To work at home or not to work at home, that is the big question


The announcement on March 11 that students should not return to Pitt’s campuses following spring break was pretty clear — for students.

But the guidance for staff was a bit more ambiguous. The language from Human Relations read: “We are asking that supervisors provide maximal flexibility in accommodating remote work arrangements for nonessential staff with assignments and circumstances that allow for remote work. This includes, but is not limited to, accommodations for staff practicing mandatory social distancing, staff 60 and older and those with underlying medical conditions that may put them at high risk for complications.”

David DeJong, vice chancellor for Human Relations, cleared up some of the confusion in an interview today. “What we are doing is encouraging folks who can, to work remotely as long as functionality is not compromised.”

In a letter to the community on Wednesday, DeJong said: “Considering the rapidly changing circumstances, we are in the process of determining whose presence is critical for supporting the conduct of business, and those who could potentially support operations remotely. If it is determined that your presence is not required physically on any campus, please work with your supervisor to discuss a flexible remote work arrangement to keep yourself and your colleagues safe during this time.”

“We want supervisors to be liberal-minded about this,” he said in today’s interview. “We are in a global pandemic, and I think that consideration needs to be taken into account when we're having these conversations.”

These flexible work arrangements have already been in discussion as part of the Shaping the Workplace initiative. “This to me looks like an opportunity to do some advanced preparation for that,” DeJong said. “A lot of times cultural change happens in a slow, gradual way, but with this with this somewhat discrete event, it could be that that culture change is accelerated.”

The situation is very fluid and evolving rapidly, he said, “But right now, since we are open and fully functional, then the No. 1 bullet point in any discussion of remote working arrangements is that the business of the University takes priority.”

Therefore, if your supervisor says there are specific reasons why “we won’t be able to function without you here, then we have to respect that,” he said.

The Dietrich School of Arts & Science did a work-at-home drill on March 10, and Michele Montag, executive director for staff personnel and senior assistant dean, said, “Early indications are that the experience was overwhelmingly positive and will help us to resolve some common technical issues for future remote work needs and capacity.”

Pitt’s largest school is, at this point, “implementing remote work arrangements for staff on a case by case basis,” Montag said, “and we have not issued directives for any particular groups or functional areas to work remotely. Any changes we make will be based on continuing guidance from the University.”

Several departments, including Human Relations and University Communications & Marketing, will do work-from-home drills next week. But DeJong stressed that HR is working at 100 percent capacity.

Sick days expanded

As part of the response to the coronavirus COVID-19, all staff have been given 10 working days of additional paid sick leave above and beyond accumulated time, up to the policy threshold of 120 total days. This pertains to all part-time (pro-rated) and full-time staff, as well as temporary employees, post-docs and student workers.​​​​​​

DeJong said this is a one-time move, but those days will not go away if you don’t have to use them for a coronavirus-related issue. If you use up all of your sick time, then the normal University policies would kick in, as of now, he said.

“We're going to have lots of unfolding conversation,” he said. “I'm of the mind right now that everything that we haven't explicitly talked about is basically TBD (to be decided).”

He said they’re working on several other issues, such as student workers, the childcare development center and the Falk School. They hope to start doing staff onboarding events virtually, starting on Monday.

He’s also will be holding a weekly meeting with directors of administration and other HR liaisons in the hopes of heading off questions. In addition, the HR team is continuing to work on special projects, such as Oracle Cloud, but they’ve asked representatives from outside companies not to fly in to visit Pitt.

Staff Council

President Andy Stephany said Staff Council is planning to follow the University’s guidance and host its remaining meetings “digitally to the best of our ability.”

“It's going to be kind of a fly by the seat of our pants, just because we haven't really done that before,” Stephany said. 

Further, he recommended that staff should keep in close contact with their supervisors for more information specific to their needs.

“I would just reassure staff that the University does have their best interest,” Stephany said. “It's going to just be a weird rest of the semester. And we will just have to adjust and show how flexible and efficient we are in facing not the best circumstances.”

Other things staff should be aware of

  • Campus Shuttle service will follow the summer schedule effective March 16.

  • The University Store on Fifth will remain open; the Pitt Shop at the Petersen Events Center, Maggie & Stella’s and The Pitt Shop on Forbes Avenue will be closed until further notice.

  • On March 7, Provost Ann Cudd said the University will grant an exception for work-related travel booked through May 31 and reimburse any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by those who decide to cancel travel. The administration will reassess this deadline date as COVID-19 evolves and may extend the deadline as conditions evolve.

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


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