HR update: Remote work will continue for most despite move to ‘yellow’


As of May 15, Allegheny County and all the counties where Pitt’s branch campuses are located will have moved to the state’s “yellow phase” for reopening.

“For staff who are able to maintain work from a distance that changes nothing,” said David DeJong, vice chancellor for Human Resources. “That’s an extremely important message that we need to push out right now.”

Under the state rules, working from home must continue where feasible and all schools are closed for in-person instruction.

“We’re building the plans to return back to campus. What does facilities need, what do employees need, what sort of protective equipment do they need — all that planning is going on,” he said.

Those who could be coming back to campus are staff working in critical research labs that haven’t been open for the past two months.

“Right now, it’s only the life-saving stuff. I think there’s another tier down of critical research that probably becomes permitted,” DeJong said. “But even then, I don’t expect a stampede on Friday. We need to make sure we get back with all the safety assured. … The planning needs to remain faithful and systematic, and we need to be confident.”

Performance review compliance

From what DeJong has been hearing, most of Pitt’s units and schools are operating in a “business as usual” stance, while still preparing for a return to campus in the fall.

And because of that, he’s pushing ahead with one of his main goals since he became vice chancellor for Human Resources last year — 100 percent compliance on performance evaluations.

“If this was week two, and we were struggling to get situated remotely, then I wouldn’t have been pushing it. I would have called timeout,” he said. “But I don’t feel like that’s the case. I feel like we’re business as usual and this needs to be a new part of the new normal.”

The deadline for supervisors to complete the appraisals is the end of June, and then each unit must report its compliance to Human Resources by the end of July.

DeJong is confident they can reach 100 percent. Several units, like the Dietrich School for Arts & Sciences and Pitt­–Greensburg, already were meeting that goal in previous years.

Pitt staff at work

So far, DeJong said, there hasn’t been many people asking for the voluntary reduction of effort that became available on May 1. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens as we get into the summer, especially on the childcare front. It just gets a little bit more complicated,” he said.

There have been a significant number of staff who have been re-tasked to other departments to help out with big projects, he said. For instance, some people from the provost’s office have helped Human Resources do benchmarking. The provost’s office has had people helping to “flesh out their website information about all the courses that are being offered. That’s one of those like-to-have projects, and suddenly, you can do it.”

About 40 people are working on a project from Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for Engagement, to reach out to all of Pitt’s recent grads to see how they’re doing and if they need help moving to the next stage in their life.

“We still are in the stance of no furloughs, no layoffs,” DeJong said. “I don’t know how long that stance can stay. But I’m really pleased with what we’ve been able to do so far.”

Some colleges in the region, notably Penn State, West Virginia University and Ohio University, have announced furloughs or layoffs already.

DeJong said Pitt employees also have stepped up for two volunteer initiatives:

  • More than 12,000 hours have been donated to the new Temporary Voluntary Sick Day Bank, and only 75 hours have been withdrawn.

  • More than 40 organizations in the community have sought help from Pitt volunteers, and 600 people have donated their time as part of a new initiative that allows Pitt staff to request up to eight hours per week from their work schedule to volunteer. 

Taking on new roles

DeJong also is just getting his feet wet as acting senior vice chancellor for Business and Operations after stepping in last week for Greg Scott, who is taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons.

He has time to figure out this new role, DeJong said, because, “HR is running so well, and the team is so solid. I know exactly what’s going on, and they know what they’re doing, so they’re in really good shape.”

Mark Burdsall, assistant vice chancellor of consulting services, will step up to the role of acting deputy vice chancellor for Human Resources.

DeJong and Scott were both co-chairing the Task Force on Employees and Operations for the plan to return to campus. Now that job falls solely to DeJong. There are nine working groups in the task force that will report to him and he hopes to establish close connections with the University’s Emergency Operations Center.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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