Advanced planning for integrating remote work into a business continuity plan is key to a successful implementation. Suddenly switching employees to remote work with no clear communication, tools, or processes in place can be challenging for both managers and employees. During and after remote work implementation, consider what was learned and whether remote work can be leveraged on an ongoing basis in new and creative ways.
Managers and supervisors, in partnership with their college/unit leadership and HR, are responsible for the remote work plan for each department/team.
Creative ideas we've heard from university colleagues who are experimenting with staff coverage that reduces the number of individuals who are required to work on campus any given day while supporting operations:
Determine who, based on job responsibilities, is able to work remotely. Can positions that do not traditionally lend themselves to remote work be temporarily modified to allow for its use (by focusing on other work elements such as online training, documentation, etc.)? The university encourages supervisors to afford maximum flexibility during this time to help minimize the spread of the illness.
To the extent possible, compile cell phone and/or home phone numbers for all employees you supervise. Discuss how and with whom this information will be shared. Note: emergency contact information within Workday is visible to HR Representatives and administrative managers.
Due to the fast pace of evolving health regulations and the anticipated wide use of remote work, employees and managers are not required to complete the university’s Flexible Work Agreement Form. Supervisors and managers are encouraged to discuss the agreement with the employee and confirm it in writing. At a minimum, the manager should send an email to the employee and the local HR rep with duration, agreed upon schedule, work deliverables, communication approach and expectations.
Determine how schedules and availability will be known and communicated to colleagues, customers, and others.
Determine what tools you will use will you hold meetings virtually. Identify which upcoming meetings can/should be rescheduled if necessary. Practice holding meetings remotely before increasing remote work use. See Virtual Meetings for more tips.
Determine what the preferred group communication and collaboration tools will be and ensure all team members have access. Determine how frequently you as a supervisor/manager will connect with your team members.
Discuss with employees how time and performance will be managed. Once remote work begins, in general, focus on the output and the completion of deliverables when evaluating performance. Review the Covid-19 Guidelines for Pay Practices and discuss with employees relevant to their particular situation.
Candidates for Remote Work
In general, any employee is eligible to work remotely. The manager will determine if the individual’s position and performance lend itself to remote work or could be temporarily modified to integrate short-term remote work.
There are many creative ways to offer limited remote work to individuals in service industry roles. This can be an opportune time to catch up on work that often goes by the wayside. Examples include:
- Online training programs (related to safety, compliance, job skills, diversity and inclusion)
- Creating or updating documentation regarding job responsibilities, processes, etc.
Most characteristics of successful long-term remote workers do not apply in this short-term situation. The employee should be meeting basic performance expectations, have basic computer skills for email, internet browsing, and possibly Microsoft Word (and/or other Microsoft Suite software), commit to working productively from their remote location for the duration identified.
Consider offering “test days” for remote work prior to remote work being used in an urgent situation or emergency. Testing this allows both employees and managers to identify glitches, challenges, unanticipated questions, etc. and adjust accordingly. This reduces the amount of logistical challenges during an urgent situation as well.
Non-exempt (Hourly) Employees
Non-exempt (Hourly) employees are eligible to work remotely with manager approval, however they must adhere to the same accurate Workday time reporting requirements (including meal periods) and processes already in place with their manager and department. Non-exempt employees must receive advanced approval from their manager before incurring overtime.
Home Office Set-up
Cornell is not responsible for setting up home offices. While the university is striving to help employees work remotely, it may not be feasible if equipment and systems needed to conduct work are unavailable.
Local units may allow employees to take home computer peripherals such as monitors, keyboards, mice, and webcams as well as small furnishings that can be safely moved such as office chairs, footstools, etc. The local unit may also opt to purchase MyFi service for an employee. However, they are not required to do any of these things (unless connected to a disability accommodation).
Local units can decide what items they will pay for and/or allow to be taken home from the workplace as long as they are being consistent in the decision-making process and prioritizing necessary items for positions that are dependent upon them.
In general, disability accommodations made in the workplace may also be made for the home work environment. Due to the possible sudden and short-term nature of some remote work arrangements, the university may not be able to offer certain accommodations – for example, specific furnishings. When feasible, safe, and granted permission, an individual may transport small lightweight equipment home for the duration of their remote work arrangement (e.g. ergonomic keyboard, footstool, etc.). For guidance, contact Medical Leaves Administration at 607-255-1177 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Leaves of Absence
During this period, doctor’s notes are not required to request leaves of absence in order to reduce burdens on medical professionals. If a supervisor has reason to believe a staff member is making a false or unreasonable leave request, please contact your HR representative.
In light of COVID-19, HAP rules are being relaxed to allow for care of healthy children at home due to school or childcare closures.
If an employee requests HAP but doesn’t have enough time accrued to fulfill the request, remember Cornell’s Catastrophic Leave Donation Program. Eligibility requirements are being relaxed during the COVID-19 crisis.
Scope of Remote Work
There are various levels of remote work integration – 1) few employees on the team working remotely, 2) most employees working remotely, and 3) all employees working remotely. In light of COVID-19, it is possible the department will go through multiple levels and should plan accordingly.
Schedule & Workload
Managers and employees should have realistic conversations about how much work can be conducted remotely. This may be about the amount of work available for the employee to do, or there may be limitations the employee is facing due to their home environment (e.g. children require care). When possible, consider reduced work options (part-time), or allowing for greater schedule flexibility (weekends, early mornings, and late evenings).
Students with federal work/study programs will need to work remotely. Supervisors are encouraged to consult with other student employees to ascertain whether remote work will be possible during this period.
When setting communication expectations for employees, consider the nature of their work and what services may be disrupted. Also consider the availability of the manager and other team members. Common items for discussion include:
- Frequency of connection with manager (daily, every few days, weekly)
- Frequency of checking email (employees participating in online training may not immediately see emails)
- Frequency of checking AUDIX voicemail (directions)
- Availability via an instant messenger
- Calls and texts with home and cell phones
Due to the fast pace of evolving health regulations and the anticipated wide use of remote work, employees and managers do not need to complete the university’s Flexible Work Agreement Form. However, managers are encouraged to discuss the agreement with the employee and confirm it in writing (e.g. email to the employee and the local HR rep), including:
- Approval to work remotely and duration of agreement
- Hours of work agreed upon and any flexibility with those hours
- Work responsibilities/areas of focus during remote work
- Communication expectations (with manager, team, and/or customers)
- If internet service (or other systems) become unavailable, how will the employee work or will they need to then use their paid time away
Remote Work Outside USA
In general, remote work is not permitted in foreign jurisdictions unless Cornell has a legal presence that allows lawful work in the host country. Under limited conditions directly related to COVID-19 to include force majeure circumstances, a nonresident employee who is stranded outside the USA may be granted a temporary exception to work until he or she is able to return to the US. Currently, Cornell is only able to support the exception for positions which are critical to meeting our academic and research missions and for those individuals who meet all of the criteria as outlined in the following guidelines. Supervisors should contact their local HR departments to determine eligibility for any of their impacted workers.
For related immigration questions, please contact International Services via email or by phone. Information can also be found on the COVID-19 Immigration FAQ’s webpage.
Trust is the foundation of a successful remote team, and remote work typically leads to increased productivity. However, remote work during a stressful time is not the same as long-term self-selected remote work. Managers need to manage expectations about productivity and start by trusting that every team member is working to the best of their ability during this time.
Managers should also schedule synchronous conversations with their teams, and one-on-ones as needed, to discuss these expectations and provide opportunities for team members to share their concerns.
Communicate News & Decisions
When changes are made to how, when, and where work is getting done, it can be challenging to ensure everyone is kept properly aware of news and any decisions that have been made. Consider how information will flow and what steps may be needed to limit gaps.
Managers shifting from seeing everyone at their desks working to not seeing anyone at all is a mindset change. A manager should clearly outline what the output expectations are from each team member and have routine check-ins (by email, phone, Zoom, etc.) to understand progress and challenges.
Managers Working Remotely
There may be situations where a manager is working remotely and managing fully remote staff or blended on-site and remote staff. The same principles of communication, performance management, etc. apply but will likely require added effort.
