IT virtual Town Hall recap - January 22, 2021

February 4, 2021

John opened the meeting by reflecting on the IT holiday party and the holiday recess. He enjoyed talking with team members at the event and welcomed the chance to reset during the break. He hoped others had a chance to do this, as well. 

After welcoming staff back, John reflected on the increase of COVID-related deaths in America. The increase has also impacted Yale, and several IT team members are sick at home. The numbers only tell a small part of the story; the impact on families, communities, and culture is incalculable. John asked for a moment of silence to support these individuals.

Following a reminder to adhere to protocols and stay safe, John cautioned that while many are optimistic about the hope that the vaccine brings, the majority won’t have the opportunity to be vaccinated for months. Between new virus strains and emerging challenges with vaccine supply and distribution, John cautioned us not to let our guard down.

John reminded the group that the Spring academic cycle is restarting, although later than usual. Eliminating spring break condenses the calendar and reduces potential risks from travel. The campus remains de-densified, with sophomores on-campus and freshman off-campus this semester. Yale continues to expect that community members, including IT staff, are only on campus when absolutely necessary.

The spring semester is expected to be more challenging than the fall due to broad-based community transmission, which makes up the vast majority of cases, and is occurring at a significantly higher level than in the fall. Adjustments are being made as a result. 

John introduced ITS’s Director of Finance and Administration, Mark Manton, who is also serving as the department’s Health Safety Leader (HSL) during the pandemic. In coordination with campus-wide HSLs, the clinical leadership team, and Stephanie Spangler, Mark participates to understand shifting approaches and support needs for COVID-related protocols.

Mark shared information and statistics (current as of the date of this town hall), including:

  • The Campus COVID Resource Line (CCRL) phone number (203-432-6604), which he suggested staff save to their cell phones, for questions related to COVID-19.
  • The number of staff impacted by COVID since the beginning of the pandemic, including 13 ITS staff who were isolated, five who are currently in isolation, and one person who unfortunately passed due to COVID-19.
  • Connecticut’s seven-day trailing average rate per hundred thousand is 5.7% (compared to the U.S. average of 5.8%).
  • The number of people authorized to be on campus at various times is 175 people. However, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) recently completed an exercise to classify them as high-, medium-, and low-contact. Of this group, 35 people were rated as high-contact, and they will be asked to be tested weekly to ensure that our on-campus population stays safe.
  • The number of contractors working for ITS is currently 67 contractors, but not all are on-campus. Weekly or bi-weekly conversations are being held (including an expanded list of contractors) to ensure that they are following Yale’s health guidelines. 

Additionally, Mark provided an update on the vaccine, including phases 1a, 1b, and 1c. Connecticut is currently in phase 1b and is expected to shift to Phase 1c after vaccinating the 75 and older population. For more information on Yale’s approach to vaccine distribution, visit Yale’s COVID-19 website.

He also shared that Yale’s Lanman Center, which started distributing vaccines on December 30, will be converted into a full vaccination clinic. Mark noted that only 49% of Yale’s invitations to receive the vaccine have resulted in Phase 1a reservations. Yale is working to contact people who have not elected to get the vaccine.

Mark has received many questions about the vaccine and whether it is safe. Worldwide, about 54 million doses have been provided (of which 16.5 million were in the United States). It has a good track record despite some side effects, including:

  • Only 29 people experienced significant, anaphylaxis-like symptoms that required hospitalization, and all of them were epi pen-like carriers who have recovered since the side effects developed.
  • Between 55% and 63% experienced typical side effects, including site pain, swelling, fever, chills, tiredness, or headache.
  • As for the vaccine’s effectiveness:
    • After receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, effectiveness is about 54%. About seven days after the second dose, effectiveness is about 95%.
    • After receiving the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, effectiveness is about 80%. About 14 days after the second dose, effectiveness is about 95%.

Per an update in the January 21 Emergency Operations Team and HSL meeting, the system is more robust than the number of doses that we are getting, and we are asking for more. The group is seeking clarification on whether Yale can begin earlier vaccinations for the next targeted phase. Thus far, the state has restricted vaccinations to people within their set guidelines.

