View questions and answers from recent IT Town Halls

April 2, 2020

IT Town Hall meetings will be held virtually each Friday through April. If you missed the last two virtual Town Halls, on March 20 and 27, you can review submitted questions and John Barden’s answers in this article.

March 20

Do you see an upcoming hiring freeze or reduction in staffing due to deteriorating economic conditions?

Hard to say at this point. There have been some initial conversations about what this means long term. My guidance to Blanche and Diane Fusco is to please keep going. Finding qualified people to be a part of the team takes time. I still feel pretty strongly that the roles we have established as positions are still important to us and we will try to fill those roles. Right now, the conversation will keep going.

Will there be additional allowance for those working from home if schools and daycares do not reopen but ITS staff operations resume on campus?

This question has been raised in other organizations, not just IT. I am waiting for guidance from HR.

Someone had a guest visiting at Science Park on Friday and were told there would be some guidance on what to say to that person. The reqeuester hasn’t seen any messaging on that. Are we expecting to see that?

Feel free to forward the message I sent with the people you are interacting with.

What is the status of the IT Knowledge Exchange, NextGen, and Digital Conference?

Certainly, things with large group gatherings, like the Knowledge Exchange, currently scheduled for May, seem to be unlikely to happen as we originally envisioned them. Over the next few weeks, we will try to revisit each of these to see if we want to change it to a different format or push it out to a later date. Some aspects of NextGen that require keeping people off-campus are difficult to do right now. We are trying to move forward with non-in-building components and moving forward with those where we can. We are doing a case by case review of each project to see what can be done effectively at home. The other variable out there is a revisit of the financial budgeting and plans in the next few weeks for in-flight projects and those scheduled for next year.

Just to be clear, not all of ITS staff are working remotely. Those ITS staff members still working on campus deserve a special shout out.

I appreciate the people who are doing that and those who are working long hours both on campus and off to try to support team members in an effective way. We had some of the Desktop Support personnel drop what they were doing to help the Center for Teaching and Learning or individual support faculty as they prepare for online teaching. This is not small work. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

Due to the recent report of COVID-19 at 25 Science Park (communicated recently), should we make known our interaction with the department/floor that was reported?

I am waiting to hear from Dr. Genecin as to whether the investigation is still underway or is complete and what individuals can expect. My understanding is that the patient is interviewed and then follow up interviews are conducted with people who are perceived to be likely at risk from being in contact. As soon as I have more information, I’ll share it out.

What is pay guidance for our managers?

This refers to the work status of our staff:

  • Critical essential staff who are currently on campus
  • Critical essential staff who are working from home
  • Staff who are working remotely

The University, through our policies and guidance of our Local 34 contracts have been given guidance on how to appropriately pay individuals at this time.

Are people who are no longer able to work because of the virus being compensated?

We have pay guidance through March 31. if you are in a situation where you are home, but there is no work for you to do, you will be compensated.

Password change for staff - has that been paused with all the University’s administrative staff working from home?

This question is likely referring to Identity and Access Management roll out for two-factor authentication; we are slowing it down and waiting a couple weeks to see how things settle down. It would be hard to do that right now. We certainly don’t want to disrupt the move to online teaching or clinical care areas. We’re pausing a couple weeks and then will be reassessing.

Why didn’t ITS initiate remote work sooner, especially since ITS is well-positioned for remote work?

We are all trying to understand the circumstances of this specific situation. As is often the case, the University has people to make these decisions more broadly than just for IT. We look to the leadership at Yale Health to make some determinations at what point is it appropriate to take more aggressive steps. We all try to do our best to make decisions, but we’ve tried really hard to lean on the experts to make those determinations, rather than try to do something in a more distributed way.

Can these virtual town halls perhaps be done weekly?

We’ll keep meeting like this, with some increased frequency. We’ll think about frequency. We have to do this on pretty regular basis now.

March 27

Does our leadership team understand how greatly appreciative we are of the amazing leadership they are providing?

