Future of Hybrid/Remote work at Brown

June 9, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

We hope you and your loved ones are well. As President Paxson wrote earlier this week, the Future of Work Steering Committee has developed new policies for staff working remotely to return to on-site work and new guidelines for flexible work arrangements. We are writing today to share these policies and guidelines as Brown prepares for the transition to a more traditional fall. Faculty have received information from the provost regarding requirements (and exceptions) for faculty expected to be on campus for normal in-person attendance to perform their regular duties, while this email is being shared with all employees to outline policies for staff working in academic and administrative units. 

As we have communicated previously, the University plans to return to significant on-site operations on August 16, with the goal of nearly all faculty, staff and students returning to campus in some capacity by the beginning of the fall semester. Plans to return to full on-site operations by mid-August are based on the current state guidelines that offices can return to 100% occupancy starting May 21, 2021. At the beginning of the Fall 2021 term, we expect that all University offices, locations and services will be open during normal business hours and staffed to ensure the availability of in-person services in accordance with this public health guidance.

With the recent lifting of public health restrictions by federal and state agencies and the continued increase in vaccination levels, we are asking all departments across Brown to begin easing into increased on-campus operations this summer in preparation for more in-person operations. Many in our community have already been working and learning on-site, and we will strive to bring nearly all faculty and staff back to campus in a way that continues to protect the health and safety of the campus community.

We are committed to providing support and training to guide employees through this transition. We understand that for some employees who have been working remotely for the last 15 months, transitioning back to on-site work will be a significant adjustment. This is especially the case because many have grown accustomed to physical distancing, while many office environments involve working in close quarters with colleagues. Others will have to re-acclimate to commuting and re-establish their work routines away from home.

We recommend that departments begin conversations about the transition and start planning for phased re-entry. We will be providing resources to help supervisors work with staff to adjust to this time of significant change, and a list of resources for employees also appears in the last section of this email.

Please read this message carefully for guidance information in these areas:

1.     New policies for considering flexible work arrangements

2.     Planning and operational considerations for return to on-site work

3.     Resources for staff

1.  NEW POLICIES FOR WORK ARRANGEMENTS

As President Paxson shared in her letter, safeguarding our collaborative and collegial culture and way of working was one of the guiding principles in developing policies for the return to on-campus operations. While we have learned during the pandemic that many job functions can be performed remotely, we also know how difficult it can be to maintain the levels of collaboration, innovation, mutual support and sense of community that are essential to Brown’s culture without being together in-person. At the same time, we know that not all job functions benefit in the same ways from colleagues working physically together at all times, and some employees experience sustained productivity when working remotely.

With this in mind, the University has established the following rules and guidelines for the return to in-person operations:

Target Return Date

The majority of University staff members should plan to return to on-site operations by August 16, 2021.

Updated Policy to Accommodate Flexible Work Arrangements

Flexible work arrangements may be available to some employees whose jobs can be performed remotely if those arrangements benefit their office or department and the University. We encourage all employees to review the revised and enhanced Brown University Alternative Work Assignments (AWA) policy, which establishes new categories of eligibility for positions that supervisors may consider for remote or hybrid work arrangements. The policy outlines the process for requesting an AWA.

University Human Resources (UHR) is sharing resources this week with department leaders to classify all union and non-union staff positions of grades 13 and below (this does not include student workers) into the following three categories:

·       Entirely on-site (not eligible for remote/hybrid work). The job duties cannot physically be performed remotely and are required to be performed on campus. With the supervisor’s approval, and based on the operational needs of the University and the essential functions of the job, employees in these positions may be allowed to have flexible/compressed work week arrangements provided such arrangements do not lead to overtime pay or lead to operational disruptions or inefficiencies.

·       Hybrid eligible. While most job duties are required to be performed on campus, a portion can be performed remotely. Generally, work can be done off-site without loss of productivity and efficiency, but most work requires on-site presence and/or in-person collaboration with other team members and/or mentoring. Employees in these positions may request hybrid schedules/locations utilizing the enhanced AWA process. Hybrid eligibility classification does not guarantee that a hybrid schedule will be approved. In order to designate a specific position as hybrid eligible, supervisors will need to carefully review:

o   the nature of the position and work performed, the essential functions of the position, operational needs of the unit, and the effects of a hybrid schedule on team members and on other departments (such as collaborations, mentoring and workflow distribution and coordination);

o   the employee’s ability to work efficiently and effectively remotely; and

o   appropriate technology/computing support to accommodate a hybrid schedule.

