Communication the key as supervisors navigate the new normal


Through April and May, the Office of Human Resources has held chat sessions twice a week to help supervisors navigate the new work environments brought on by the pandemic, and those sessions will continue once a week at least through June.

While the talks cover many specific topics, most of the issues that arise go back to one thing —communication, said Jordan Miller, a facilitator for the sessions and learning and development specialist in Human Resources.

In these unusual times, with most Pitt employees working from home, Miller said, “I think it does come down to just that constant communication with your team and asking them how they’re feeling,” not just about their work life but also how they’re doing outside of work.

It’s also important to prioritize what the team is working on, he said, “so we can be efficient and focus on things that really matter during this time.” This can help make sure that one person isn’t overloaded with work while someone else doesn’t have enough to do.

And faced with the uncertainty of what different departments will look like in the fall, Miller said supervisors need to be as transparent as possible.

“I know that people want to know what’s going to happen to my job, what’s our department going to look like, what’s our funding going to look like,” he said. “I just don’t think that a lot of supervisor really have those answers right now. So being as transparent as they can with the information they do have, I think can help people stay as calm as possible during these times.”

Many Pitt employees are still being encouraged to work from home to help de-densify the Oakland campus. That might set up more situations in the fall where half of an office is working from home and the other half is in the office.

For John Kozar, assistant vice chancellor of University Benefits in Human Resources, this isn’t a new situation. His office was offering alternative arrangements, such as working from home and job sharing, even before the pandemic. One new concern is making sure those who return to the office are safe. Pitt has said it will provide personal protective equipment as needed for those on campus.

“We all have to just take it up a notch in terms of our awareness of our work environment,” he said.

If someone has an underlying health problem and can do their work effectively from home, then they should continue to work at home, Kozar said. But if the job requires them to be on campus, then he’d advise making sure they’re aware of all the safety precautions that have been put in place.

“When you think about the way we used to work — even if we were in our offices — and how much different it is today, we’ve had to adapt,” Kozar said. “I think this is just another step in that direction.”

Miller said again that the key for dealing with a hybrid workplace is communicating with employees. When the pandemic shutdown hit, his department “sat down with every employee and kind of talked about a wish list — what does your ideal work week look like. … This isn’t a one size fits all. I think supervisors have to say that just because you want a certain schedule doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get a certain schedule. I think (they need to be) clear on expectations.

“It’s just understanding how do we have that balance where this person works well in the office, this person works better from home, but how do we help them to better understand as a team, this is how we’re going to do that,” he said.

Supervisors also need to make sure they’re applying any rules consistently, so as not to cause resentment among employees.

Miller said one way to connect with distant colleagues and keep communication going is to have informal online gatherings, such as online coffee chats at the beginning of the day or happy hours at the end.

“We’re losing that human-to-human connection where we can just stand out in the hallway and talk to our coworkers — ‘What did you do this weekend?’ ‘Oh, I’m go to the Pirate game or I’m doing this or doing that,’ ” Miller said. “Taking time to try to get away from work and talk with people that you’ve built relationships with and people that you continue to build relationships, I think is very important.”

For now, Miller said, supervisors and employees need to “control what you can control … coming in handling your day to day responsibilities, handling what’s in front of us right now and trying to not focus too much on the future. … We just don’t know what that’s going to look like. I think the future picture will get clearer as we move forward.”

The next Supervisor Support Chats are at 10 a.m. June 16 and 25. Register here. Recordings of past sessions can be found here; a Pitt logon is required.

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


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