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Remote Work and Travel Update for Faculty and Staff

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to provide important information designed to help in our collective fight against the spread of COVID-19, including guidance asking most employees to work from home, travel restrictions and other work-related updates.

The COVID-19 website remains the best source of information about the impact of the virus on our University community, and includes FAQs about work-related issues for faculty and staff. Your Human Resources Business Partner is available to answer additional workplace-related questions.

Northwestern’s priorities in making policy and operational decisions are:

  • To protect the safety and health of our community, in part through social distancing;
  • To sustain academic programs and operational continuity;
  • To minimize the possibility of income disruption to our workforce, especially those most vulnerable;
  • To encourage fairness and eliminate discrimination

Remote Work and Other Flexible Work Arrangements

The University still plans to operate its education and research operations in the Spring Quarter, as outlined in the messages on March 11 and March 13. Many staff and faculty members need to be on campus in order to ensure a transition to remote education, support the research enterprise, provide patient care through our clinical affiliates and operate critical functions. However, many of our functions can operate effectively remotely with no disruption to our critical operations, and now, we are formally asking that those functions that have the ability to operate remotely do so starting tomorrow (Monday, March 16), or as soon as is practical.

Flexibility is especially important now, given the closure at many school districts, the national and statewide efforts to reduce large, in-person gatherings and the second confirmed COVID-19 case within our own community.

The directive above will reduce the density of employees on campus and facilitate workplace social distancing. All employees who have not already done so can begin this transition by bringing University-owned laptops home, getting and testing encryption and Virtual Private Network (VPN) access to Northwestern servers for University-owned laptops, and confirming remote access to Northwestern voicemail and email.

Managers and supervisors working in areas of critical functions should not pressure employees to come to work if they are ill, if they need to stay at home to care for ill or homebound dependents or if they feel riding public transportation puts them at higher risk for contracting the virus. Conversely, employees whose presence is needed on campus should not be pressured to stay away from work or to self-isolate due to their ethnic or racial background, where they live, if they cared for a sick family member (without any indication of COVID-19) or because they recently traveled (except for travel to countries designated as high-risk by the U.S. Department of State or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)).

In directing employees to perform work remotely, we also ask managers to be mindful of employees’ personal circumstances that may preclude a direction to work from home. These may include the risk of domestic violence and various forms of abuse. If any employee expresses concern of this nature, managers should refer them to the Employee Assistance Program for further guidance on other remote work alternatives. 

Tracking Self-Isolation

In the early stages of this pandemic, we must do our best to track who from our community is self-isolating due to a concern about exposure. Please log your decision to self-isolate as it will help us protect the health of all of our community members.

Guidance on ‘Essential Employees’

Each and every one of you are vital to keeping the University open and running, whether you are physically working on one of our campuses or working from home. Some jobs require employees to be on campus, because the work cannot be performed remotely, and as such are defined as “essential.”  These are people whose roles affect the security, safety or physical operation of the University or who are required to work in the incident command center during an emergency.

Northwestern school- and unit-level leaders can designate certain employees as “essential” in special circumstances, such as in the event of a campus emergency, a mandate for remote work rotations or a closure.

A position may be designated as “essential” at any point. Employees in essential functions and positions are expected to work onsite unless excused by their supervisor or an approved job accommodation through the Office of Equity.

Given the broader scale transition we are making toward remote work, “essential employees” will be notified by their department management within the next 72 hours. Northwestern is committed to the safety and well-being of all employees whose presence on campus is deemed “essential” and will take all recommended safety measures.

We are further restricting University-related travel, including all visitors

Effective immediately and until further notice, we are also prohibiting all University-related travel without exception. This includes both outbound domestic and international travel, as well as restricting all visitors coming to campus. Please leverage technology solutions like phone calls, email, Zoom, WebEx, Teams, and BlueJeans to engage with those outside our campus.

Remote Learning and Development Curriculum Forthcoming

We understand that not all current job functions can be conducted remotely. Northwestern is looking for solutions, including a learning and development curriculum that is being developed by the Office of Human Resources for employees who cannot perform regular duties remotely. Participation in this learning can replace remote work activity and will be treated as regular work time. We will share additional information as soon as it is available.

Staying in Touch

Employees should ensure that their personal and emergency contact information are up-to-date in myHR.

Please stay safe and thank you for everything you do for Northwestern and for our community.



Manuel Cuevas-Trisán
Vice President for Human Resources and Chief Human Resource Officer