IT Town Hall meetings will continue bi-weekly and virtually. Below, you can review submitted questions and John Barden’s answers from the May 8 virtual IT Town Hall meeting.
Is it likely that we are going to restart as a large group or restart in phases?
It’s now very clear that we’re likely to restart in phases. Although those phases are still being refined, and the conditions associated with what would have to be in place as a precondition for that next phase is also continuing to evolve. By far, the most likely near phase of expansion would be in research and supporting functions to enable research. Mostly, that is because it is believed that this smaller group can more easily observe the social distancing guidelines that have been put forward. It is also more practical to think about that relatively smaller population being adequately equipped with protective equipment and face coverings. If you read the statewide guidance, the state is expecting to allow this kind of activity after May 20, which is only a few weeks away. We are starting to think about a timeline (around that time-frame) where we might start thinking about how we reintroduce some additional people into the research community. There also are public health questions coming up around how we might help do some level of density monitoring or supporting contact tracing through technology or even help with some population health related considerations. Also, for students, thinking about how we help those who are having difficulty with equipment or “last mile” connections. And, we’re thinking about potentially expanding some programmatic support for schools and units who have not had that kind of support in a significant way in the past. So, a lot of good discussions are happening in preparation for these various phases. It is likely that we will be asked to continue to work from home (where practical) for quite some time. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I would not expect [to return] soon because you all have proven that for a large portion of our population it is possible to effectively work remotely.
For those team members who are typically located in 25 Science Park, can you outline what you think the benefits might be coming back to the office while COVID-19 remains a threat?
At some level, the more interesting question is—at what point do we have enough evidence that says that the benefits of returning to work outweigh the risks of returning to work? And, in certain jobs, we really don’t have as much choice as we do for others. Some things need to be moving along and as we start to spin up operations we’ve got to bet back to campus to assess. Think about what would it mean to have every class have some potential to support online learning. Well, it probably means we have to assess the equipment in all the teaching rooms and make sure that we have the right equipment to make that possible. That work will require not only working from the paper inventory, but also actually doing some validation of our expectations of what is present and its condition. And so, we’re starting to get to a point where we have some areas where we really do need to be on campus soon. I would say that over the next couple of months it’s likely that if you’re able to successfully do your job remotely, my expectation is, we will continue to do that. I hope someday we can go back to a slightly more normal situation. But, at the same time we are discussing the possibility of flexible work arrangements and work from home as a result of the positive experience we’ve had here.
Regarding our return to campus, there are several questions, including: Will masks be required? How will that relate to people who need to be on the phones for their jobs? How can we justify returning to campus, and, when we do return will certain cleaning standards be maintained?
There are answers that are starting to get developed on all of these questions. None of them are final enough that I would feel comfortable sharing them yet. I think I’ve seen nothing but the best possible level of engagement and honest dialogue about the risks, rewards, and trade-offs. And how do we do everything humanly possible to protect our team, students, faculty, and staff? I expect that bar is going to be pretty high. And that, at least in the conversations I’ve been involved in, set the expectations of when we would make a decision to pull someone back to campus. In even a moderately risky situation, if they can do their job effectively elsewhere, I don’t think that’s likely to happen. I think we’re likely to continue to ask you to work from home if you’re able to do so effectively until things look very different than they do right now.
Will Yale Health be making antibody tests available to staff?
I don’t have a lot of information to that, although, if you look at the state guidance, there’s loose reference to adequate testing. Now, adequate testing is a loose enough term that it could be defined a few different ways. And I have not heard us, at least at this stage, although I think we probably love to be in a position where we proactively test every member who walks back through the doors, I don’t know that that’s practical situation to expect. At this point, I just don’t know and the public health committee continues to work through those kinds of guidelines and really is setting those standards for determining what that threshold is going to look like for different portions of the population. We will see how that guidance evolves over the course of the next month.
How are C&Ts being compensated for the PTO extension M&Ps received?
Blanche Temple: That’s still under discussion between local 34 and the university. So, no updates at this time.
Regarding DUO Everywhere (MFA), should everyone opt in? Is it easy, is it safe?
So, I pushed the message, not very long ago - a week ago or a week and a half ago—encouraging everyone to do it. And I really do think it would be in everyone’s best interest. And it’s certainly in the University’s best interest as well for you, your safety, your privacy, the protection of your identity, and the materials you create. I would love to see you all do it. There was an initial issue, but that’s why we do things to ourselves first—we were the early adopting population. And we discovered the problem with Teams and that problem has been resolved now for quite some time, but, at this point, I’m not aware of any other significant issues it has caused, and it certainly has obviously made my life easier because I’ve no longer getting prompted every time I log in, which is a huge benefit. So hopefully you all see that and take advantage of.
There is a lot of fear and uneasiness around layoffs; when will we know if layoffs are on or off the table?
I’m not trying to be a fear monger here, but I would say, I don’t think we’re ever going to know that they’re off the table. I’m going to make the same statement I’ve made before, which is, I’m going to do everything in my power to look at every other opportunity to reduce costs, before I do anything that might disrupt this team—and I do mean that sincerely. We’ve gone through the budget with a pretty fine-toothed comb and taken a pretty significant haircut. How much further and deeper that might have to go for the institution’s long-term benefit isn’t clear yet. But I do think also, you’ve heard Scott [Strobel] describe that this [health crisis] has had a significant impact to multiple major revenue sources for the university. And the reality is we are having to do a fair amount of belt tightening. We’re doing it in a very methodical and staged way intentionally so that we can wait until we further understand the duration and the depth of the challenge ahead. And I’m incredibly grateful, as I suspect most of you are to be at a place like Yale, that has the latitude to think that way. And is not 100% tuition dependent, which would be a much more terrifying situation to be in right now. I think we’re doing everything we can to do this in the most thoughtful way that preserves this great team that we have built. I hope that helps. But I can’t tell you that any action is ever going to be off the table completely.
Related to the last question, should that happen, what steps will be taken to make sure that they are fair from a diversity and inclusion standpoint?
I can’t say anything beyond the usual sorts of steps that one would take of making sure that that we’re thoughtful about where those cuts are happening and for what reasons, if they have to happen. But again, I’ll be honest, I haven’t spent much time thinking about it because I don’t see it as a short-term need; therefore, the conversation that would need to unfold about how to do it isn’t happening. Maybe that’s a roundabout way of saying you should have some comfort that those conversations are taking place and I don’t have a good answer, because we’re not giving it much thought yet and I hope we don’t ever have to.
Have you made a decision on whether or not there will be an opportunity to get monitors from 25 Science Park?
[John answered that he didn’t feel comfortable with staff entering the building at this time.]
John closed the Town Hall with a shout out to the Distributed Support Providers and others who are still working on campus and making it possible for the institution to continue to function.
Remember, you can submit time-sensitive “Ask John” questions through the virtual IT Town Hall meetings through May. Other questions submitted through Ask John
will be held for future editions.
Note: Questions previously answered in earlier Virtual IT Town Halls will not be republished unless new information is available.