IT virtual Town Hall - August 14 recap

August 20, 2020

John opened the Town Hall by reflecting on the upcoming return of graduate and undergraduate students to campus. He shared his appreciation (and the appreciation of senior leaders at Yale) for IT’s support to get the campus ready.

In preparation for their return, he highlighted an incomplete list of activities to support this: 

  • Updated guidance for students on COVID-19 Changes is now available, including loaning equipment, equipment maintenance, software access, lab availability, and more. 
  • The fulfillment of Faculty equipment orders has started despite a few delays. The team is working to expedite orders and work around constraints in the supply chain in preparation for classes resuming.
  • Those who support the Campus COVID Resource Line have been preparing to manage expected call volumes. In fact, all help desks at Yale are sharing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to improve first call resolution rates, regardless of whether the person called the right number. 
  • We’ve been developing tools to support testing of contact tracing and isolation/quarantine functions as well as tools that integrate this data in a way that helps the public health team and all the operational teams be more effective in their roles.
  • The new messaging and reminder platform went live on Monday, with the first use case being daily health check reminders. 
  • Guidelines for zoom for recordings and retention are nearing completion.
  • A broad-based reporting infrastructure has been established to support operational oversight and provide the various health designees in each unit the information they need to help support the safety of the entire community. 
John mentioned that all of these activities are nearing completion, giving him a good deal of confidence that we are putting in place a really well thought through set of tools to support the organization’s restart.
Lastly, John mentioned the extremely disruptive tropical storm we experienced recently, causing challenges for many staff and related plans to revisit some of the institutional response plans. 

The following questions, and John Barden’s answers, were taken from the August 14 virtual IT Town Hall meeting. This includes questions submitted via the Ask John survey.

Do people need to use PTO for days missed from the storm due to lack of power or internet at home?

Blanche Temple: The policy for last week, shared via an email from Jack Callahan and Janet Lindner, stated that individuals in that situation would be paid, but need to indicate this via a code in MyTime to reflect that action. As of Monday, staff members still in that situation (no power, no internet) were asked to reach out to their supervisor for further guidance.

Do you have any updates about the possible stipend to purchase things like computer chairs and other internet needs while working from home?

Discussions are continuing on this topic, and I know people would like a resolution fast. We are not yet at a point where I have clarity on a policy change.

In your opening remarks, you mentioned something about Help Desks and “first call resolution.” Can you please clarify what first call resolution across help desks looks like and what help desks this relates to?

The COVID-19 response line was put up to help answer health related questions that come about when people have concerns. Because that number is getting published far and wide, there may be some confusion about when it is appropriate to use and when it is not. Help Desk teams have been collaborating broadly to make sure there are a couple things in place. There’s been some discussion about putting in place an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) at the front end of the COVID-19 help desk to help route calls. This kind of option offers an initial greeting with prompts, something like ‘For health-related matters, continue to hold.”

The second piece we’ve talked about, because we still expect some misrouting, was to try to make sure that each Help Desk had some basic Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to get to the right resource. The teams have been starting to collaborate on sharing some basic FAQs that would help to assure that we did our best to try to answer a question without having to do a hand-off.

On the subject of the Help Desk and just general help resources, has any thought gone into shifting remote DSP resources to the Help Desk to increase first call resolution?

Not to my knowledge, although it is an interesting concept. I would ask Sandra, Lou, and Rick to talk about that and see if there’s some opportunity.

Are parking fees still suspended?

It’s been a long conversation back and forth about when it was appropriate to resume those charges. Please visit the Parking website for the latest details.

Do you know of any blackout dates for the use of PTO, with the understanding that we are getting busier and that school is starting?

No. Be thoughtful in terms of how you interact with your supervisor about understanding the pressure we are under.

I still expect that people do need to take some time here and there. It may not be ideal, in some areas for the timing to be now, but it is important.
All of us should be working with our supervisors to figure out when is a reasonable time that not only meets your needs but tries to respect the fact that we’re under very unusual circumstances. I do not expect to have any kind of a unilateral blackout of any kind. At this point, I would rather see you work through that in a collaborative way with your supervisor, understanding the context of our current situation.

