Common Questions about Working Remotely

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Thoughts from Dr. Barbara Roberts, Senior Advisor to the Provost for WorkLife on questions like "How do I manage working from home and taking care of my kids?" and concerns such as "My supervisor suggested that I can’t work from home if I have kids at home. But there is no school and not enough childcare to care for my kids. Plus, I don’t want my children to be at risk of being exposed or exposing others."

How do I manage working from home and taking care of my kids?

This must be the most challenging question of all. Where to turn first when our attention is divided between loved ones who need us, with whom we want to spend time, and our work is calling – sometimes loudly – in the same space and time?  Let me be clear: Turn first to your family in these fast-changing times. There are numerous resources online for ideas about how to structure time so everyone “works” or does quiet activities for a while, and then enjoys a walk or snack or game break; “recess”, if you will!  Some children may be too young… be patient with them, and with yourselves. We know you are trying your best.  Check our website resources for help.  One idea is to put on your “business suit”, an item of clothing or a sign, cup or other physical indication that you are working, and questions need to wait. Take it off or put it away for breaks. Help kids “see” when you are busy. There are loads of helpful suggestions out there.  Our WorkLife blog is a great place to start.  Join our webinars to find out more, learn from other parents and share your ideas.

My supervisor suggested that I can’t work from home if I have kids at home. But there is no school and not enough childcare to care for my kids. Plus, I don’t want my children to be at risk of being exposed or exposing others.

Who works from home is not determined by whether you have dependents in your home or not. It is determined by the nature of the work you do, and whether it can be done from another location than your desk or usual workstation (link here). Our priority must be our families in these current circumstances with COVID-19, because health and safety are stake. In calmer times, when the need for remote work is not a health and safety issue, your ability to focus at home may indeed be a consideration for how you will get your work done working remotely. Now, however, in this local, national and international state of emergency we are in, families’ health and safety come first. We can help you maintain your productivity as much as possible, but “extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures”, and we need to be extraordinarily creative and open to new ways of doing things – with kids at home. Also, please refer to the communications from our senior leadership on these questions.

What can be done remotely? If we are asked to have half of our staff here, how do we decide who works from home and who stays?

The current situation challenges us to exercise our creativity and outside-the-box thinking about why we do what we do, where we believe it must be done, and most of all why we believe those things. The answer must be based on the nature of the work itself – its purpose, consequences and possibilities.  Work that relies heavily on special equipment, site maintenance, hands-on activities like medical procedures, lab work, animal care, etc. cannot likely be done off-site. Tasks that involve largely communicating, writing, reading, online activities or work in EBS or other online platforms are more conducive to being done elsewhere than at one’s desk. Try this set of questions to help determine what can be done remotely or not, and especially why.  We owe it to one another to put on our best thinking hats and find creative ways of staying engaged, while off-site. It is an exercise in creativity, and an opportunity to rethink assumptions about what work gets done how and where. In the future, this thinking will help us with space challenges, parking and congestion, accommodation of disability, and it will expand our horizons in thinking about who we can work with anywhere in the world.

Our supervisor says “business as usual” and is not in support of us working remotely. What do we do?

Please refer to the communications from the President on March 13, 2020 and from Human Resources on the same date for direction and support toward encouraging people working remotely. Go to the WorkLife Office website on Flexibility for a letter in support of flexibility from Sharon Butler, AVP-HR. Ask your supervisor how to reconcile these directives and encouragement with the demands of your unit. “Business as usual” may not be quite so literally applicable under this state of emergency. Continuing to function and serve our community is possible, but maybe not quite “as usual.” Develop a specific proposal for your supervisor using the tools at https://worklife.msu.edu/workplace-assistance/flexible-work/instructions-for-flex-work and at https://worklife.msu.edu/campusflex  These tools should serve as a guide, as they were developed for requests during normal times; not for states of emergency like we are in currently. Things like trial periods, etc. are not applicable under extreme circumstances, but regular check-ins, updates and conversations about what’s working or not are important.

My children are old enough to be home alone, but if they are home alone every day for weeks, they will be unstructured, isolated, and worried about their parents being exposed. How do we manage that?

See question 1 above. Create structure at home, for all of you. If you leave them at home for long periods, have phone, FaceTime or text check-in times to keep in touch. Establish clear expectations about what will get done in your absence. Plan activities they can do and share those with you when you get home. (e.g. “Which virtual museum tour are you taking today? Tell me about what you learned that was new, most interesting, weird or otherwise notable to you...”)  Listen to their concerns and worries and have reassuring conversations about how you are addressing their concerns, staying safe and practicing self-care strategies. For ideas on good self-care, click here and view other blog posts https://worklife.msu.edu/blog Please know that most children will not be OK staying home with no structure for a long period of time. They need interactions, support and boundaries within which to flourish.

I am anxious and wish to be at home, at work I am distracted and worried. What do I do?

Talk to your doctor, or MSU Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or another counselor, to help identify exactly what is worrying you, why, and what would help you the most. Discuss with your supervisor how you might work from home or flex your time for your own health needs. Anxiety is normal under the current circumstances and is a legitimate health issue that does affect your concentration, memory, attention and productivity. It heightens the release of stress hormones that are hard on your body and make you tired, unable to be/do your best at work and at home. To initiate that conversation, first develop a plan for addressing your work responsibilities along with your supervisor’s concerns, using the tools here and here. And finally, know you are not alone in this, and join us for discussions on our webinars based on blog postings like this. Explore more here: https://worklife.msu.edu/blog Inside each blog question itself, the webinar discussion will be posted.


The WorkLife Office staff knows that this unprecedented experience will require preparation, thoughtfulness, and certain resources. We are working hard to support you in the best ways possible. To that goal, we have developed many resources on our website.

Please click on any of the following resources

MSU

Flexibility at Work: Working from Home for Novel Coronavirus

MSU

WorkLife Blog

MSU

Feedback Survey

Please click for more information about upcoming webinars

MSU

Remote Work Structures and Working Together with Your Supervisor

MSU

Taking Care of Yourself in Times of Uncertainty

MSU

Best Practices for Working at Home with Children

MSU

Things to Do to Keep Kids Active, Engaged and Learning While Home