Mark concluded his remarks with a reminder to practice healthy behaviors, including the three W’s: wear a mask, wait (stay six feet apart), and wash your hands. John also mentioned that Mark would continue to offer similar updates in upcoming town halls to ensure that the IT community receives updated information on these topics.

Moving on, John encouraged all staff to enroll in the COVID Alert CT application to be notified of potential exposure to COVID-19. The application is another tool to help us stem community transmission, particularly when the majority of the transmission is community-based. 

In advance of this meeting, a few questions were submitted to Ask John regarding leadership’s thinking on returning to work. We expect that we will not return all at once until it is deemed safe to do so. Given the pace of the vaccine rollout and the conditions nationwide, John suspects that this is many months away. John expects to continue extending that return to work date and remain in this condition of being on campus only when you must. Based on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, there is a good chance that it won’t be until late summer or fall.

There was also a question about whether or not vaccines would become mandated for returning to work. Right now, there is no expectation of mandating the vaccine. John encouraged everyone to look at the data and think very carefully if offered an opportunity to vaccinate. “Do yourself, your family, and your community a favor and take it. The data is really quite clear about its effectiveness and the minimal risk of adverse outcomes.”

John reminded staff that it’s time for mid-year performance check-ins and recommended that staff use their one-on-one meetings to clarify goals and take stock of everything that’s been accomplished so far this year.

He thanked everyone for all that we have accomplished so far but reminded staff to confirm what is ahead and ensure that you are clear on the expectations. Overall, programmatic goals for the year are progressing well and will reflect through the mid-year process. Highlights include:

  • We are well into using the new Financial Data Mart, and initial indications are positive. We are now working towards operationalizing this with the Finance IT team in flight with a few open positions. These are important to transfer the accountability for maintaining that environment and responding to new information requests from the Data Warehouse team to the Finance team. The transition will allow the Data Warehouse team to begin to work on the next priority around the Research Data Mart.
  • The business process team under Karen Polhemus is starting to pivot and work on faculty lifecycle process in the School of Medicine with Ted Hanss’ team. Additionally, she is beginning similar work around the training management system with the Human Resource organization. This kind of high-value process work is important to holistically help the institution think more broadly about strategy, process, and organization-not just technology. Technology changes our way of amplifying strategy; continuing to make progress on how we help is critically important to the intended path.
  • Next Generation Network is beginning to move to build deployments. Our design work has mostly settled out, and the pilots are nearly complete. The new major distribution unit on the Med Campus has been approved for construction and will begin later this year. While there always be some hurdles on a large and complex program, it’s great to see the team starting to work toward rollout.
  • Some terrific work is going on across Yale Center for Research Computing (YCRC), Information Security, Med IT, and Foundational Technologies to advance several critical research support functions. Some of these are landing as simplified new services such as the environment for managing regulated data. Others are advancing discussions with faculty planning to support laboratory sciences or research technology needs extending beyond High Performance Computing (HPC). John expressed gratitude in seeing that work and shared that the feeling is mutual with Mike Crair, Vice Provost for research, and John’s partner to advance those needs.
  • Work is underway with the architecture team to review services and create a clear understanding of the watchpoints ahead for the next few years. These data points are hugely important and helping to feed into discussions with the IT Governance Committee and forming the basis of real clarity and a much more strategically focused discussion about our priorities.

Finally, John shared one operational item from earlier in the week concerning “a failure that wasn’t a failure - at the best time.” He gave a big shout out to the network team whose work over the last few years ensured that this was a complete non-event, “which is huge progress.”

The following questions, and John Barden’s answers, were taken from the January 22 virtual IT Town Hall meeting, including questions submitted via the Ask John survey.

Will the University offer PTO extensions similar to FY20?

I don’t know; however, some discussions are happening in HR recognizing that there have been constraints about people’s ability to take PTO. Blanche Temple shared that discussions are occurring now, and we hope to know something very soon.

Will there be merit increases this year?

I expect us to return to a more normal program; however, I don’t have any guarantees about that.

Will guidance for working from home through spring be updated?

