MSU's COVID-19 Update

Want to learn more about how MSU is reacting to the COVID-19 virus outbreak? Timely information and a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help you navigate the ever-changing situation is available on MSU’s COVID-19 site.


Montana State University's commitment to safely and effectively meeting the public health challenge presented by COVID-19 extends to ensuring that University employees can work from home or another remote location whenever necessary in the coming weeks. Teleworking (or telecommuting) arrangements are not new, but because they may be unfamiliar to employers and managers who have never done so, this resource will help you and your team navigate potential teleworking scenarios.

Included in these new resource pages, you will find guidance for supervisors, employees and departments designed to help set up temporary remote work arrangements quickly and successfully.

What is teleworking and how does it differ from other forms of remote work?
Telecommuting is a work arrangement in which some or all of the work is performed from home or another off-site location. In general, regular office hours are worked and deviations from that schedule require supervisor approval.

Which jobs are suited for teleworking?
Teleworking is easiest to implement for jobs or tasks that require reading, writing, research, working with data and talking on the phone. In general, and at management’s discretion, a job is suited to teleworking if the job or some components of it can be done off-site without disruption to the flow of work and communication.

Which jobs are not as well suited for teleworking?
It is not uncommon to require employees in positions requiring in-person contact/customer service or that rely upon specific equipment or supplies to work on site. Management and/or supervisory roles also generally may be excluded from consideration for telecommuting arrangements unless a department finds such an arrangement practical in meeting job responsibilities. Some jobs that may not seem appropriate at first may be modified so that employees can telework.

What’s most important to starting a productive teleworking arrangement?
Clearly outlined and executed teleworking arrangements can prove beneficial to employees and managers alike. Managers should articulate clear procedures regarding check-in times and hours of availability. With proper planning, communication problems can be minimized. Indeed, well-planned flexible work arrangements sometimes enable departments to extend their service hours, and make more effective use of space and equipment.

Teleworking tips for employees

Working from home — some people love it, other people would rather come to the office, but it does require specific skills and habits. Regardless of which camp you fall into, you’re likely spending an increased amount of time in the confines of your own home. Below are several tips for establishing an efficient, productive, and sustainable teleworking set-up. Whether you’re in this situation temporarily or for the long haul, this advice will help you adjust and stay productive.

1. Define your workspace. It can be easy to sit on the sofa with your laptop and expect to get work done. Experienced teleworkers will tell you they tried that and it simply doesn’t work! We are creatures of habit and most of us are used to lounging with our laptops to read the news, watch TV, play games and chat with friends and family. Establishing a workspace, even if it is your kitchen table, gives your brain a cue that it is time for work and not play.

2. Master the basics.

  • Telework Agreement forms are available in DocuSign Templates, “Shared with Me,” or on HR’s site.

  • Add your telecommute schedule to your email signature line.
  • Get your technology set  up and working smoothly. Do you have access to everything you need to be productive; phone, internet, printer and computer. 
  • Know how to remote into the online tools you may need for regular use, such as;  Cisco WebEx MeetingsMicrosoft Teams, and Office 365.
  • For additional tips, tricks or questions on what technology is available or how to use it, please check out Information Technology Anywhere on the University Information Technology (UIT) web site.
  • Technology Best Practices For a current list of UniversityInformation Technology (UIT)Best Practices, visit the UIT web site. 
  • Use Skype, Teams and WebEx or another instant messaging client to stay connected to colleagues.
  • Plan for a video calls/meetings by making sure you know how to turn on your computer’s camera and microphone and being aware that your colleagues may be able to see the background behind you.
  • As a best practice, employees should update their emergency contact information in MyInfo under the personal information tab.

3. Set daily goals, track them and share your progress. You may be surprised by how differently the work day passes without the comings and goings of an office to break things up or influence what you do next. Start each day of telework by writing down what you need to achieve and then track your progress. Pay attention to how long tasks take and start adjusting your daily goals to match your current rhythm. Communicate with your supervisor and/or colleagues if you think your telework plan needs to be adjusted.

