View April virtual IT Town Hall questions and answers

April 16, 2020

IT Town Hall meetings will continue virtually through April. Below, you can review submitted questions and John Barden’s answers from the April 3 and April 9 virtual IT Town Hall meetings.

Friday, April 3

Is there is a plan or an option to roll over additional unused vacation days?

That’s being discussed right now. I would expect over the next week or two to have a clearer idea on that, but nothing right now.

Will parking service still be deducting fees, while we are being asked to stay remote?

Review the current online guidance on parking. This has extended our work from home expectations through the end of April. I don’t know what will follow in terms of the other Expenses like parking.

What has life been like for our students and what is their sense of new normal - once this coronavirus settles down?

I only have a little bit of sense of that - most of it comes from having six or seven students on the commencement call. One of them made this interesting analogy: “I thought about commencement in the context of introducing my family to Yale more thoroughly. But actually, what’s happening now is that all of the friends who I know or interact with at school are seeing my bedroom, my dog, my little sister, whatever.” So there definitely is a change.

A piece I worry about is it has not been equally distributed. There are students who are in much more challenging situations trying to work from home or do school from a remote location or maybe in a very non-traditional situation. Those are obviously tougher circumstances in some cases. You know the College is trying to help make it as normal as they can, for those students to have an experience that is rich. I think there’s no doubt that while the technology we’ve put in place to bridge the gap allows classes to continue, this isn’t the kind of Yale education we set out to achieve. People recognize that.

I think that it will be interesting to see how that resolves itself. But, at the moment, like every other institution in the country, both at the collegiate level, but also K-12, everyone’s jumping in and doing the best they can, faculty and students alike.

Regarding Scott Strobel’s message and reference about no programs until after June 28, do you think we won’t be coming back until after that time?

It’s just too early to tell at this point. It’s interesting to watch more what’s going on at the national level. What I find interesting is that there still is a ton of conjecture about when does this thing peak, or at what point does some semblance of relaxing? When do social distancing standards start to look reasonable or unreasonable? There is not a lot of unilateral agreement on that topic yet. I think I said last time, and I would say again, I don’t think we’ll be on the leading edge of that. I suspect, particularly for a group like you who are very effectively demonstrating the ability to work remotely, at least in many, many capacities, I would think we would err on the side of caution.

Do you think they might bring everyone back all at once, or in a rolling approach?

I can see certain benefits to both approaches, but I just don’t have any facts.

Do you know if Yale’s planning on offering any compensation to individuals who may contract COVID-19 and need to take time off or need to take care of family members who have it?

There’s a lot of discussion, and you can imagine a lot of people have to be consulted, but right now I don’t have anything new, since the last time this question was asked. See guidance at Yale’s COVID-19 web page.

Will any discounts be negotiated with internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast for Yale University employees?

No, I don’t expect that because, by and large, most of most of the changes I’ve seen in that market have been thoughtfully being executed by the carriers themselves recognizing a need for some forms of coverage, especially for places that may have been poorly served or under-served in the past. But no, I don’t actually at this point anticipate doing anything more unilateral on that.

Is there a plan for getting webinar on zoom for all of the faculty or at least a more affordable license?

I have not heard that specific need or request come up. I’d be interested in understanding it more. So, if you are someone who submitted that question I’d appreciate an email, a little bit more detail.

Will there be a grace period for incurring FSA fees, since a lot of appointments got canceled?

I don’t know the answer to that. Sorry.

Those who commute by train have until April 10 to defer May tickets. Should we plan on that, or will they be further guidance about May to help people who are trying to decide on their commuting choices?

Right now the guidance is through the end of April - about four weeks out. I just don’t know; I don’t think anyone has a real clear picture of how long this might take. If I had to guess, my guess is we will be will be in the state longer than the end of April. But again, I don’t have any formal guidance, one way or the other, at this point.

We received another thank you, to you and the SLT, for helping everyone get through this. 

Well, again, thank you for that last comment. But again, I’m going to turn right back around and say you all are making my job feel easy. In terms of the quality of the work you’re doing. And the degree to which you are following through on the needs of the community and being just amazing colleagues across the board. And I know for many of you, it’s a stressful, difficult, and challenging situation - on many levels. I appreciate your ability to stay focused best you can. Staying focused also means taking care of yourself and taking care of your families so that you can be at your best. So, I do sincerely wish you all the best. And please let me know if there are questions we didn’t get to today and you want to send an email or through the Ask John submission, that’d be great.