Health & Wellbeing
Speak to employees about managing their health and wellbeing, as outlined further in this document.
Employees should follow the technology guidelines issued by their department. In general, employees are strongly urged to use a Cornell-owned computer, laptop, or other device when working remotely whenever possible. If their only option is to use a personally owned computer, laptop, or other device, they are still responsible for following all university practices and policies to maintain security on their device. Personally owned devices are not insured by Cornell. Employees are required to have their own internet and phone access established.
Cornell does not provide, or cover the cost of, personal internet/cellular services (policy) unless required to do so by the applicable local labor law for employees who work outside of NYS. Employees should review their usage/data plan and speak with their provider to ensure they won’t experience increased fees. See Agreements tab for more details on home equipment and furnishings.
What systems and accounts do onsite employees use and how will they access them remotely? E.g. Dual-Authentication Log-in if they typically use an office phone to authenticate. Some Cornell systems can only be accessed when employees are connected to the university campus network. When working remotely, employees can access these systems through a CU VPN connection. Note that some departments also have departmental VPNs.
Many tools are available and employees are encouraged to use those endorsed by Cornell IT. Commonly used ones include Zoom, Skype, OneNote, and Cornell Box. Visit Cornell IT – Tools for working remotely for more information.
Service (internet, phone, systems) may be interrupted due to weather or system demand. Some employees may be dependent on the internet for their cellular connection, depending on the cellular coverage where they live. Ensure you have established multiple ways of contacting employees and proactively discuss with the employee what they can work on if there are service disruptions – or if they will be required to not work.
See Options for Poor Wi-Fi or Cellular Service
Cornell Phone Lines
Employees can check voicemail left on their university phone numbers using AUDIX (instructions).
Phone forwarding service (My Extension Everywhere) is available from CIT. This service allows calls made to a Cornell phone number to be received by a personal cell or home phone number. This service must be requested in advance and has nominal fees. Once set-up, the employee may turn on/off the service as needed. Personal phone numbers remain private when using this service.
Confidential & Sensitive Data
Employees must adhere to the sensitive and confidential data standards issued by Cornell University regarding transporting or transferring/sending written or digital confidential data. Access to CU VPN may be required for the work of some employees. Cornell’s Secure File Transfer service should be used to exchange sensitive and confidential information. Employees who do not have a Cornell-issued laptop and do not have home access to the VPN may upload necessary files (without sensitive or confidential data) to Cornell Box – and access those files from their home computer to conduct work.
See Security Practices When Working from Home
We are all learning about Zoombombing and receiving guidance on how to prevent it (link below).
It's important to note the emotional impact these situations can have. Imagery of any kind that shows the violation of basic human rights (of adults or children) or targets a community is deeply troubling and can be traumatizing. Re-traumatization of victims of sexual violence, assault, and/or discrimination is also possible.
There is also a risk of inappropriate exposure to children who are in the home environment of the remote worker. If an event is intended a child audience, consider recording the program instead of having it live.
If a serious situation does occur (regardless of audience), do not pretend that it didn't and power through the meeting - or even advise participants to simply to look away. Rather, end the meeting swiftly. Report the incident to Cornell Zoom Security at email@example.com.
Then, follow up with the participants to:
- apologize for the abrupt ending;
- indicate what steps are being taken to prevent reoccurrence;
- express care and concern for the participants; and
- offer mental health resources that are available.
(See mental health resources for employees and mental health resources for students)
Of greatest importance - reduce the likelihood of it occurring again by committing to (and holding your team accountable for) complying with security settings.
Use Meetings Strategically
When a team is dispersed in many locations, the dept./manager typically cannot call a meeting at a moment’s notice. Think through the meetings that are upcoming, what can be postponed, cancelled, or done virtually. Plan your meetings ahead of time and plan them carefully. While sharing information is important, don't let this be the sole purpose of your meetings. Organize strategic meetings to focus time together on activities that move the team forward, such as decision making, collaboration, and connection.
It is possible that leader, manager, and/or employee availability will be more limited than usual due to COVID-19 workforce planning, so keep this in mind when evaluating the necessity and urgency of meetings.
