Tips for Creating an Effective Remote Work Schedule

Whether you’re now working from home during this time period alongside your family members, or if you’ve got a furry friend by your side begging for your attention, working remotely can be a challenge. Stepping out of your daily routine at the office may be bringing added stressors to your work life as you try to effectively manage your workload from home while adjusting to new methods of collaboration with your coworkers. 

Figuring out what works best for you during this time is far from easy, but after already practicing working away from campus these past few months, many MSU employees have been able to find ways to bring structure and efficiency into their remote workdays. We asked employees to tell us what tips, tricks, or tools they’ve been using to help them effectively succeed at remote work, and here are some common themes we found.

  1. Utilizing flexible work hours where possible

Some employees have been able to coordinate a flexible work schedule with their supervisors that helps the employees as they work remotely.

“Since COVID-19 and working from home, I start my workday at 7:30 a.m. I also take a 30-minute lunch and these two easy changes allow me to finish my workday at 4:00 p.m… I feel very blessed to have some control over my workday schedule.” – Jackie Hohenstein

“A lesson from this remote work is, work does not necessarily have to be 8-5. Work needs to get done, but depending on your preferences and home situation, perhaps starting at 6 a.m. is better, or resuming at 8 p.m. As long as the work gets done, schedules can and should be flexible.” – Rick McNeil

“I learned in a training that working at your peak performance hours leads to better productivity. For example, if you’re a morning person, you work better and complete more during your peak times. I also found that stepping away from the computer for five or 10 minutes every two hours keeps your momentum going. Overall, I like the new things I have learned becoming a remote worker.” – Natasha Williams

  1. Build Breaks Into Your Schedule

As Natasha mentions above, taking breaks keeps the momentum going. Other employees agreed that building breaks into their schedule helps them work remote more successfully.

“Working from home means that when I’m working, that pretty much means I’m looking at a computer screen. In the office, meetings used to give my eyes a break but now most meetings are on Zoom or Teams so I’m looking at a screen even then. I try to give my eyes a break by getting up from my seat and away from the computer for at least a few minutes every hour or so…I make myself take a lunch break every day where I’m not looking at my computer or phone screen. I also still take notes and brainstorm in a notebook, so that also gives me a screen break.” – Courtney Chapin

  1. Continue Your Regular Morning Routine

“One thing I have done to combat “quarantine fog” is to try to stick to my normal work schedule while also integrating time to care for my child and animals every couple of hours. Sometimes this extends the workday, but I have found I am better able to focus on my work after I have taken the dogs outside and played with them for a little bit. In addition, my 10-year-old daughter and I have been using our time in quarantine to have some good quality ‘talks.’” – Mary Keyes

  1. Keep Track of Your Workload

“I keep a document that I plan my work for the coming week on Friday. During that workweek, I keep track of the things I accomplish and the new things that come up that need to be done. I leave future action items on the list. I find this to be more effective than a paper list.” – Renee Graff

  1. Limit Distractions in Your Workplace

“Set aside a work area and leave work in the work area.  Don’t invite it into other areas of your home life.” – Jayme Miller

After hearing from other MSU employees, it is clear there are many ways to navigate remote working schedules. However you go about working remotely, looking to other coworkers or your supervisor for guidance can be one of the most helpful ways to ensure future success for yourself and your team.

Job Feature: Administrative Contact Tracers

In response to COVID-19 and to continue ensuring the safety and health of the campus community, MSU recently posted three openings for Administrative Contact Tracers. Please refer to job numbers: 665171, 664960, and 665172.

The Contact Tracers are responsible for reaching out to all patients diagnosed with COVID-19 to learn more about patients’ medical histories, the people who they have had close contact with, and provide them with information and guidance to stop the ongoing transmission/spread of COVID-19. The Contact Tracer will communicate with assigned contacts, obtain symptom information, refer contacts for testing, and provide instructions on quarantine.

Preferred education, experience, and/or skills include knowledge equivalent to that which normally would be acquired by completing a four-year college degree program in business; one to three years of related and progressively more responsible experience in database management or data collection; equivalent combination of education and experience.

Ideal candidates would possess an understanding of, and ability to explain COVID-19 symptoms, tests, prevention, and interventions; excellent organizational skills; excellent interpersonal, cultural sensitivity, and interviewing skills; basic skills of effective communication including active listening, empathy, cultural humility, and compassion, among other qualifications.

For more details on the responsibilities of these positions, visit careers.msu.edu. Internal applicants should access postings through the Careers @ MSU tile in the EBS Portal.

Maintaining Employee Engagement During COVID-19

In a matter of months, our world has changed drastically due to COVID-19. Everything about our work lives, home lives and social lives is now different as much of our day-to-day interaction with others is now done virtually. For many, navigating the changes between in-person to online work has been no easy task. Working remotely with little in-person communication can make it difficult to recognize what the purpose of your work is or remember the goals your team has put in place. As employees continue to work remotely, it is important to make time to check in with yourself and your team members about these things to maintain a strong sense of employee engagement within your virtual team to ensure continued success.

What is Employee Engagement?

But what is employee engagement exactly? Employee engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to their work, their team’s goals and their company’s mission. To inspire this emotional commitment, you must first understand what drives it. Engaged employees tend to feel like:

  • They have a purpose at their company
  • They are aware of how their work helps them grow
  • They understand how they impact others

However, many people tend to have different definitions of employee engagement that include employee happiness or employee satisfaction. Although these things are not what defines employee engagement, both employee happiness and employee satisfaction are still important elements in the larger ecosystem that drives engagement. This means to support this emotional commitment from employees, organizations have to create a strong, cultural foundation to be able to achieve high levels of employee engagement.

Why is it Important?

Whether you realize it or not, employee engagement can ultimately have one of the biggest impacts on your organization’s goals. The difference between a team of engaged employees and a team of disengaged employees could be what’s creating problems within your team’s productivity and quality of work.

During this time of remote work due to COVID-19, reaching high levels of employee engagement seems to be an especially large challenge for many. With employees away from the office and their coworkers, it can be very easy for them to become disengaged from their work or see the purpose in doing it at all. While it may seem impossible, there are still many things team leaders can do to help combat high disengagement levels during COVID-19, even while working remotely.

Tips for Maintaining High Employee Engagement While Still Working Remotely

  1. Develop a sense of purpose at work

Successful, engaged teams are made up of employees that have a sense of purpose. To develop this sense of purpose for employees within their work, try reminding employees how important each of their roles are to your team’s goals at team meetings to help them understand the impact of their efforts.

  1. Offer professional development opportunities

Employees should be able to expect a range of learning and development opportunities from their employers to be able to stay engaged and invested in their roles. To inspire engaged employees that want to grow and improve, try searching for and reminding employees of professional development opportunities that you come across.

  1. Give recognition and rewards

A powerful way to improve employee engagement is to recognize and reward employees for their successes. To elevate your employee recognition, try tying it to real and frequent rewards to build more engaged employees.

New Supervisor Resources

Whether you’re new to a supervisory role or an established supervisor who would like to sharpen your skills, there are many resources available to help. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Become Familiar with Your Responsibilities within Performance Excellence

As you become familiar with your responsibilities for employee goal setting and annual performance reviews, start by going through the online supervisor content regarding the Performance Excellence process. Then, take the 35-minute MSU Performance Excellence Supervisor Course in elevateU and visit the Related Learning section, which includes short videos and challenges on topics such as goal setting and difficult conversations.

Utilize the MSU HR Website

Check out the Administrators and Supervisors area of the HR website, with a particular focus on the toolkits and processes sections. Here, you’ll find information that supervisors need to know about benefits, leaves, hiring, and more. Also, be aware of Support Staff Rules Governing Personal Conduct of Employees.

Familiarize Yourself with Union Contracts

Be sure to read through the union contracts of the people you supervise.

Take Advantage of elevateU Online Learning

Explore the free courses, videos, and books in elevateU designed for new managers.

Visit the HR Source Blog

Read the series of timely leadership blog articles that have been published over the past few months.

Explore the Perspectives of MSU’s Executive Team

Check out President Stanley’s website, as well as podcasts and Spartan Fireside Chats with various MSU executives to better understand the university.

If you find you have additional questions or needs as you continue your professional development as a supervisor, reach out to MSU HR’s Organization and Professional Development department at prodev@hr.msu.edu or 517-355-0183.

Navigating through Crisis to Reinvention

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, HR Organization & Professional Development

Months into the COVID-19 crisis we have learned a great deal about the importance of resilience, agility, and supporting others as we navigate rapidly changing demands. The skills and mindset demonstrated by people at every level of the organization helped us move through the initial shock and make essential changes. As we move forward, with ever-shifting variables, it seems that a traditional change management perspective is inadequate. There is no clear end, and the normal we knew before won’t likely return. That reality calls on leaders to attend to rapidly changing demands of the crisis, while also considering what reinvention will look like for our institution. While stressful, this provides an interesting opportunity for all of us to reshape our organization; leaving behind the practices and systems that don’t serve us and generating new ideas for a better tomorrow.

