You are here: American University Human Resources COVID-19 Guide to Expanded Telework

Guide to Expanded Telework Updated April 24, 2020

American University is in the expanded telework operating environment until further notice. Now that many of us are teleworking, some for the first time, we wish to provide helpful information to ensure success.

Your contributions continue to make a difference to help our students complete their education this spring and continue the university’s other critical functions. Now, more than ever, we need to be fully engaged with our work, so we can fulfill our promise to our students, support our research and AU’s other important missions.  

The best foundation for productive telework is to set expectations with your supervisor in the first days of the extended telework period.

Understand:

  • What work is expected of you.
  • How you will update your supervisor.
  • What you will include in the update -- timeline, opportunities, challenges, questions from stakeholders, etc.
  • How you will handle a change in your schedule.

Check-in daily via phone call, email, teleconference or videoconference.

Discuss how you will work together from remote locations.

  • What are your daily scheduled hours?
  • What are the expectations around response times?
  • How will you contact each other on short notice or in an emergency?

Update your supervisor like you do when in the office.

If there are problems, let your supervisor know:

  • Trouble with technology or tools
  • Challenges meeting deadlines or completing work
  • Team collaboration challenges
  • Require time off for sickness or other reason
  • Family care issues

Don’t wait, communicate early.

Create a work-day routine to help resist distractions.

  • Start each day with actions like prioritizing your work or clearing email.
  • Establish a routine. It will help you to be deliberate about how you want to work and focus your efforts.

Communicate your routine to your family or house-mates:

  • Your routine can act as a signal to others to let them know that you need to be left alone while working.
  • Let them know when you will take breaks, so they won’t feel you are ignoring them all day.

Think about how you will stay on target and use your time.

  • Plan your day’s work and try to stick to it.
  • Regularly prioritize based on importance.
  • Think about how to recover from interruptions and get back on track.
  • Review how your day went and ask yourself if you achieved what you expected.
  • Evaluate if you are able to get your work done during your telework day, or if you needed more time.

Keep track of your work so it’s easier to update your manager and share your accomplishments.

  • Write down your hours worked and tasks accomplished each day.
  • Send regular updates to your team and manager based on your notes.
  • Use your notes to update your performance plan. It is much easier than relying on your memory.

There are different distractions at home than in the office, and you may be sharing your space with family or house-mates.

  • Communication is key. Let others know your work schedule.
  • Negotiate things like music and TV volume levels and whether your workspace is open for them to pass through or spend time in.

Have these conversations in the first few days of the extended telecommuting period. Having a mutually agreed upon plan will help avoid potential conflicts and misunderstandings.

Staff may be balancing work and family care responsibilities including children at home due to school closures, or care for an ill or elderly member of their family. Work and family demand your attention and can be difficult to manage.

Should this occur, we ask supervisors to explore flexible arrangements to help staff remain productive while balancing things at home. This may include flex hours or flex days.

If the level of time needed for family care prevents or significantly disrupts work, and flexible options are not possible, teleworkers should notify Grace McKinnon to request approval for appropriate leave which may include family leave.

Telework is still work time and all university policies remain in place, including start and end times or flex arrangement, attendance rules and performance expectations.

Teams at AU will be significantly affected by expanded telework. Discuss with your colleagues how you can make telework successful for the whole group.

  • Work out how team meetings will be handled.
  • Institute a regular check-in time each day or week, and what tools you will use to check in.
  • Determine how one-on-one meetings will continue and discuss communication methods.

Check to make sure all team members have the communication tools they need. Have a team communications plan. Encourage everyone to be collaborative and supportive of one another as we work through this time.

The university has provided multiple tools to support team communication.  

Develop a plan as a team:

  • What is your default method?
  • What method will you use for urgent or short notice communication?
  • What’s the expectation for frequency and response times?
  • Who should be copied?

Choose short, descriptive email subject lines. This will help people find it when there will be higher email volume.

Written communication can be trickier to navigate than face-to-face.

  • Without the benefit of expression or body language, it can be hard to interpret tone. Think about how to express your tone clearly in written form.
  • Some discussions are better held by phone or videoconference. If you need to discuss something sensitive or there is a misunderstanding, arrange a call.
  • If you are unsure how to interpret a written communication, ask clarifying questions or ask for background information.

During telework, you can’t see that someone’s door is closed. When writing or chatting, ask others if they have the time to chat now, or if there is a better time. Be concise with chat or email. Signal to each other that you are working on something and need some time.

If staff are having trouble negotiating recent events or the transition, let them know that the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) is operating remotely during this time, and they can contact fsap@american.edu for an appointment.

  • Set clear expectations with team members to establish work hours, prioritize tasks, and communications including meetings.
  • Creating to-do lists and deadlines for staff to make sure projects are progressing at a good pace might help staff stay on track.
  • Be flexible with start and end times to allow for work and family care balance.
  • Keep staff engaged. Check-in with them daily. Use video conferencing on a regular basis.
  • Request that challenges are brought to your attention for resolution.
  • Teleworking will eliminate the ability to have ad hoc conversations that occur in the office. Create a video or chat channel to create interactions between teams digitally.
  • Be positive! This is a time of change for all of us and staying positive about teleworking and encouraging staff is key.
  • Trust your employees to learn to telework effectively. Expect that there may be a learning curve with the transition and that we are all learning as we go.
  • Focus on results and reaching objectives as measures of success.
  • Debrief after normal operations resume.
  • Meet with your staff after the expanded telework period ends
  • Together with staff review the work that was accomplished, assess progress on goals, and prioritize any unfinished or new work that resulted from the temporary operational disruption.
  • Be appreciative that we have tackled this challenge together.

If you have new staff that are scheduled to start during the university's expanded telework operating status, please review the guidance on the COVID-19 Onboarding page.

SOURCE: SHRM