I continue to believe that Yale’s intention is to make sure we’re treating everyone as fairly and equitably as we can on the situation so hope you see that too.

Thursday, April 9

What is the approval process for replacement hires, understanding that there is some sort of stipulation about replacement positions? Do we know more?

Rightfully so, the University is trying to be very cautious about making new employment commitments, because of the degree of financial uncertainty that not only is with us now, but how long and how deep what most project to be a coming recession, and what it might look like. In those circumstances, we want to be sure that, first and foremost, we do everything we can to maintain the people here that are already part of the team and not make new commitments that might in the future put us in a position where we don’t have as much flexibility to assure that we maintain the relationships that we have. That is the intention. With that in mind, the process has been that the entire SLT and I went through all open positions about a week ago. I took a short list of those through what is called the OTR process, a review with several senior officers, ultimately, up through Jack Callahan and Scott Strobel. They are literally signing off on every hire - whether a new position or replacement position, or something we’ve been planning for a year. It’s good financial stewardship and adds appropriate scrutiny for the conditions we have today. Going forward, my expectation is that we will have some positions that we choose to move forward. It won’t be very many and will be focused on those things that have the largest operational impact, and those will need to go through the approval process I just roughly sketched out, regardless of whether it’s a new or replacement position. We will likely have increased scrutiny on the use of contract resources and continue to make sure to be careful about all aspects of staffing.

Can those positions be filled when the freeze is lifted down the road? Will those positions be held, in essence?

Our intention at this point is to try to do so. It’s hard to predict a year or two out. It depends an awful lot about how long and how deep this financial disruption is. Right now, the way in which we are thinking about this is as a deferral, not as a removal.

Will casuals still be employed at the end of this fiscal year?

I don’t view the casual differently than a full-time in terms of employment. Each of those circumstances and situations where there may have been a perceived end date or a time that has to get reviewed and renewed like it would at any other time.

Has Yale considered staggering days with staff as a way of returning to campus?

I haven’t heard that specific notion. I would say there are lots of ideas getting kicked around as to how this happens. I’d say it’s too early to say how that might happen. It’s interesting to watch through what is happening in some other countries right now. Both China and Italy are taking slightly different approaches to it if you’ve been watching that. There’s all kind of novel approaches to try to think about how this restart might happen. Some of those involve some really interesting privacy and ethical concerns. I think we have a long way to go before we will be in a position to answer that question. The part I would say is that we, as a technology support team, have some things to think about carefully also. Meaning, at whatever point in time that we decide to move anyone back in any serious numbers, we have to think about it almost like an office move. An awful lot of things that were perhaps less well controlled because they had to be in the hurry in which we exited a lot of buildings mean that I think we are going to have some technology surprises when people show back up that we will to help people through. A lot of people took equipment home. It will be interesting to see what that process looks like on the back side.

Has there been any discussion about offering early retirement incentives for those who might be eligible?

I expect that over the course of the next few months, we’ll start to look at a variety of different options that might have things like that in it. I don’t know what those things will be yet. Certainly, it would not be surprising to think about, like every organization I think in the country does when we have large-scale economic situations, we’ll try to put some programs out that might help. We’ll see. I don’t have any specific information on choices being put forward yet.

Since [remote work] has been so successful, will it be considered more of an ongoing option for some associates?

There’s been a lot of talk about that. Not only within IT, but I would say across the board at the University. I think it’s a very timely conversation and one where we probably could not have made as much progress in getting people to understand the potential in any other way. I hope it ends up being one of the really positive outcomes of this chaotic situation we’ve gotten ourselves into as a serious look at what it would take to have a more comprehensive work from home policy and set of practices that could open that up for a much larger swath of the population of the University. I expect that will happen and the number of senior leaders who I am interacting who are already thinking about it for a significant block of potential team members is really encouraging.

Once campus reopens, will Yale permit employees to work remotely if their children’s schools haven’t reopened?

I’d say almost all the topics around the edges of work from home are open right now. I don’t know how we’ll answer that specifically. We’ve got a lot of decisions ahead as it relates to how return to work happens. I know we’re going to have all kinds of complications to try to think through; we’ll keep working through them as they come up. I appreciate the question and I’ll give that some thought

Will people who take on additional duties as a result of vacancies be paid for their increased workload?