The authors in this Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) report warn, “leadership teams will be tempted to avoid taking bold action and having the toughest conversations and will retreat to the closest thing to the status quo that they can find — but that will leave the organization weaker and less prepared for the future than it should be” (Pasmore et al., 2020). There are many things we will have to do to help assure safety in the coming year. The question is, will we be able to stretch beyond mere compliance to take strategic steps to bring the organization forward in a significant way? All of us have a responsibility to that end, and leaders must be prepared to forge the path ahead in the following ways.

  1. Build Trust

This recent Deloitte article notes “trust is a catalyst of recovery” and reminds us that “resilient leaders need to inspire their teams to navigate through these significant COVID-related uncertainties. But great leadership requires even greater followership—and followership is nurtured by trust” (Renjen, 2020). Relationships are more important now than ever, and the actions we take with our colleagues, students, and community will either serve to strengthen or diminish trust. Transparency, candid communication, empathy, and compassion are vital to creating a sense of safety. With increased trust, people are more likely to step into the unknown and further innovation, something that is desperately needed at this time.

  1. Provide Direction

It is imperative that leaders provide a north star so that all individuals involved understand where they are heading. While the situation continues to change and responses need to be flexible, a visible commitment to values, a vision for the future, and a drive to deliver on our mission can help guide decision-makers and help others see the opportunity in the crisis. In addition to direction, CCL points out that leaders need to assure there is also:

  • Alignment: effective coordination and integration of the different aspects of the work so that it fits together in service of the shared direction; and 
  • Commitment: People who are making the success of the collective, not just their individual success, a personal priority (CCL, 2020).

Reviewing the CCL article “Direction + Alignment + Commitment (DAC) = Leadership” will help you to assess and strengthen all three in your team.

  1. Collaborate Inclusively

Leading through hardship and uncertainty requires a humble approach that acknowledges we need the skills, ideas, and energy of all our people to move forward as effectively as possible. Our tradition of protected silos will not serve us in this new world. We must learn to share ideas, work together to solve problems, and stop reinventing the wheel. According to global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, “Now, more than ever, organizations need innovative thinking and ideas-sharing across the business. Inclusive leaders can create a safe space, regardless of what is happening externally, where people can feel accepted and empowered to give the best of their talents” (Korn Ferry, 2020). To reach that goal, we must examine our biases, reach outside of our comfortable circles, and actively listen and honor the perspectives of others.

  1. Develop Yourself and Others

Strong leaders know that ongoing learning and development are key to meeting changing needs effectively; this is particularly true today. This Forbes article “4 Must-Have Skills For Leaders Post-Covid-19” notes “large numbers of workers may never go back to the office permanently. Managers who can not only get the best possible results out of their teams when working remotely but also show they can still act personably with employees and ensure team morale is high will be sought after” (Forbes, 2020). Strong engagement, communication, and technology skills are critical as we navigate this ever-changing terrain. Relying solely on the knowledge that has gotten us through in the past will not carry us forward. Demonstrating ongoing learning and expecting the same of your team is critical, both for the organization and individual careers. According to Gallup, “The impact the right employee development process can have is massive —Gallup finds that organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees” (Ratanjee, 2020). In addition to training programs, formal or informal coaching, stretch assignments, and learning cohorts are key, particularly during budget shortfalls.

A newly released Academic Impressions report highlights that “adopting a systemic and intentional approach to developing the capacity of that workforce is a strategy for strengthening the institution’s capacity and resilience both during and after a crisis” (Academic Impressions, 2020). More broadly, the mindset we take as individuals and as an organization is important. “As the sector reels from unprecedented challenges, leaders can respond with either a ‘scarcity mindset’—reacting passively to factors outside their control, such as state budgets, demographic shifts, or a pandemic—or a ‘growth mindset,’ focusing on those factors within their control, leveraging the full skills and capacity of their academic workforce to find new solutions, networking and engaging actively across the sector to identify and share strategies for confronting both persistent and new challenges, and investing and reinvesting in their people” (Academic Impressions, 2020). As with any crisis, there are unique opportunities to strengthen our organization; we can make the most of those opportunities if we humbly work together in new ways, toward a unifying vision.

Sources:

Academic Impressions (2020, May). Why Professional Development is a Strategic Priority During a Time of Rapid Change. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.academicimpressions.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/pd-report-ai-2020.pdf

CCL (2020). Direction + Alignment +Commitment (DAC) = Leadership. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/make-leadership-happen-2/

Forbes (2020, May 28). 4 Must-Have Skills for Leaders Post COVID-19. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/imperialinsights/2020/05/28/4-must-have-skills-for-leaders-post-covid-19/#2e778106ca1b

Korn Ferry (2020). Leading through a crisis. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://www.kornferry.com/challenges/coronavirus/leadership

Pasmore et al. (2020). Turning Crisis into Opportunity: Preparing Your Organization for a Transformed World. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/turning-crisis-into-opportunity-center-for-creative-leadership.pdf

Ratanjee, V. (2020, April 30). 3 Ways to Continue Employee Development When Budgets Are Cut. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/309284/ways-continue-employee-development-covid.aspx

Renjen, P. (2020, April 22). The essence of resilient leadership: Business recovery from COVID-19. Retrieved July 17, 2020from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/economy/covid-19/guide-to-organizational-recovery-for-senior-executives-heart-of-resilient-leadership.html

Don’t Forget to Protect Your Eyes during UV Safety Month!

