Remote work guidance and best practices

Dear Purdue faculty and staff,

First, we want to thank you again for the resiliency and flexibility you have each demonstrated to help us successfully complete our residential Fall semester – each of you had a role in our ability to deliver something many said could not be done. While we have a challenging Spring in front of us, your efforts to this point give us every confidence we will find our way through.

There is little question that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work together. Remote work and web-based (video) business meetings have become part of our daily routine and will continue to be in some way from this point forward. We have heard from many of you (and know firsthand) that one of the most challenging aspects of this new work environment is the mental and physical stress of back-to-back video meetings (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, etc.) with few, if any, breaks. 

Working with Bill Bell, vice president of human resources, his Remote Work Advisory Group, and other campus leadership, we would like to offer the following guidelines and best practices that we hope will help alleviate some of the challenges associated with managing remote workloads and participating in web-based (video) business meetings. Please note that these are guidelines – we are a large and complex institution and there will be times when it is not possible or appropriate to strictly follow the guidance offered below. That said, our goal in providing these guidelines is to help establish work habits in this new environment that better support the mental and physical health of our faculty and staff.

General guidelines for scheduling virtual business meetings:       

  • Video meetings should typically be scheduled for 50 minutes (traditionally 1-hour meeting) or 25 minutes (traditionally ½-hour meeting) to allow some preparation/break time between meetings. When longer video meetings are needed, follow the same principle and end the meeting at a time that allows for a short break.
  • When possible, video meetings should not be scheduled during the lunch hour (noon to 1:00 pm).
  • While normal business hours should be maintained, limit scheduling video meetings before 9:00 am, after 4:00 pm, and on Friday afternoons when possible.

Some best practices for virtual business meetings:

  • Before scheduling a video meeting, consider the best modality for the purpose of the information exchange and size of the group involved. To reduce the number of video meetings, could an email exchange, chat thread (via MS Teams, Slack, Discord, etc.), or phone call accomplish the same goals?  
  • The meeting organizer should identify a clear purpose and have an agenda for the video meeting, including expectations for camera usage, the chat function, and recording. This will help keep video meetings (in fact, all meetings) more focused and efficient.
  • In the absence of other guidance, in general cameras should be on during small meetings with participants actively engaged. (Note there may be circumstances when a small meeting participant working remotely will desire to turn their camera off.) In large meetings formatted as presentations, listeners may often have their cameras turned off. In such formats, consider turning your camera on when speaking or asking questions to engage with the presenter(s).
  • For ease of access, embed the meeting URL link in the calendar invitation to participants for the video meeting.
  • The cognitive workload associated with video meetings is much higher than with in-person meetings. For video meetings in which you are an active participant, consider minimizing multitasking (like checking your email) which may distract you from actively listening to and engaging with other speakers in the meeting. 

Some proven time management practices to consider:

  • Purdue faculty and staff need uninterrupted time during the day (away from digital influences) to work on critical tasks, eat, and recharge. Block some time on your calendar to work without interruption and consider disconnecting for the lunch hour to eat or participate in some physical activity (e.g., consider going for a walk). Be disciplined about sticking to your schedule.
  • Limit when you answer your emails primarily to business hours. It is tempting to answer work emails at all hours of the day, including when you are supposed to be having downtime. Try to limit this window of answering emails to help preserve your downtime. (If you are working a flexible schedule, follow the same principle and create an appropriate window for responding to e-mail.)

We hope these guidelines and best practices will assist all of us in better navigating this new virtual work environment, provide a healthier workplace, and help us do the business of our University in a less stressful and more positive and productive way. We wish you the very best of the holidays and a safe and peaceful break.

Sincerely,

Jay T. Akridge

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Diversity

Chris Ruhl

Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer