IT Virtual Town Hall October 23, 2020

October 29, 2020

John opened the Town Hall by reflecting on IT’s ability to meet the complex needs of the university over this period of time, which has “really been amazing”. He then shared a series of institutional updates and encouraged everyone to vote.

You guys have absolutely rocked it and done a fantastic job at every turn. So, from me and the whole university leadership team, I just want to say thank you. -John Barden

In relation to COVID-19, John noted that higher education continues to face challenges, including Yale, and that positive cases have been increasing (see Yale’s COVID-19 Statistics). However, “Yale has been in an admirable position in comparison to almost all of our peers, with numbers remaining incredibly low throughout the entire semester, despite seeing some more substantial outbreaks over the course of the last few weeks”. He emphasized that “Yale’s ability to operate this institution depends on everyone doing their part and erring on the side of caution in terms of their day-to-day activities. It also highlights that our public health safety measures are working, in general.”

In recent weeks, the Operations Task Force has shifted its focus from urgent solutioning to future-thinking, including the development of a revised spring academics calendar. This year, Yale will have a longer break between the fall and spring terms—concluding near Thanksgiving and restarting in early February. Rather than a single long break, Yale has replaced it with a series of several smaller breaks, creating a single arrival event and minimizing travel, which increases risk to the entire population. 
Moving ahead, it seems likely that the vast majority of Yale’s public health measures and the overall management of the campus will stay the same as it was in the fall, including a mix of in-person and online learning, working remotely whenever possible, and the current approach to research and clinical delivery. 
John shared that he is grateful to see, especially over the last month, that IT is starting to pivot back to a more normal rhythm, including making progress on the Workplace Survey. Work on this mobilized back in February, but was put on hold, while IT adjusted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, IT announced an overview of the themes and the nine initiatives. The teams are now working on those goals. IT has also taken steps to reevaluate its FY21 strategic goals. Emphasis on One IT, Service Quality, and Workplace of Choice will remain IT’s focus through FY22. The leadership team has also refined a list of 12 detailed objectives for a Balanced Scorecard, with progress underway. Updates on these initiatives will be shared in upcoming Town Hall meetings, and in IT Update in the coming weeks. Finally, progress continues on community-facing projects, which experienced a later start than originally planned, but are now making really good progress.
John highlighted a small shift that is beginning to occur, as a result of observations from COVID-19 and through partnerships over the last three years, which impacts the way IT is thinking about projects. The shift reflects a more broad-based framing, where IT is being asked to set clear strategies, identify the best organizational model to support decision making, and ensure clarity on process requirements. John is pleased by the expansion of this discussion, and he takes it as a sign of where IT is headed in the recast of the strategic plan and in how IT engages differently to support the university.

John concluded by sharing that he is “really proud of our colleagues’ response to the pandemic and for our support of it. It is important for me to continue to reflect on how grateful this campus is for all of your work. There is broad recognition that our movement online was, and remains, dependent on each of you and the work that you do-from assuring faculty and students have the equipment they need, to managing some of our critical service provider relationships, and everything in between. You guys have absolutely rocked it and done a fantastic job at every turn. So, from me and the whole university leadership team, I just want to say thank you.”

The following questions, and John Barden’s answers, were taken from the October 23 virtual IT Town Hall meeting. This includes questions submitted via the Ask John survey.

There seem to be more incidents of crime and assault in New Haven. Can you speak to what Yale is doing to address the increased need for safety?

In my opinion, this reflects the heightened tensions globally right now. We are at a very uncomfortable place for a lot of people and that comes out in all kinds of ways. For 25 Science Park, under the efforts of the Workplace Survey, we’ve been discussing the need for staff to feel safer in the workplace. In response to this concern, we are working with the security team to implement a more broad-based security program for the Science Park area.

As to how Chief Higgins and his team are interpreting the current situation, I don’t have a lot of detailed insight. Perhaps we can get a clearer update from him on that, either through IT Update or through an upcoming IT Town Hall meeting.

Regarding President Salovey’s October 6 announcement about the spring semester, is there any more information about when we will need to return to campus? 

I think there has been some misinterpretation of aspects of that email and I am trying to get some clarity on it myself. There was a real importance in trying to restate the expectation of remote work. That memo was really specifically trying to call out the concerns about out-of-state work. Again, I would just caution you all to be sure we are paying attention to tax regulations and other things like that which may affect you personally, as you are sorting out how best to manage through this time of remote work. 

