It’s been said countless times by now that the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation. Knowing that there was no way to be fully prepared for the new situation we find ourselves in, however, doesn’t necessarily ease our minds as we try to figure out how to best lead as a supervisor for our staff.
Supervisors have some practical concerns to consider, such as managing communication, supplies, technology, and ensuring staff are productive. Other considerations, that may be just as practical but are perhaps not viewed that way traditionally, include supporting employees with the unique challenges each will face as they work from home and employee health and wellness.
Let’s dig in and tackle these topics.
Hopefully, you had a chance to problem solve how you would communicate with your staff prior to the start of working from home. If not, a group email is a good place to start to get everyone on the same page. While email is great for quickly connecting, clarifying, and going about routine business, times like these do call for a bit more.
Human Resources Director John Woolsey spoke with supervisors during the Supervisor Training on March 30th about the quality of communication spectrum. Emails tend to be low in richness, whereas face–to–face conversations are high in richness. Employees need high richness communication right now. Setting up a regularly occurring video conferencing meeting is a great way to achieve quality communication with your staff.
At this point, you’ve hopefully solved most of the technological issues associated with getting employees set up with laptops and connected to servers and programs they need. However, if you’re having any trouble with this, contact your department’s IT contact or the NDSU IT Department. NDSU’s IT Department has a plethora of work from home resources you can start with on their website.
You can help employees minimize some frustration by recommending they do what they can to arrive early for scheduled meetings to contend with any technological issues and use headphones with a microphone built in for video conferencing. Remember, though, not all employees may have access or the ability to accommodate these suggestions.
Having a plan in place to deal with replacing consumables will become more necessary the longer employees are working off site. Consider how your office can best handle resupplying employees with paper, ink/toner, and other supplies. Can someone order with the P Card and have it shipped to the employee’s home? Will the employee need to purchase items and be issued a reimbursement? Can they go into the office and get supplies, and if they do, what safety precautions should be taken?
Ensuring work is being done and policies/procedures are being followed
What your employees are capable of doing from an off–site location is going to be job dependent. Review job descriptions to help you determine what can and can’t be done during this work from home period, and work with your employees to set daily goals. Consider what information needs to be communicated to whom, and if the current state of things may slow down responses from other departments or entities your employees interact with. Use time tracking methods you feel are appropriate for your department. This could include email or (better yet) video conferencing check-ins on a regular basis, checklists, calendar reminders, or spreadsheet trackers of goals and tasks accomplished.
Supporting unique work from home challenges
Every employee is going to have a different home situation, and it’s likely that for many of them it will be their first time working from home. Some may find themselves serving as parent, day-care provider, and teacher, in addition to full-time NDSU employee. Others may have limited access to technology. Others may be in a home with multiple people working from home in limited space (think especially of student workers living with several roommates). And let’s not forget the stress and strain associated with a sudden change in routine and restrictions keeping them from friends, loved ones, and seeing their fellow coworkers daily. You may be in one of these situations, as well (and you’re certainly in the last one mentioned), meaning that there are likely going to be disruptions coming from several places and in several ways.
This is where our amazing campus community has an opportunity to shine as we give each other (and ourselves) some grace. Learn about employees’ unique situations the best you’re able (at their comfort level). Especially when things change suddenly (such as someone coming back to work after being sick), everyone will be adjusting to get back into a rhythm. Check in with employees and ask how they’re doing. Which leads us to the last point.
Supporting employee mental health and wellness
If you’re concerned about an employee, talk with them. Even if you’re not concerned, check in regularly. Sometimes they may just need to vent some frustration. Other times they may need to be referred to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or the NDSU Counseling Center (for student workers). Another consideration that falls in line with supporting employee wellness is being mindful in communication.
With so many new challenges faced, emails employees send may come across as curt or passive aggressive, or emails read by employees may be read that way. A colleague recently shared that all the stress at home led her to misread an email that made her feel completely worthless. She had to take a break and step away, and when she came back, she reread the email and realized that it didn’t say what she thought. Remind employees of this. Remind them that it’s ok to step away from the computer for 5 or 10 minutes to clear their head. Set up remote social interaction opportunities such as a virtual coffee or a virtual office party to continue to build and enhance relationships among coworkers.
During the March 30th training, Human Resources Director Woolsey said that the supervisors are “the backbone of the university,” and his words couldn’t be truer. You provide vital support and direction for NDSU staff; staff who keep our university functioning under these strange new times we all face. For further guidance, don’t hesitate to check out the Human Resources website and the supervisor FAQs sheet. As through all tough times, our Bison Herd will emerge on the other side of COVID-19 together!
About the author:
Amy Tichy is pursuing her M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at NDSU. She graduated with a Master of Arts in Theatre with a concentration in Drama Therapy from Kansas State University (2014), where she was a Graduate Teaching Assistant, lecturing 6 credits of Public Speaking per semester, and with a Bachelor of Science in History Education and Theatre Education from Dickinson State University (2010). Amy is a licensed teacher and a Registered Drama Therapist. She works in the Office of Teaching and Learning as a Graduate Assistant.