Video chats help Arts & Sciences staff keep connected


When the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences decided to do a work-from-home trial run for staff during spring break, little did administrators know how quickly they’d be moving most staff off campus for real.

“It would have been nice to have another week in between,” said Michelle Montag, executive director for Staff Personnel and senior assistant dean. The test was on March 10 and early the next week the chancellor ordered most staff to work from home.

But the staff has adapted well, according to Montag and Pat Cunningham, executive director for Financial and Physical Resources.

“To as much of an extent as we can, our message is that business needs to be normal, with the understanding that there's all sorts of caveats to normal,” Montag said.

“We've really been trying to … push people to do face to face meetings,” Montag said. “Because I think the first couple of days it was sort of like everybody just moved to email, and we all went a little nuts, with inboxes just filling up. Who's going to respond to what becomes an issue.”

The trial run on March 10 allowed them to quickly identify any technical challenges.

“We at that point ordered a number of laptops from Dell, which we've actually received and have been able to fill some of the gaps that we found,” Cunningham said. Some people didn’t have laptops or had ones that didn’t work well.

They also quickly pushed out some LinkedIn Learning courses on things like Microsoft Teams.

Montag said the number of people from Arts & Sciences still on campus is “a very minimal list at this point based on you know the size of the school.”

“I think we've really established a minimum number of people who need to be there in order to carry out the research and then how to do it safely following the CDC guideline, making certain that things stay clean that people can keep at a distance,” she said.

Cunningham said they’ve also been able to use supplies from various research-oriented departments in the school to help out the people doing research on COVID-19.

Keeping a sense of humor also helps, Montag and Cunningham said. And they’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone’s pets and children, who run in during a meeting needing something.

“You can still have coffee with somebody or have a little happy hour, where everyone says we're not going to talk about work for a few minutes,” Montag said.

“One of the reasons why I really liked the video is that it's just so important to keep people connected,” she said. “Phone calls are fine, and a little bit of texting is fine, but it doesn't replace seeing each other and being able to just say, ‘How are you.’ ”

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


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