I do not have clarity on the January fourth date, but I think it’s extremely unlikely that we would have a general recall to campus. There have been some discussions about trying to improve the clarity of communication around return to campus dates.

See: States Approved for Remote Work in Fall 2020

When the COVID-19 vaccine is available, will the vaccination be mandatory in order to return to work?

I think it’s too early for us to speculate as to how that might happen. However, even if the most optimistic projections of vaccine development hold true, the potential for a large portion of us to be vaccinated in the spring semester feels a little optimistic to me. 

Will employees be encouraged or allowed to leave early on election day for in person voting?

I’m not aware of any specific policy conversations in that regard. Most of us physically located in Connecticut have many options for how to vote. Work with your supervisor, if there are things that we can do to help make that easier for you to accomplish.

Has there been an update to the question of coming to the building to get office chairs and ergonomic equipment?

The last documentation from the HR team that worked through those policy requirements was pretty clear that the expectation is you are left to your own to decide what is needed for you in that context. The University is not, at this point, inclined to take accountability for purchasing home-based office equipment.

See: Remote Employee Reimbursement Policy (Interim) 

Over the last two years, it feels like IT has been losing managers and high-level technical workers more quickly than normal and institutional knowledge is exiting faster than it can be transferred. What are directors and senior leaders doing to increase workplace commitment and top talent jobs?

By and large, I have viewed the turnover increases that we have seen to be in-line with industry norm. If you look back through history, five to six years ago, our turnover was unusually low. That is both a blessing and a curse. From my perspective, the roughly eight percent turnover we see within IT at this point is still low relative to some industries, but it is a more natural state of affairs.

I agree that there is much we are trying to do as an organization to work on workplace culture and on separating and clarifying career paths. Part of what has been observed and shared through feedback over the course of the last year or two is how we create clarity about people’s promotion pathway and opportunities, and this is a contributing factor to why it can be harder for people to advance at Yale. We are working on that and I expect we will make significant progress over the course of the next year. It’s also why you see us spending a fair amount of time and energy on building a different kind of recruiting pipeline. If the organization is going to have that more normal level of turnover, we have to invest differently in creating a recruiting methodology and approach that helps to support that. 

We have made a significant amount of changes in that regard over the last two years—including our recruiting efforts, thinking about how we advertise and promote positions, and considering how we get clarity on job roles. I think we have a lot of different mechanisms in play to make that transition better. While the turnover in comparison to what may have historically been true at Yale is higher than before, it is still very much in line with what we all should expect in the context of a higher education IT organization.

Is there a plan for an IT holiday celebration? If so, is there any help needed?

[Julienne Hadley] Thank you for the suggestion in a former town hall to pursue this. I’ve had several meetings with our events team, and we have a few ideas for a fun, virtual event. John has asked us to do whatever we can to show his appreciation for everyone’s efforts this year and to help people feel connected—more to come. 

Do we anticipate that the dates of the holiday (recess) break will change at all due to COVID-19? 

I don’t know yet. I will just say there have been active discussions about that and whether or not we could do more to give people a broader break. It’s been really interesting to observe over the course of this event that you all deeply feel how important your work is right now and I so much appreciate and respect that. It has also meant that, more than ever before, when someone says they are on vacation, they are not on vacation. They are on calls, zoom meetings, or popping in to respond to texts or emails when they shouldn’t necessarily be doing so. It’s not just me and the rest of the IT senior leadership team who has observed this. It’s all of Operations, including most of Yale’s leadership team. There is conversation about whether we can take a longer break. I don’t know where this will land, but there is a real recognition that people desperately need a break.

When we do return, is the university considering a hybrid model? For example, half the population working on-campus half the week and working from home the other half?

We have not actually had that conversation. There are a couple ways of thinking about it. We do need to figure out what that return looks like when we get closer to having pressure to actually do so. Right now, that pressure does not exist. You have all made remote working pretty effective. 

John closed the meeting by thanking the team and sharing that we have slightly less than four weeks to go before the end of the semester. He asked that people take good care of themselves and their families every weekend.

Remember, you can submit time sensitive “Ask John” questions through the monthly 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 Friday, November 20, 2020.