4. Eliminate distractions. If home is where your heart is then telework can mean pets, children or a favorite hobby are only a few feet away. Depending on your living arrangement, you may need to hang a “do not disturb” sign so your family members don’t interrupt you. Pets often need a closed door to keep them away and you might need headphones to block the neighborhood noise.

5. Prioritize privacy. Whether you are in your home or a common area, take five minutes to assess the privacy of your workspace. Can someone standing behind you read your computer screen? Are your windows open so your neighbor can hear your phone call? What information do you need to secure before grabbing a cup of coffee or heading to the restroom? Your personal privacy matters too, so see if there is anything around you that should not be visible during a video conference with your boss.

6. Stay connected. Many people say they do not call or instant message colleagues who are working remotely because they don’t want to bother them. Remember, they are working, not vacationing at home! You should feel confident about calling or messaging an employee who is teleworking anytime you would walk to their office or call them if you were working on-site. You can even keep your daily coffee run – simply plan to call or video chat with a cup in hand at the time your crew would normally walk to your favorite espresso spot.

7. Dress for work. Just like sitting on the couch can make us feel a little too relaxed, wearing pajamas all day makes it hard to get into work mode. Dressing casually is definitely a perk of working at home but getting “ready for work” is a daily ritual that many teleworkers swear by.

Supervisor checklist for supporting teleworking

With new emphasis on telecommuting comes a new reality: teams need a strategy for communicating digitally, and leaders must adapt to effectively manage their people and meetings remotely. Most people who’ve worked remotely can attest that while virtual teamwork has its pros, it can also be challenging. According to research, some of the specific limitations of virtual teams include some people participating more than others, difficulty in dealing with conflict, and trouble developing trust.

The frustration team members experience is often compounded by technological glitches on calls, connectivity issues, and team members’ different expectations about comfort and use of technology. Telework works best when employees and supervisors communicate clearly about expectations. The following checklist will help you establish a foundation for effective teamwork, continued productivity, and service to the MSU community.

1. Understand relevant policies. Review the telework-related policies and practices found within the MSU Policies and Procedure under Human Resources, which are detailed on the Workplace Expectations and Conduct: Telework Policy, Supervisors should verify that their employees have read and understood this information.

  • COVID-19 Leave policy has recently expanded to cover employees caring for a child or elder due to the closure of a school or care facility and those who are unable to perform duties remotely or for whom work is not available. Leave for these situations may be taken intermittently. Please visit the COVID-19 FAQs for more eligibility guidelines and detailed information.

  • Telework Agreement forms are available in DocuSign Templates, “Shared with Me,” or on HR’s site.

  • As a best practice, employees shouldupdate their emergency contact information in MyInfo under the personal information tab.

2. Review technology needs and resources. Identify technology tools staff use in their daily work and determine whether the resources will be accessible when working from home.  Ensure employees know how to access your team’s local technical support should they need assistance.

  • Ensure employees are equipped to access voice mail from a remote location and are comfortable using Outlook. 
  • Determine which platform(s) you will use to communicate as a team, clarify expectations for online availability and confirm everyone has access to the technology tool(s) and support resources. MSU employees have free access to;  Cisco WebEx MeetingsMicrosoft Teams, and Office 365.
  • For additional tips, tricks or questions on what technology is available or how to use it, please check out Information Technology Anywhereon the University Information Technology (UIT) web site.
  • Technology Best Practices For a current list of UniversityInformation Technology (UIT)Best Practices, visit the UIT web site.

3. Review work schedules. Telework sometimes get confused with flex work. Be clear about your expectations with employees for maintaining their current work schedule or if you are open to flexible scheduling based on employee needs.