Thank you. I want to turn this around and say how impressed I am with both the scope and the quality of the work that you are doing in response to everything going on institutionally. It has been truly remarkable. I don’t think any of us could have imagined, a month back, that we would have pushed ourselves to have essentially the entire University working from home, supporting tele-medicine, etc. Cabinet members and the rest of the community fully appreciate the quality and importance of the work you are doing in a way that perhaps didn’t resonate in quite such a strong way until this unfolded. I continue to receive absolutely nothing but the most positive comments from the cabinet members as well as faculty and our distributed IT leaders in terms of the work you are doing, partnership, and engagement that you have shown.

Jack Callahan wanted to express his gratitude, and thank you, personally, for all of the efforts you are doing. Overall, you’ve shown incredible resilience. Thank you.

Many epidemiologists are stating the crisis might last for a year,  how are we preparing for such a scenario?

There is a growing expectation that this could go on for quite some time. There is no formality to this yet, it’s just a growing sense that working from home can go on longer than the date we’ve communicated.

Since we’ve worked so hard over the last couple years to establish a more cohesive and integrated organization, it’s very important to maintain that. Maintaining those relationships under the situation of working from home is hard. I want to acknowledge that and encourage you to try to maintain your relationships and get creative on how to do that for you and your team. There is a lot of good guidance out there on the HR website and through other resources. Please try to be creative and find what works for you and your team.

I also want you to tend to your health. If this goes on for a long period of time, some of us might be gaining time by not traveling between meetings, but also sitting at our desks for hours and hours. At some point, you have to take care of yourself too. I want to make sure you all think about that. Take time to take care of yourself; your mental health and your physical health go hand in hand. Do all that you can to maintain your health.

There has been a fairly significant economic impact and we are waiting for formal guidance. We expect we will be revisiting budgets for FY20 and FY21 to help us to moderate the financial requests that we have to do our part to minimize financial exposure for the University. The point of how much dependency the institution has on IT has not been lost. I don’t know what this means yet, but there is a concern that we manage carefully through the next few months to make sure we don’t have a really protracted and elongated negative experience of what the tail end of this could be. We are not on a hiring freeze, though, there is a lot of additional scrutiny happening, appropriately so, for what positions we fill at this point. We will probably give priority to those roles that are critically important operationally over things that may have been envisioned to support projects or new activities we may choose to slow down or defer.

There appear to be multiple and sometimes competing sources of guidance: federal, state, and local. Has the university decided which source they will use?

I don’t know the answer to this, but you can review Yale’s COVID website.

Has there been any talks about layoffs or salary cuts at Yale?

There is a broad conversation happening about revised financial guidance for the coming year. I don’t yet know what that expectation for that new budget guidance will be. The assessment of layoffs, which could be one way to reduce budget. For my own personal perspective, I would rather reduce any other form of expenditure, than to disrupt this amazing team we have built. I will do my best to make sure that this is the way we will approach any financial reductions that are mandated.

Why is Yale now asking staff and faculty for donations after we’ve already given so much? What is Yale going to give back to employees for their efforts?

Everyone is built a little differently. Some people are incredibly compelled to do generous things for the community when crisis hits. I suspect the call has simply been to reflect that and allow people that opportunity who feel motivated to do so. As for what’s the expectation for each of you, I think we’re trying to be as fair and balanced about how we handle remediation for people who are put in more high-risk sitiuations through this. We are trying really hard to position to maintain the job roles that we have and not take a major slide back. I hope you see the institution trying to be reasonable in how it’s making accommodations around things like parking. I hope altogether it feels fair and reasonable; to the degree it is not, I’d be interested in understanding where we feel that it isn’t.

Will the ECDP program continue in light of economic concerns?

We’ve had a few conversations about it. IT in general is an industry where we have an appropriate and natural level of turnover and a continuing need to fill vacancies. We’ve created some pipelines for talent that are incredibly important strategically for how we think about long-term organizational health. I’m not inclined to abandon them, after all the work that has been put in to make these successful programs. At the moment, I suspect that while we may moderate the degree to which we do those things, we will continue to support all the forms of engagement we have today. I can’t imagine how this isn’t in our long-term interest to continue to support.