It depends an awful lot on what the circumstances are. By and large, when we ask someone to backfill for someone or shoulder additional burden, we try to spread it out; we don’t put it all on one person’s shoulders. Sometimes it can be a learning opportunity, sometimes it’s just plain old taxing–and I get that. Sometimes it creates new pathways for a person to follow out for their career. I hope people think about it in those broader contexts and not in terms of just direct compensation. The circumstances around when that happens from time to time depend on the circumstances of the individual case.

Will people have opportunities to cross-train in areas where others may need additional assistance, considering the hiring freeze?

I think that’s a great idea and one we’ll have to give some thought to if things get more protracted for a period of time. Right now, the work we are doing is all around the remainder of this fiscal year, into FY21, and some deferrals of positions. Whether that gets less severe in FY22 and FY23 or more severe is a real question. We need to think about how we position to make the best moves we can with the information we have at those times. Cross-training and trying to support mobility strategically is something we’ve been trying to do on a lot of fronts already and something I would definitely support continuing to do.

Will you be considering hiring contractors to fill positions that can’t be filled more permanently at this time?

I’m sure there will be some of that, but it will follow the same path we are for employment We cannot return to a situation we had when I first started here. We had a bunch of people in contract positions who had been here for all kinds of different durations and had a ton of contractors doing day-to-day support roles. That is very unhealthy. While I appreciate that that can provide some short-term relief, a lot of wisdom about doing that or not doing that, depends on how long we think we’re in this state. I’d rather we came at it as making sure we are doing work that we need to be doing and, in the case, where we have a real challenge like that, we will have some exceptions. But we’re also going to have to make some tough choices about what we do and don’t do.

If work from home isn’t an option, are you also considering flex-work options (e.g. working remotely several days a week, alternating days on-campus or off-campus)?

I think we’ve proven that in some cases, people see this as a positive arrangement for their own needs. We, as an institution, now have some evidence of making it work, which I think gives us more credence and encouragement to keep going. Leaving it more flexible is an almost inevitable outcome. One simple example is that we’ve flexed Help Desk hours to try to be more accommodating for faculty needs outside of what has been traditionally provided. For some people, this involved working some overtime, for others, it was done through flexing their schedules. I think we will look at all of that with a lot of care, and I will ask many people on this phone to participate in that conversation. I think we’re going to have to figure out a series of changes and will look at this as one of the positive outcomes that came about as a result of this.

Are the employees impacted by COVID-19 at 25SP improving? 

That’s not data I’m privy to so I don’t have any information to share.

Can you provide an update about the IT Town Hall meeting scheduled in/for May?

We had a little different variant for May, planning what we called the IT Knowledge Exchange, like we held in February last year. We intended to do a combined Town Hall – Knowledge Exchange. We are starting to have a conversation on how to do that in a virtual setting. I think we are going to make that go. We will see exactly what shape it takes, what the agenda looks like; we’re still working on all of that and still have the date of May 21 on our calendars and will try to do something along those lines that will preserve the intent of that initial meeting.

Is there any data on the change in the environmental footprint/impact to the Yale Campus, as the majority of people have left campus and are not traveling at this time?

I don’t have any data. I know John Bollier, the Vice President for Facilities, was keenly interested in trying to do what he could to manage our environment controls most acutely for Yale based on the relatively low amount of people that are permitted in facilities at this point. There has been around 85 or 90 buildings now across Yale that have been red-lit, meaning for episodic use, not full-time use. Some areas are really complicated. I know John’s trying to figure out if there is anything he can do in the lab space to reduce the frequency in which we are cycling air through it, which is one of our big environmental drivers. I don’t know where it stands right now, but it’s being looked at very carefully. I suspect we are having the same impact everyone else around the world is right now about reduced commuting and things like that. I don’t have a lot of data, but I’m continuing to watch.

Remember, you can submit time-sensitive “Ask John” questions through the virtual IT Town Hall meetings through April. Other questions submitted through Ask John will be held for future editions.

View summaries of March 20 and March 27 IT Town Halls.

Note: Questions previously answered in earlier Virtual IT Town Halls will not be republished unless new information is available.