Virtual IT Town Hall recap - June 5

June 11, 2020

John opened the Town Hall with an acknowledgement of the passing of Lauren Kerrigan, inviting Ted Hanss to share a few words in her remembrance. Following this, John commented on the recent killing of George Floyd and encouraged IT staff to “support each other and seek to understand different perspectives.” 

Below, you can review submitted questions and John Barden’s answers from the June 5 virtual IT Town Hall meeting.

Can you share a list of COVID-19 response related initiatives and projects that IT is working on?

I had a chance to review that list with the cabinet about a week and a half ago, so the list is pretty well-defined. I’d be happy to share that list after this meeting. Note: See the IT Update article: IT supports technology needs across campus.

What plan does IT have if it starts losing staff to the retirement incentive? People have expressed concerns that it might leave their departments or areas short staffed with the same workload. 

I’m also concerned. I think the University, smartly, is recognizing that for some people right now, with all the disruption and vulnerable populations for this particular illness, that some people may want to take advantage of the choices that they have. I certainly understand that we’re all approaching this situation differently. I expect we will have some people take advantage of these programs. 

First of all, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to high-five a lot of people and celebrate their accomplishments and if that fits for them, give them the room to navigate this option. We’ll be left with some decisions to make, and depending on how many people take us up on that, it may leave some gaps. Certainly, in the short-term, I’m sure it will provoke conversations, including other budgetary challenges we’re facing within the institution. Will we actively fill every single seat—or not? We’ll have to navigate these decisions carefully and see where we land. As I’ve said before, the last thing I want to do is look at changing this team you’ve built, as the quality of the work that you all do has been remarkable. But, people are likely to take advantage of some of those opportunities, so we are going to have some challenges ahead of us. To what extent we fill every role or make different choices is not yet clear.

A few Ask John questions were resubmitted today, including: given the pay freeze in FY21, will other benefit cost increases be frozen? (and) Will we have a report-out on the results of the workplace survey?

I haven’t heard anything specific in regard to reductions of benefits. Blanche, do you have anything else to add? (Blanche responded with “No, nothing yet, John.)

I’m not aware of any discussions on this topic—there is a lot being discussed, but that one hasn’t been raised to my visibility yet. 

Regarding the Workplace Survey, the Senior Leadership Team and I spent quite a bit of time on this and we have some data that we’ve been working through. We shared that with the leadership team roughly a month ago and have started to work through that. We’ve also asked the Climate, Culture, and Inclusion Task Force to put their eyes on it and give us some perspective. Some initial thoughts have been shared around what we think the results mean; there’s a lot that has to get interpreted out of those results. We’re also starting to kick-around specific action teams. It hasn’t fallen from the radar entirely, but I will say COVID-19 has thrown a big blanket over a lot of things of great importance and that one is certainly one of those things that got pushed back a bit further. 

There have been a few questions about flexible summer schedules. And, for those who do continue to work from home, is there any discussion around supporting them with their increased overhead costs (internet, electricity, etc.)?

The summer schedule concept was referenced in Janet Lindner’s note, announcing options around flexibility. I will echo here that, right now, the demands for flexibility are huge. For those of you who are interested, please express this interest to your supervisor. We will start to collect this information to see what is possible. 

I’ll be the first to say that a lot of teams right now are flat out, and there is an enormous institutional reliance on our work getting done at a pace we have not had to keep in a long time. It may be difficult to do something in a broad way, so we’ll have to look at them one by one, individually, and see how or if we can accommodate those individual requests. 

Regarding the work from home standards, these are getting looked at broadly through an HR committee that was formed a couple of weeks ago to review the work from home policy, in general. Both myself, and others in the Senior Leadership Team, are helping HR to think through those policy choices. I agree that some choices have to be considered carefully. There are no decisions at this point. Some questions are clear and obvious: What’s the standard setup for a home environment from a technology perspective? To what degree does the University financially support people’s internet connection? It also means we need to look into things like, what is the responsibility, then, for ergonomic support or other furniture and fixtures? There are many questions to consider, but there is also a lot of industry experience to to help guide our thinking about these concerns (though, mostly not within higher-education). Ultimately, we haven’t reached any formal conclusions at this point, but I suspect we should expect more information reasonably soon. While we haven’t had this blanket conversation, there are areas of the University now talking about taking significant administrative support areas and potentially making them off-site for the long-term. Those choices have a long way to go before they’re finalized or decisions to determine what the technology support around that has to be.

Will you be testing everyone on campus daily, and if so, how will they have access to thousands of daily tests?

There has been a lot of conversation about testing. At the moment, I’ve not heard reference to daily testing. I have heard us thinking about what might be technically referred to as gateway testing being under consideration - this means testing before people return. This is being considered for some populations. Exactly what that looks like has not been decided. The questions really at this point are: Upon what frequency would we need to test in order to feel comfortable that we’re remaining as disease-free as is reasonable to accommodate within the workplace? No decisions have been made regarding this, but it is one of the principle conversations unfolding to think about a broader reactivation. Right now, the method underway on this first phase of critical research relies on a relatively small potential for transmission and exposure. If you think about the potential of having more students, more faculty, and more staff on campus—as the density increases, those things are harder. Testing does become one of the critical questions that needs to get resolved to feel confident that we can return en masse, so more to come.  

John closed the Town Hall thanking everyone for everything they are doing and their patience as IT works through the next couple of weeks.
Remember, you can submit time-sensitive “Ask John” questions through the bi-weekly virtual IT Town Hall meetings. 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.
The next IT Virtual Town Hall will be from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Friday, June 19.