Consider practicing remote meetings, particularly with employees who do not generally work remotely. Urge patience of attendees, as employees unfamiliar with the platform and audio/video settings may have questions.
Arranging, Facilitating, & Participating in Meetings
Fully remote meetings tend to be easier to manage than blended on-site and virtual meetings. Consider which approach makes the most sense when designing a meeting.
If multiple people are required to be in attendance in one location, practice social distancing of at least 6 feet between each person.
- Add a Zoom option to all meetings proactively.
- Add a secondary host that can start the meeting in the event the host is running late or their availability has changed.
- Determine what information should be shared with participants in advance of the meeting, provide an agenda, and determine how decisions and follow-up will be communicate to those absent.
- Encourage participants to log in early and test their audio/video settings.
- Encourage participants to use their webcam to increase interpersonal communication and support those who rely on lipreading.
- Encourage participants to mute themselves to reduce background noise when they are not speaking. The host(s) can also mute participants.
- Announce who is in the room (if an on-site option is also available) and be clear about when the meeting has ended. Make sure to continuously check in with those who are remote to make sure they are included (e.g., “Does anyone online have any questions/comments?”).
- For meetings where participation is essential, consider using the “raise hand” feature to help manage who will speak when. It can be difficult even with video to tell when someone is about to finish speaking, or is waiting to speak.
When using video, be thoughtful about where you are participating from and the setup. For instance, what can individuals can see behind you, what noises might they hear from household members and pets, is ample lighting available, etc. If your background isn’t something you want people to see, you can use Zoom’s feature to choose a standard photo to use as your background instead.
Encourage all employees, both remote and on-site, to care for their wellbeing. Remote employees should factor their wellbeing into their home office set-up by maintaining good posture, working in comfortable lighting, etc. Encourage employees to leave their workstation for 5 minutes of every hour – this helps circulation, eyesight, and other elements of wellbeing.
Employees who do not typically work remotely may experience challenges adjusting to a different environment, especially if they are accustomed to working very physically. Loneliness is also a common concern. Physical isolation at home combined with a feeling of work loneliness can be challenging for an employee. Use phone calls and video chats to increase interpersonal interaction.
Unplugging from work can be more challenging for remote workers. Encourage employees to unplug when their work is done and to focus on their self and family care.
Children and Other Dependents
The Cornell Flexibility In the Workplace Policy states that remote work cannot be a substitute for ongoing child care needs. In light of COVID-19, employees may use HAP time to care for healthy children during school or child care closures (an exception to existing policy). And, remote work may occur while dependents are present if their school or child care is closed and alternative care is unavailable, under the following guidelines:
- Cornell is not responsible or liable for the health and safety of your dependents while you are working remotely, or for your health and safety while you are delivering care to your dependents. It is up to the employee to determine whether work can be conducted safely.
- If a dependent is ill and requires ongoing attention, employees may need to use Health and Personal (HAP) time away from work, as needed. In light of COVID-19, HAP rules are being relaxed to allow for care of healthy children at home due to school or childcare closures. Nonacademic employees may also be covered for NY Paid Family leave, which provides paid leave to care for a covered family member’s illness. Please visit https://hr.cornell.edu/new-york-state-paid-family-leave for more information.
- Employees are expected to determine what they can reasonably accomplish while dependents are under their care (whether healthy or ill), and the amount of time they expect to be able to work.
Cornell Flexible Work Arrangements Consultations
eCornell's new on-demand offerings for staff include several lessons that will help you build and support a remote team. Working remotely is also a great time for your employees to participate in online learning for job skills, leadership skills, etc.
If staff experience trouble when accessing this new service through eCornell, please contact the eCornell Help Desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 1-800-801-0287 (from inside the US) or 1-607-330-3200 (from outside US).
Technology & Collaboration Tools
- ProHabits: Sign up for free daily micro-actions to support working in remote and disconnected teams.
Policies & Guidelines
Working at Cornell Zoom Backgrounds
Level up your Zoom meetings with one of these Working at Cornell virtual backgrounds!
Note: the text will appear in reverse on your screen image of yourself, but rest assured, it reads properly on everyone else's monitors!