.
    • Request that the employee send work in progress at set milestones.
    • If improvement is not seen, discuss your concerns with the employee.
    • If necessary, reach out to Employee and Labor Relations.

What do I need to consider when managing non-exempt employees remotely?

  • Make sure that non-exempt staff are provided an expectation of working hours.
    • It should be clear to non-exempt employees that they should not work outside of their normal working hours unless they have received prior approval.
    • Non-exempt employees’ hours worked are calculated based upon the time when the employee begins his or her “principal activity” and the time on that day at which he/she ceases the “principal activity.” In simple terms, this can be described as “the time you start work until the time you end work.” For example, work starts when you sit down and start your computer.
  • Ensure that the employee understands expectations associated with tracking time, and discuss whether there are any modifications needed to track time when working remotely.
    • It is imperative that employees understand the length of time and frequency permitted for breaks and ensure that break time is properly tracked while working remotely, as well as at the traditional work site.
    • Employees need to understand that when taking bona fide unpaid meal breaks (usually 30 minutes or more) that they must not perform any work during that time.
    • An FLSA fact sheet is available, in addition to FLSA guidance from the Office of Human Resources.

How can I keep employees engaged and motivated? (Check out this page for new tips.)

  • Build trust by communicating with transparency.
    • Be honest about expectations for productivity while your team is working remotely.
    • Share your intentions of being available to support their work.
    • Be sure that employees know what your goals are, too.
    • Touch base on whether expectations are realistic. Be aware that some employees may unintentionally work longer hours when not confined to a typical work schedule. (Review section on managing non-exempt employees.)
  • Stay a team.
    • Encourage employees to share their concerns with you, and be forthcoming about your own concerns, when appropriate.
    • At the same time, stay positive that any concerns you or your team may have can be addressed.
    • Consider how your team can still enjoy each other’s company. What fun can you build into your virtual meetings or communications? Get creative. Ask team members for suggestions. This can mitigate feelings of isolation that can occur when employees work remotely.
  • Consider professional development as a possible project area.
    • Work on their development plan. Have you received feedback on technical or interpersonal skills that need improvement? Target these areas.
    • Read! Catch up on those books, journals, and papers that you have wanted your team to read that can help you all in your particular roles. What can you provide or share digitally?
    • Tackle long-term tasks or projects that bring value to the organization. What is a program you have wanted to develop?  What efficiency would you recommend for your organization?  What are some trends that you would like to explore that might bring value to your organization?
    • Reinvent organization systems. Would you be more effective in your role if your files were better organized, or if you had a better way to follow up with your key stakeholders?
    • If you could create a virtual learning “playlist” for your staff, what would you include? At Pitt, you can do this using LinkedIn Learning.
    • Have a topic area you’d like to engage your team in? TED Talks on a variety of topics can be viewed remotely and then discussed virtually:
    • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are another option:
    • Stay connected. Now is a great time to reach out to your professional contacts to have richer conversations, brainstorm and problem solve.  
  • Keep yourself engaged and informed, too.
    • Check in with yourself. What do you need to get a better handle on? What do you need to know from your own manager that would help you to better manage your team?
    • Check in with your colleagues. What are other supervisors doing that is working well for their teams? Can you create a regular meeting with others working in similar roles?
    • Visit OHR’s Resources for Managers SharePoint section.

Remember, you and your employees are in this together, and you will resume normal working operations soon. This can be an opportunity to explore new experiences, both as a team and as individuals. This is also a period during which your team needs you to consistently communicate with them, as you as a supervisor may have access to information streams your team may not. As supervisors, the more we can stay alert to and communicate both information and opportunities, the better our teams will manage during this period and during the transition back to normal working operations. Make a plan to come back together when your team can resume normal operations, and touch base on both unresolved issues and accomplishments while you were working remotely.