Will performance reviews this year hold any weight in future decisions for merit increases, given that merit raises aren’t going to be available this year?

Let me answer that a little differently and say performance reviews have a lot of importance, regardless of their specific tie to merit. I hope people appreciate that. 
I think about performance reviews more for the long-term impact they have - helping people get the appropriate recognition and support for the things that they’re doing well and encouragement to look at things that are opportunities for their long term development.
It is in that spirit that I have asked the teams to continue for the full-blown performance management process in the way we envisioned in previous years. In some respects, it’s even more important now that people receive that meaningful feedback, given that it is not going to result in a significant financial change for anyone on the team this year based on our current economic situation. I hope people can engage in it in that respect.
All reviews play a role in your long-term development and all reviews play a role in terms of promotion and advancement, so that connection still remains.

Do you have any updates on possible layoffs due to the economic downturn?

We have talked about this topic at most of the recent IT Town Halls, and I still remain committed to the same thing I said from the beginning: I don’t know what the future holds, in terms of the financial markets. I think we’re still being cautious about how we choose to make decisions now that reduce the probability of having to take that action.
Within IT, as I’ve said to you before, my intent is to, if we end up in a situation where we have to continue to cut deeper, to look at every other cost category first before we would contemplate any personnel changes. 
If you are watching, we have been careful about filling positions and continue to be very cautious about taking on new obligations. This is to assure that we have some maneuverability to prevent the need to make reductions.

Where do we stand with positions that need to be filled?

IT operates a little differently than other parts of the university because we continue to have a good level of natural turnover and the institution is currently very dependent on IT for its online education.
People have been sympathetic to the need for us to backfill some vacancies. Every couple of months, we are discussing a small number of critical vacancies to decide whether we can move forward with them. Where it is critical to maintain operations, we are moving forward with some positions. Those positions are posted in our bi-weekly IT Update newsletter.
I expect that will continue again in a very modest way over the course of the next several months until we have more clarity about the long term financial outcome.

Is there any truth to other university layoffs happening in departments outside of ITS?

So far, Yale has taken a more moderated approach. There may be some that I’m not aware of, but I would not call it a large-scale effort in in regard to what I’m aware of this point.

Do you know of any plans to consider a reorganization [for the ITS organization]?

No, I think people are very nervous about something that they probably do not need to be nervous about at this point.

For this broad category, people are really happy with the work our team is doing and they don’t want to disrupt it. In general, people are trying to give us the room we need to navigate successfully. There is a lot more criticality in letting us do the work we’re being asked to do, then to look for financial savings from IT right now.

That doesn’t mean a reorganization won’t ever happen or that it can’t happen. It means that, right now, there is no pressure that underpins those questions. I hope people understand that that’s a sincere comment and I do not expect that to be a big pressure point for us in the near future.

Do you have any advice for staff and management on handling burnout and degrading mental health?

Part of it comes back to the question on vacation - which is a good one. You need to figure out some time to find space for yourself. I do sincerely mean that; I would encourage you, if you haven’t been able to take a break this summer, try to figure that out with your supervisors and work through that. I know a lot of people have not yet.

The other thing is that we have to find a way to be supportive of each other in the broadest way we can right now. Everybody has something going on and this experience has been very taxing on almost everyone. There are resources available to us, as employees; please take advantage of them if you need broader help and try to support each other the best that you can.

John closed the Town Hall acknowledging that he understands a vast majority of IT has been working very long hours, balancing complicated work and personal lives, and dealing with a lot of uncertainty. He reiterated he is very proud of the work IT is doing. This work is also incredibly appreciated throughout the institution and by the senior leadership teams, in terms of the role in helping our institution restart successfully. He thanked the team, indicating it’s doing a great job.

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 or asked at an upcoming meeting. 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 August 28, 2020.