·       Remote eligible. We expect that full-time remote work may be available only on a limited basis in cases where such arrangements meet the operational needs of the department and benefit the department and the University.

Supervisors will inform their staff about their on-site, hybrid eligible or, in rare cases, entirely remote position classification. Department heads will receive a set of detailed communication from UHR before the end of this week sharing detailed guidance and instructions, and department heads will be expected to share that information with all supervisors with staff reporting to them and oversee the process.

In addition, UHR staff are readily available to assist anyone at any time with questions or consultation. Questions can be emailed to [email protected]

Required Review of Remote and Hybrid Work Requests

Classification of a position as hybrid or remote eligible does not guarantee approval of an AWA. All employee hybrid schedule/location requests must go through UHR’s enhanced AWA process. All AWAs are subject to review on an annual basis, except for positions that were advertised and filled as entirely remote.

The resources being developed by UHR will assist supervisors in equitably reviewing AWA requests. Mandatory training for supervisors covering the AWA process and critical considerations related to it will be available through Workday Learning. Additional resources on change and transition, managing hybrid and remote teams, assessing available technology to support remote teams, and more will also be available. Similarly, resources for staff on how to complete an AWA request, manage change and transition, and work effectively on a hybrid and remote team will also be available.

Individuals approved through the AWA process to have a hybrid work schedule will work directly with managers to determine the days they work on-site vs. remote based on other employees’ schedules in the office. This is particularly important for employees residing outside of Rhode Island for accurate tax and other withholdings, and scheduling must be in full-day increments (if exempt) in order to avoid time tracking issues.

We understand that these new policies may prompt many questions, and employees are invited to register for a Staff Town Hall to be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 15, to answer questions about return-to-campus planning. In addition, UHR is arranging additional forums for supervisors and staff to support the transition.

2.  RETURN TO ON-SITE WORK AND OPERATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

All departments should create plans this summer for their return to on-site operations, but these will not go through the Return to Campus Plan review process that has been in place since spring 2020. The current Return to Campus Plan review processes will be eliminated by mid-June. However, employees returning to campus from working remotely still will need to be enrolled in testing.

Departments are expected to adhere to the following guidance in managing the return to on-site operations:

Comply with Testing and Other Safety Protocols

All employees should review safety and health protocols on an ongoing basis to ensure that departments are complying with all health and safety requirements, including testing. While the University has COVID-19 testing in place, departments will continue to be required to submit the names of employees returning to campus from working remotely to UHR to be enrolled in testing (this includes non-Brown employees working at the University). Instructions on how to add employees to the testing program will be communicated by UHR.

Classrooms, laboratories and office spaces will continue to be cleaned to comply with health and safety protocols. Please visit the Facilities Management cleaning webpage for information on current cleaning protocols and ventilation upgrades on campus. Departments should contact Facilities Management or Environmental Health and Safety if they have any questions about health protocols and safety requirements.

Manage a Phased Return of Staff

Departments are being encouraged to implement a phased increase of staff returning to on-site/hybrid work. Departments should develop schedules for phased re-entry beginning July 1 that are based on their operational needs.

Please note that department managers should work with Facilities Management (FM) — or, for leased spaces such as South Street Landing and 225 Dyer, work with the Office of Real Estate — to develop these schedules and submit them to [email protected]. This will ensure that services are in place to support increased occupancy in your building or workspace. For large administrative buildings, FM Planning and Real Estate will take the lead on developing schedules. Many employees have taken their computer monitors, chairs and other equipment home, and coordinated schedules will allow an orderly return of all University property back to buildings.

Some departments already have begun returning previously remote staff to on-site work, and this may continue, as long as returning staff meet current requirements for testing and observance of the University’s current health protocols. FM or Real Estate should still be consulted when managing the return of large numbers of staff prior to July 1.