4. Draft a work plan. Review the questions below with staff and work through answers together.

  • What routine responsibilities/tasks cannot be fulfilled while working remotely and how will it impact operations or other people? What are ways to reduce the impacts?
  • What routine responsibilities/tasks require regular communication and collaboration with others? Proactively contact each partner to confirm how you will communicate while everyone is working remotely.
  • Oftentimes employees experience fewer interruptions while teleworking. Are there any special projects or tasks to consider while working remotely?
  • What events or meetings are scheduled during the time in which the temporary telework arrangement is in place? Will they be postponed or canceled, or will they take place using technology? What follow-up needs to occur due to postponements or cancellations?

5. Make a communication and accountability plan. Supervisors should tell employees how often they should send updates on work plan progress and what those updates should include. Supervisors should also communicate how quickly they expect the employee to respond while teleworking and the best ways for the employee to contact the supervisor while working remotely.

  • If you normally make daily rounds to visit employees at their desks, you can give them a call during this timeframe. Maintain team meetings and one-to-one check-ins, altering the schedule if needed to accommodate any alternative schedules that have been approved.
  • Conduct regular check-ins. Start each workday with a phone, video, Microsoft Teams instant message chat or a simple text message. Your employees will be eager for connection and information during the disruption and the structure will help everyone create a positive routine. Every other day or weekly may be fine, so long as you are in contact frequently enough that your employees are in sync with you and/or with one another.

6. Be positive. A positive attitude toward teleworking and a willingness to trust employees to telework effectively is key to making such arrangements successful and productive. Teleworking presents an opportunity for managers to become better supervisors. Instead of focusing on how many hours your employees are working, re-emphasize a focus on measuring results and reaching objectives—regardless of work arrangement. The employee’s completed work product is the indicator of success, rather than direct observation. By focusing on the employee’s work product, telemanagers will improve their organizational abilities and their own skill in managing by objectives.

7. Debrief after normal operations resume. Employees and supervisors should review work plans when work returns to normal, assess progress on the employee’s work plan and prioritize any unresolved or new work that resulted from temporary operational disruption.

Tips for departments with widespread telework

With many teams moving to telework quickly, departments may want to adapt the following suggestions:

1. Consider designating a telework task force. Depending on the size of your unit, consider implementing a task force to manage telework protocols and procedures for your department.

2. Engage your team. Setting up a group to work remotely is different than setting up an individual employee to telework. Effective remote teamwork requires entire units to embrace technology and communication in ways that may be new and challenging to traditional ways of working. Support the success of your team by:

  • Scheduling a conversation about what it would look like for your team to go remote.
  • Identify needs and tool preferences of team members for remote work.
  • Document and share telework practices/plans.

3. Enable and encourage ongoing communication. Ongoing communication is the most important part of effective remote teamwork. Working online can be isolating without regular contact with supervisors and colleagues. By creating the expectation that an entire team will communicate regularly with one another, members will feel connected regardless of where they are.

Tips for conducting virtual meetings

From a distance, it can be harder for employees to contribute and be involved in a meeting. Above all, keep communication lines open to ensure everyone is on the same page and working together to achieve your shared goal. When preparing for a virtual meeting, make things easier by taking these simple steps to improve participation and engagement.

1. Create a detailed agenda. Send it out ahead of time so people can be prepared.

2. Acknowledge the attendees. At the start of the meeting, for small groups a quick role call and hello while for larger groups reference the list of all those attending and start with a positive greeting.

3. Address attendees by name. When verbally interacting with participants you should provide opportunities for attendees to contribute.

4. Stay on task. This will help to keep the group engaged and not to become distracted and succumb to the temptation to multitask.

5. Provide brief recaps. A simple recap as you move through the agenda before moving on to the next item will help reinforce the information.

6. Seek feedback. Take time to ask questions and solicit feedback via all communication channels.

7. Send action items out. Sending a meeting recap to participants reiterating what was decided upon and next steps. 

Remote working: Setting yourself and your teams up for success

LinkedIn Learning has available 16 courses on  Remote Working: Setting Yourself and Your Teams Up for Success to help University employees stay connected and productive.