Did you know long-term exposure to bright sunlight may increase the risk of cataracts and growths on the eye, including cancer? Did you also know that you can easily reduce this risk and protect your eyes from UV damage simply by doing things such as wearing sunglasses, a wide-brim hat or applying sunscreen around your eyes? Your eyes are one of your most important muscles, as well as one of the most sensitive, so it is important to make sure you are protecting your vision, however that may be.

With VSP vision insurance, taking care of you and your family’s eyecare is almost as easy as simply wearing your favorite pair of sunglasses. Their vision insurance plans are available to benefit-eligible faculty and staff and their dependents.

Why Enroll in VSP?

VSP offers a range of access to care, quality eyewear options, and plan options. Additionally, VSP has partnered with Eyeconic.com to provide you with the lowest market price costs and savings on glasses, contacts, sunglasses, and even your copay when you connect your specific vision insurance plan. This a great option for those planning on shopping remotely as we continue practicing social distancing for the foreseeable future.

VSP offers two vision plans — standard or premium coverage — for all MSU benefit-eligible employees to enroll in. To learn more about these plans, visit VSP’s plan summary sheet available on the HR website. As a reminder, for those benefits-eligible faculty and staff thinking about their vision insurance needs for 2021, Open Enrollment for MSU’s voluntary, employee-paid benefits programs begins in October. Outside of open enrollment, benefits-eligible new hires or newly eligible faculty and staff have 30 days to enroll from their date of hire or date of eligibility. If you are a new hire or newly eligible and wish to enroll in VSP, please call MSU Benefits Plus Customer Care at 888-758-7575.

Another great perk to VSP’s vision insurance plans is VSP EasyOptions. With VSP EasyOptions, you and each member on your plan can choose one of these enhanced eyewear options when purchasing your glasses or contacts:

  • An additional $100 frame allowance, or
  • An additional $50 contact lens allowance, or
  • Fully covered premium and custom progressive lenses, or
  • Fully covered anti-reflective coatings

VSP also offers a 20% discount on additional glasses and sunglasses to all VSP enrollees.

More Savings with VSP

As we start returning to campus and adjusting to our new normal, VSP’s focus continues to be on you and ways that they can help MSU employees see well and be well. That’s why, starting September 1, all MSU benefit-eligible employees with the VSP Choice Plan will enjoy guaranteed pricing on all lens enhancements, an average savings of 30% out-of-pocket, with no increase in premiums.

The result? Extra money for you, at a time when every dollar counts. And, more affordable options for you to look good, see more clearly and protect your eyes.

How to Use Your VSP Benefit

To use your VSP benefit, simply follow the steps listed below and VSP will handle the rest:

  1. Create an account at vsp.com. Once your plan effective, review your benefit information. MSU and VSP provide you a choice in your vision plan — choose the Standard Coverage or select the Premium Coverage with VSP EasyOptions.
  2. Find an eye doctor who’s right for you. Visit vsp.com or call 800-877-7195.
  3. At your appointment, tell them you have VSP. There’s no ID card necessary. If you’d like a card as a reference, you can print one at vsp.com.

To enroll in VSP, go to MSUBenefitsPlus.com. For questions, contact VSP directly at 800-877-7195.

Motivational Monday Round-Up

During these times of remote work, it can be hard to find motivation, especially after a holiday weekend. If you are one of the many struggling to get a bit of pep in your step this week, you are in luck as Todd Bradley, Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist in HR Organization and Professional Development, is back with more Motivational Monday videos! Designed to encourage you during a time with many stressors and unknowns, Todd’s Motivational Monday videos provide quick and easy inspiration to start your day off right or get you back on track during a mid-afternoon slump.

Motivational Monday: Motivational Enhancement

To enhance motivation, Todd explores the stages of change and transition.

Motivational Monday: Maximizing the Spartan Experience

Todd shares his tips on how to positively maximize the Spartan Experience during these times of great challenges.

Motivational Monday: Enhanced Communication

Todd outlines how to ask the important questions to improve communication in the work place.

Visit the MSU HR YouTube channel to view additional Motivational Monday videos as they’re posted. You may also want to check out Todd’s previous videos in May’s Motivational Monday Round-Up.