By MARTY LEVINE
Linda Howard has been preparing for four years to handle remote teamwork in the COVID-19 era — without even knowing it.
In May 2016, she became administrator of the Social Science Division in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, which includes economics, anthropology, Africana studies, political science, history and sociology. She had a central role in reorganizing nearly two dozen divisional staff members into a cooperative unit, for better communication and pooled resources.
“We didn’t know what we were preparing for,” Howard says, “but we were preparing for something.”
When that something arrived in the form of a pandemic last March, Howard and the division staff were already teaming to take care of the academic and fiscal sides of their collective departments, with 250 faculty and about 300 graduate and 1,500 undergraduate students. They had already been helping each other in person from their offices in Posvar Hall, and had also moved fully to electronic documentation.
“When March happened, we were in a good place to go home,” she says. “We did not miss a beat.”
Chairs’ assistants and department coordinators, who run day-to-day departmental operations, worked closely together with Howard.
“If somebody is out, it’s very easy for someone to step in,” she says. “We were in such a good place that, over the summer, we were able to help out other divisions” — the natural sciences and humanities.
One hitch came with the latest early-retirement offering, through which the division lost eight team members. Three of the six department chair assistants retired, for instance, forcing the remaining staff to double up responsibilities.
“This has helped the staff work even broader,” she says. “My staff has been phenomenal and they have not missed a beat.”
Howard is a 26-year Pitt employee who started out in payment processing, then moved to the business side of the University Times — leaving 10 years before any of the current staff joined — then moving on to the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, and then to the Dietrich School, first as administrator in anthropology, later adding economics and finally taking her current post five years ago.
“If I would have known (earlier) what my dream job is — this is my dream job,” Howard says. She is best at bringing people together and encouraging them, she feels: “When I hire someone I don’t expect them to stay with me for the rest of their lives. But I want to be an important part of their career journey.
“One of the things we’ve learned (from the last year),” she says, “is that we really don’t all need to be on campus at one time. The productivity hasn’t changed with my staff at all. It’s probably been a little better, because there are less interruptions.”
Of course, she misses the interruptions — the in-hall camaraderie and connections. But she believes their 2020 experience could lead to future remote work or flex arrangements.
“We have learned to work even more closely and back each other up across departments than ever before,” Howard says. “I think we’ll be able to carry this through.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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