Review Work Schedules in Alignment with Space, Technology and Other Planning

Based on available space, technology and operational needs of the unit, supervisors must approve all employee on-site schedules and any appropriate flexible work opportunities. Supervisors are being instructed to ask employees whose positions are hybrid eligible and remote eligible and who are planning to request AWAs to submit their requests as soon as possible to allow time to review them in the context of requests made by others and ensuring the continuity of a department’s overall operations.  

To ensure offices and workstations are ready for occupancy, the efforts of the Workspace and Technology Preparation Steering Committee chaired by Vice President for Facilities Michael Guglielmo and Deputy CIO John Spadaro are ongoing. Please pursue planning with these important considerations in mind:

·       Computing and Information Services (CIS) is developing resources to help supervisors assess conferencing/Zoom capacity in Brown buildings and options to support remote and hybrid work.

·       Recommendations for standard technology configurations for employees working hybrid schedules will be made available in the first half of this month. CIS will provide documentation on options for hybrid meetings and will be available to work with departments on outfitting meeting spaces to enhance hybrid meeting capabilities.

·       Employees with approved remote and hybrid schedules are expected to perform their work on laptops properly secured by CIS and install all updates to the software and operating systems. Departments should be mindful of the need to reallocate laptops among their staff to accommodate flexible work arrangements for those on desktop computers, or plan to meet needs through existing computer replacement schedules. As part of longer-term planning, departments should review their computing inventory and build plans around transitioning employees from desktops to laptops as much as possible during times of regular computing equipment replacement.

·       Departments approving remote and hybrid assignments will need to consider how occupancy might be modified to achieve space efficiencies. This might include transition from private to hoteling offices, use of shared touchdown workstations and reductions in assigned spaces.

Comply with Pre-Pandemic Parking and Transportation Policies

Parking policies will return to normal beginning July 1, 2021. At that time, employees should begin parking in their assigned lot with their parking hangtag visible, and those who do not have assigned parking should no longer park in Brown lots. Beginning in mid-June, announcements in [email protected] will notify the community about these changes. Parking enforcement will begin July 1, initially with warnings and moving to formal violations later in July. Parking charges will be reinstated effective September 1, 2021.

Employees who no longer want to use University parking spaces will need to contact the Transportation Office. Employees who do not have an assigned parking space but would like one should register using the [email protected] system. As an alternative, the Brown-sponsored RIPTA UPASS service continues to be available to all employees with a swipe of their Brown ID.

 

3.  RESOURCES FOR STAFF

The past year has demonstrated how flexible, agile, creative and innovative we can be during times of significant change. But we also know that the next few months of transition will require varying levels of adjustment, whether employees have been working remotely, working a hybrid schedule of remote and in-person work, or working on campus throughout the pandemic but interacting with fewer colleagues.

The Future of Work Steering Committee has prepared the following information and list of resources to help support employees during this transition:

·       UHR Talent Development is compiling training resources for employees focused on transitioning back to on-site and hybrid work.

·       Facilities Management and Real Estate are working with the Office of University Communications to produce a video on what to expect when returning to on-site work. The video will be shared with all employees this summer.

·       The teams in UHR-Benefits and UHR-Worklife/Wellness have resources and programs for helping with change and transition, including access to counselors from the Faculty/Staff Assistance Program, backup childcare, elder care, and other resources.

·       The Ombuds Office offers a safe, informal place to discuss matters or raise a concern confidentially.  Email [email protected] or call 401-863-6145 to make an appointment. Employees can leave a message anonymously and provide times when they would like to receive a call back or have an appointment.

 

And again, staff-related inquiries about the transition can be emailed to University Human Resources at [email protected]

It has been exciting to witness the increasing vibrancy of campus as more colleagues have begun to return, and we will enjoy being together again as a fuller community in the coming months. We look forward to engaging with staff during the June 15 Staff Town Hall to answer questions as we transition to a more traditional academic year.

Sincerely,

Richard M. Locke, Provost

Barbara Chernow, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration

Russell Carey, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy