Return to Campus Planning, Hybrid/Remote Work

March 2, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share the following letter that was sent to all staff colleagues this morning via [email protected] offering details about the principles that will guide the University’s decisions about the transition back to in-person work at Brown. The letter includes information about planning that is underway in both the academic and administrative areas specifically regarding the future of hybrid/remote work in return-to-campus planning.

Please take a moment to review this letter to ensure you’re aware of planning affecting our staff colleagues. We have a faculty meeting scheduled today at 4 pm, and can address any questions. In addition, a Staff Town Hall meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 3, at noon to address questions staff may have related to this process.

We recognize that there are many questions and concerns, and as noted in the letter, the University is committed to proceeding with return to in-person operations thoughtfully and with sensitivity, and guided by science and public health data.

Regards,

Richard M. Locke
Provost

 

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[email protected] Message to All Staff

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

We know that many staff have questions about what the expectations will be for returning to full in-person operations as the University plans for the summer and the start of a new academic year in the fall.

We look forward to the time when we are all together again, enjoying in-person interactions in the many spaces on campus where we work and socialize. At the same time, we also know that the new ways of working established during the pandemic have prompted important discussions in academic and administrative units across Brown about how we work, and the extent to which we may expect to retain some of the elements of remote or hybrid working that have become part of new routines. Some are eager to return to work on-site, while the last year has demonstrated for others that remote work in some instances can allow flexibility and enhanced work/life balance.

The University is committed to exploring this thoughtfully and with sensitivity. We are writing to share the principles that will guide the University’s decisions about the transition back to in-person work at Brown, as well as information about the planning that is underway in both academic and administrative areas specifically regarding the future of hybrid/remote work in return-to-campus planning.

We know that there are complexities related to some aspects of more permanent remote operations for individual employees, including, for instance, regulatory complications that necessarily limit work performed out-of-state. We are committed to a full examination of the opportunities.

It is our hope that when COVID-19 vaccinations become widely available and the transmission rate of the virus remains at low levels, we can bring back our remote employees to work on-site by mid-August in time for the start of the fall semester. However, it is too early to set a specific date of return, and the pandemic requires us to continue to use public health guidance to inform our business continuity plans and keep our campus safe.

The following principles will guide our decisions as health conditions allow for greater capacity to have employees on campus. We are committed to:

●      Protecting the health and safety of all employees and students

●      Sustaining a strong sense of community

●      Safeguarding our collaborative and collegial culture and way of working

●      Supporting learning and growth opportunities to further our mission

●      Expanding workplace policies that enhance the productivity and well-being of employees while balancing the value-added nature of in-person interactions

●      Fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace

●      Remaining sensitive to external factors that may compel the need for remaining agile (government orders, school district closures, transportation resources, availability of caregiver options, etc.)

●      Advancing operational excellence in all that we do

 

A steering committee has been formed to carefully consider return-to-campus operations with these principles in mind. Since June 2020, Brown has had processes in place whereby individual units could develop a return-to-campus plan based on their research, academic and/or operational needs and submit it to the appropriate committee for review and final approval by Provost Richard M. Locke and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Barbara Chernow. As we move forward with gradually returning to more on-site operations, the steering committee will help develop plans to move beyond this case-by-case approach.

RETURN TO CAMPUS STEERING COMMITTEE

Co-chaired by Executive Vice President Barbara Chernow and Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue, the steering committee will focus on balancing the benefits of remote and hybrid work for employees with any implications for Brown’s commitment to operational excellence, building community and maintaining workplace compliance. This includes developing clear criteria for remote work eligibility, as well as training for supervisors on managing employees with flexible and hybrid schedules; equity in determining eligibility for having flexible/hybrid/remote arrangements; and the impact of increased on-campus presence on operational areas such as custodial services, mail, dining and parking for those who return to on-site work.

The committee will rely on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Rhode Island Department of Health, and medical and public health experts for determining at what point it would be safe to increase density on campus as the public health situation improves and vaccinations become more widely available.

We will begin this work by having two subcommittees focus on targeted areas that require specialized expertise. One subcommittee will be formed to review the payroll, human resources, tax and legal implications to employees and the University related to remote work. A second subcommittee led by Associate Provost for Academic Space Tom Roberts will focus on reviewing lessons learned from recent experiences in delivering remote and hybrid education in academic units to guide future plans for remote work across Brown. The primary focus of this subcommittee will be space and technology use, with the goal of developing principles that guide both short- and long-term plans for new and newly renovated workspaces. Questions of how remote and hybrid working arrangements impact faculty and staff productivity, community, and job satisfaction will guide this group’s work.

The two subcommittees will reach out to peer institutions to exchange ideas, share lessons learned and coordinate closely with each other. The membership of both groups is listed at the end of this communication.

Finally, the need to be attentive to the impact on well-being for employees who will transition to work on-site after a long period of remote and hybrid work cannot be underestimated. The steering committee will look for ways to provide workshops to employees on successful strategies for transitioning back on-site, as well as guidance on self-care.

All staff will receive a short (pulse) survey within the next week or two with questions about remote/hybrid work, coping with the pandemic and current events, and transition planning. We strongly encourage all staff members to complete the brief survey to help inform the work of the Return to Campus Steering Committee. We are committed to ensuring that our planning is informed by your questions and insights, and we also hope all staff members will plan to attend the next virtual Staff Town Hall on Wednesday, March 3, from noon to 1 p.m.

We understand that the decisions we make will have an impact not only on workplace operations, but also in the lives of those who work at Brown. For this reason, we will rely on the principles above to guide our work. We look forward to sharing more information as we develop clear guidance and recommendations for what our on-site workplaces will look like in the coming months.

STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP

Co-Chair: Barbara Chernow, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration

Co-Chair: Shontay Delalue, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity

Rafael Dones, Director of Tax and Payroll Services

Elizabeth Gentry, Assistant Vice President of Business and Financial Services

Rhonda Hospedales, Senior Director of Employee and Labor Relations

Lyubov Niemann, Chief of Staff to the EVP for Finance and Administration

Chloe Poston, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity

Shankar Prasad, Deputy Provost and Vice President for Academic Innovation

Tom Roberts, Associate Provost for Academic Space; Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Erin Royal, Sustainability Programs Manager; Co-Chair of the President’s Staff Advisory Council

Sincerely,

Barbara Chernow, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration

Shontay Delalue, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity