By SUSAN JONES
Officially, the return to campus for Pitt staff will start on July 19, but unofficially, many units are still developing plans for what that workplace will look like — who will be remote and when, will the same space be needed and who makes these decisions.
“Each responsibility center head oversees return to campus planning for their schools and units,” Mark Burdsall, assistant vice chancellor of Human Resources, said in an email. “While formal plan submissions are not required at this time, RC heads must ensure robust plans are in place to effectively support students, faculty and staff.”
A new interim flexible work policy that is more welcoming of a variety of work arrangements
took effect July 15. Burdsall said HR is providing training sessions for supervisors on the new policy, and also is “working with RC heads to set expectations in pursuit of consistency and equity across RCs. Feedback will be used to finalize the policy in the coming year.”
Anyone who is seeking a flexible work schedule must go through the formal process of submitting a request to their supervisor. All the forms can be found on HR’s Sharepoint site (accessible with Pitt login).
People requesting accommodations because of health-related issues, should be directed to Disability Resources and Services.
Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences
The Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences was ahead of the game with flexible working arrangements. The school has had an active policy in place since 2014, but there’s still plenty of work to do to get ready for the migration back to campus and the implementation of the University-wide flexible work policy.
Michele Montag, executive director for staff personnel and senior assistant dean, and Pat Cunningham, executive director for financial and physical resources, have been working on plans for several months now, including revising the school’s flexible work arrangement guidelines.
“We’re asking most of our administrative staff to prepare to return to whatever new schedule they have approved on Aug. 2, that week,” Montag said. “That way we have about two weeks before students and faculty really start coming back to campus.”
They surveyed staff fairly early in the pandemic about their concerns and what they might need to be more effective. One result of that was creating a new computer replacement cycle. “As we move forward, our plan is to give staff mobile devices that are basically a consistent platform so it’s easy for them to be mobile, whether that’s … from office to office or moving from home to office,” Montag said. It also has allowed them to create uniform “plug and play” offices where people can park themselves for a day.
Cunningham said one issue has been actually getting the computer equipment to replace some older laptops. “Everybody, all corporations, are ordering laptops and ordering little hubs for connecting laptops,” he said. “We’ve had a laptop order in for quite a while and … they’re just starting to trickle in.”
Faculty and department chairs were surveyed in the fall to “get their sense of what staff flexibility might mean to them and … that gave us a lot of really great information about both concerns that they had, but also the support that they had for it — that was nice to see — and the support for trying things at least and seeing how it goes,” she said.
Unit heads and senior staff were asked to, within the context of the flexible work guidelines, come up with a proposal for what they wanted to offer to their staff. “In particular, basically looking at … what makes sense from a business perspective and how can we be as as flexible as possible,” Montag said.
“First and foremost, we do serve students and faculty, so we have to understand what those needs are and whether we’re meeting those,” Montag said. “I think we also have to be really intentional about what we’re asking people to do on campus. We need to be transparent about why there’s a business need for people to be on campus, because that’s fair to them, versus the idea of asking people to be on campus just because I like to see them in their seats. That’s a mode that we’re all going to have to get used to not being in anymore, because the whole world of work is changing.”
Those proposals were submitted in May and have been reviewed and approved. Staff now are submitting their requests under the new interim flexible work policy. All of the Dietrich School’s flexible work arrangement requests are on a pilot period from August through December.
“Within that period, our plan is to do a really thorough assessment of how things go,” Montag said. “And then, come December, we can make a determination about whether they continue, whether there are areas that we might need to kind of pull back on a little bit, whether there are areas where we might be able to say, ‘This works so well, we can do more.’”
Cunningham said after the pilot period they will start looking at ways to reconfigure spaces that the school occupies, including possibly reducing their footprint on campus. The first priority would be getting out of leased spaces.
“One thing that is quite obvious, that we can address now, is the level of clutter that we have in a lot of our spaces,” he said. “It’s a really good opportunity to clean up and throw away and recycle and reuse a lot of things.”
Montag said that after operating for the past year in a really paperless environment — which is good from a sustainability and efficiency perspective — “we don’t want people going back to paper; we don’t need to go back to paper.”
“I think come August as everybody starts to return, hopefully we’ll have a pretty normal start of the fall in terms of the students and the faculty, and that’s just going to be an exciting thing to see,” she said.
On July 2, Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences, sent an announcement to faculty and staff in the six schools of the Health Sciences about returning to campus, and it emphasized actually being in person.
“Though virtual interactions will continue to be a part of our life, I also deeply believe that the value of interprofessional work, research innovations and clinical impact are strengthened by in-person collaboration,” the memo said. “These interactions are a part of our professional life, particularly in the essential work of the health sciences.”
He said the goal is to have health sciences faculty and staff return to in-person work on or before Aug. 2. Flexible work arrangements will be considered, Shekhar said, “provided such remote work is appropriate and agreed upon by the department.” Each request will be addressed on a case-by-case basis by supervisors and departments.
University Communications & Marketing
The Office of University Communications & Marketing is planning to offer flexible work schedules, where feasible, that would in general require at least two days a week in the office, Ellen Moran, vice chancellor for Strategic Communications and Marketing, told staff this week. All plans, like those throughout the University, must still be approved by responsibility center heads, but the office hopes to start this new schedule on Aug. 24.
A survey of staff earlier this summer found that “flexible work from a remote location was cited as an important benefit desired by our team, and is likely to improve morale, increase staff members’ sense of control and provide greater workplace satisfaction.”
The move to flexible work has already allowed the office to decrease its footprint on campus. The web services team and the University Times staff will be relocating from Forbes Pavilion to the office’s main hub in Craig Hall.
Staff working hybrid schedules will have to reserve space in the office on a weekly basis, since there will be more staff at Craig Hall than offices. Those working four or five days a week on campus will be assigned a permanent office. One important component of the plan is making sure everyone keeps their whereabouts up to date through Microsoft Teams.
To prepare for people shifting between different spaces, work is being done in Craig Hall to declutter. The office is planning to get small lockers where employees can leave items they would only need while on campus. New technology also is being installed in conference rooms to allow people in the office and at home to participate more smoothly in Zoom meetings.
Moran said staff should “be intentional about utilizing and prioritizing your time on campus.” That could mean scheduling face-to-face meetings with clients or getting to know new staff who were hired during the pandemic.
Plans in other units
The Office of Human Resources pivoted to remote work during the pandemic and will continue to allow flexibility in location and schedule for staff, Burdsall said. HR is in the process of finalizing flexible work agreements and anticipates that most staff will request modified work arrangements. HR is currently reviewing space considerations based on onsite support needs and flexible work arrangements and has not yet finalized plans. But, Burdsall said, “We value opportunities to foster connection, understanding and engagement through in-person interactions and look forward to welcoming students, faculty and staff back to campus.”
The School of Social Work is coming back “full force” on Aug. 1, according to Shannon Murphy, director of Marketing and Communications, although “the majority of our staff are doing a hybrid work schedule.”
Pitt–Bradford is allowing each unit to return to campus based on student and employee needs and functions. Currently, about a third of employees are working on campus, and most are expected to return by the time classes begin, said Kimberly Weinberg, assistant director of Communications and Marketing.
Pitt–Greensburg plans to bring all units of its staff back to campus beginning Aug. 2 for a mostly on-campus presence through the academic year. “Faculty and staff interaction with students is an essential aspect of the Pitt–Greensburg experience, and in-person collaboration is an important part of who we are” said campus President Robert Gregerson. “Bringing staff back to campus in early August allows us to be better prepared for the students’ return and to provide a high-level of service to students and their families. We want our students to feel safe and supported on campus, and our staff understands the important role they play in this part of our campus environment.”
HEALTH AND SAFETY STANDARDS
The University continues to follow federal, state, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines to ensure a healthy and safe campus environment, said Scott Bernotas, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management.
Masks are still mandatory inside all University facilities, regardless of vaccination status.
“We anticipate that the University will remain closed to the general public and continue to allow approved visitors,” David DeJong, senior vice chancellor for Business & Operations, said. “To support building access protocols, we expect to keep the building safety concierge program in place at this time.”
Facilities Management staff deep clean and sanitize University spaces following a stringent process approved by the Environmental Health & Safety department and inspect buildings daily. Cleaning staff have been able to take advantage of decreased occupancy and all areas have been deep cleaned, Bernotas said.
High-traffic areas continue to be cleaned on a daily basis. But Facilities Management staff won’t move or touch personal property, so Pitt staff should be prepared to clean those spaces.
Questions regarding cleaning, HVAC or other safety measures may be directed to each building’s Facility Manager.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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