How many individuals do we know have tested positive for COVID-19 in 25SP and at Yale more generally?

You know about the two that I know about. Across all of Yale, I don’t know.

What department or floor was the employee in/on for the newest case?

The most recent case was on the first floor, in the clinical care center team—one of the only major organizations still actively working at 25 Science Park.

Do you have an estimated date for non essential employees to return back to 25SP? 

It’s a little too early for me to answer. Just following the basic reporting, could this go on for a few more months? For sure. I don’t think we are going to try to be overly aggressive getting all of you back in the building at this point. What I see is an organization that’s slipping into effective practices keeping things moving while working remotely. Frankly, it gives me a lot of hope that as we’ve talked about work from home in the past, culturally— it’s been hard. You’ve given me a lot of pause to reconsider that point of view. I’m remarkably impressed with how it’s going so far.

Should we be quickly instructing our staff NOT to go pick up gear while the details of this newest case is sorted out?

At this point, we really shouldn’t be in the building. I would like your SLT member to be involved in any decision to be in the building at this point if you are not on the Essential Staff list.

How are our employees who tested positive doing?

I don’t have any information because I am not part of the clinical care team providing support to those individuals, even if I were, I would be under constraints to discuss it, due to HIPAA.

Is Yale planning on offering any compensation to individuals who may contract COVID-19 and need to take time-off or need to take time-off to take care of family members who may get the virus?

The practices we are putting in place are meant to keep you safe and the university functioning, and we do not want them to adversely affect your pay or time off.

We are following the usual practices for sick leave, leaves of absence, and other paid time off, and we encourage managers to be very accommodating to requests for personal time off.

If you do become infected with COVID-19 or have been advised by Yale employee health services that you must self-isolate, you will be paid for the mandated self-isolation up to 10 business days. The time will not be charged to your paid time off. If you have concerns about your well-being, please speak to your supervisor, your lead administrator, or your human resources generalist.

People who are parents of young children are asking for advice on how to balance all of that including working with spouses and other family members at home. Do we have any recommendations for helping balance work with families?

Myself included—the first couple of weeks of this feel very doable. If this becomes a much more protracted thing I think we’re all going to have look carefully at a lot of guidance that has been developed over years of research on how to make “work from home” work. It is significantly compounded for those you who have a spouse or other family at home—they also likely working with you, working near you, or at least sharing your internet connection. You’re having to figure that out. You may have small kids at home like I do; they’re under your feet from time to time. It creates all kinds of new havoc and we’re all trying to learn it. I think we’re all going to find our ways that work and probably a lot of that will be through trial and error. I’m finding I no longer have five minutes between meetings to clear my head sometimes, and I’m recognizing the need to change things for my own health. We all have to figure out what’s going to work for each of us. WorkLife also has additional resources for parents.

Is there going to be an effort to assess the ability to work from home long term for employees would so choose in the future after COVID-19?

I don’t know how we couldn’t at this point.

Do you know if Yale Medical School is participating in research for the COVID-19 cure, and if Yale health needs to trial antivirus, how do individuals volunteer?

There is an incredible amount of research related to COVID-19. It spans more than just the School of Medicine; it also includes the School of Public Health, School of Nursing, as well as FAS Life Sciences. It would stun you, I think, how many people are involved; it’s in the hundreds if not more. I feel very privledged, and I know many of you do, to be part of an organization that is at the forefront of trying to get to a point where we have a response for our community or broader impact in terms of testing development and vaccine development. As for what opportunities may present themselves for early trials on vaccinations—I don’t know and I’ve heard nothing along those lines. There’s a lot of conjecture as to how long this might take to develop.

This meeting time cuts into many C&Ts’ lunch break. Can it be moved?

Sure, it’s a great suggestion and something I didn’t think about. I appreciate you raising the point.

Submit time-sensitive “Ask John” questions at weekly virtual IT Town Hall meetings, each Friday through April. Other questions submitted through Ask John will be held for future editions.