As an institution, we continue to monitor the overall public health and vaccine distribution, particularly in Connecticut.  As I have said before, you have all proven the ability to work well in this remote model, being on campus only if your job duties and daily schedule require it. I do not expect a general recall of staff to the office until the situation allows that to be done safely. I do expect that will be sometime after April. Before any such announcement, I also suspect that we are likely to better define a long-term, flexible work program that may be available for many of you to consider.

How will vaccine distribution impact our return to campus—will those who are vaccinated be asked to return earlier, or is it more likely we’ll all return at once? This information will help families plan for the future.

We don’t know yet. While the vaccine holds the promise of dramatically reducing the spread, slowing the mutation and new variants, and reducing illness severity, it is not a silver bullet. There have been no decisions to date that have been based on vaccine distribution, though certainly all of us would like to see broader inoculations occurring on the fastest possible path. If you have additional questions about the vaccine program, visit Yale’s COVID-19 website.

Many of us are finding it easier to work from home than in the office. Other ITS staff are easier to reach for a quick question or an involved meeting. For many of us, distractions are minimized, and it is easier to concentrate on complicated tasks. Are there plans to keep some groups permanently remote to reduce density during the pandemic and reduce 25 SP overcrowding when it (hopefully) ends?

Flexible work arrangements will almost certainly persist post-pandemic. There are conversations underway to ensure that we are consistent, where possible, with how we approach remote work and the provisioning of people with equipment across all of Yale. You all have made this work remarkably well, though some are happier than others about how it has worked for them individually. I believe we will land on a policy that permits much more flexibility in the future and that the flexibility will have many positive outcomes for the future of work at Yale. More information is forthcoming in the months ahead.

Several questions regarding recent changes in Comcast rate structure - With Comcast’s recent data cap for residential customers, will Yale: 1. Reconsider subsidizing home internet while we are still working from home, 2. Use its influence to fight the data cap. 3. Mandate a reduction in zoom meetings to alleviate individuals’ data strain?

I am aware that rate changes and scarcity of competition in the internet provider market are an amplified concern for all of Yale faculty, staff, and students in our current pandemic world. In the early stages of the pandemic, we decided that we felt that for most staff, the tradeoff costs of not coming into work would offset the new costs of working from home. As we assess long term work from home policy and entitlements, I expect we will review these decisions again to assure an ongoing fair practice. In our ongoing relationship communications with Comcast, they assert that the vast majority of households continue to operate well under these caps’ thresholds. However, we are continuing to collect individual user stories to build a clearer picture of the actual impact. Lastly, we have many forms of ongoing collaboration tools. I encourage all our team members to use the mechanisms which best support the collaborations your team requires. In some cases, the synchronous communication of a tool like Zoom will represent the best choice, but managers should be discussing this with their teams where there are individual concerns.

The PMO Project portfolio offers a constructive framework for larger critical IT projects. How might ITS respond to larger critical unplanned and urgent mid-year projects to ensure that they have a proper planning framework and are appropriately integrated and prioritized with the plan projects for resourcing budget scheduling reporting?

I think we’re getting better at this. We begin the year with a specific plan set of objectives, but things change. The encouragement has been to raise the topic. We are now finding a method to draw attention to new items, in the context of the CPMG or the project portfolio, to become visible. We have to get nimble about how we do the detailed work that results from that and planning out the work, defining how the budget gets mobilized and the resources around a specific initiative if it’s deemed critical enough. It is a good question. I’m not sure we have a perfect answer at this point, but we are continuing to make good progress on recognizing the need and shouldering some work around it.

John closed the meeting reiterating how proud he is of everyone’s work. He commented that over the last few weeks, he’d had the opportunity to meet with the entire population of Deans and Vice Presidents on the topic of IT. Every one of them has asked him to share their gratitude for IT’s work. “The way you are working together across campus, the quality and consistency of the services, and the culture we are building are seen and felt by all of them. You are having an enormously positive impact on all facets of the mission.”

The next IT Virtual Town Hall will be from 9:00 - 9:30 a.m. on Friday, January 26, 2021.