The following message was sent by the Office of Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion (HRDI) to faculty and staff on Friday, July 31.
Many administrative and academic offices have utilized the pilot telecommuting program since we moved to remote work and remote instruction in March. The telecommuting program remains available, by executive order, until Oct. 2, 2020. What does that mean for reopening offices as we prepare to welcome students, both on campus and remotely, in just a couple of weeks?
Offices should look to assess operational needs to determine if current telecommuting plans will properly serve student and operational needs or if telecommuting plans need to be adjusted while also considering employee needs during these still uncertain times.
We encourage you to begin, if you have not done so already, to discuss what returning to campus and supporting the reopening of campus looks like.
- Do you need all staff back in the office?
- What work requires campus presence?
- When will employees need to observe a different schedule?
Many offices have already planned for staff to observe remote work schedules, while others have already identified essential services and corresponding staffing plans that combine some remote work and some campus presence (beginning as early as August). These decisions are based on the needs of specific departments and offices and the nature of the individual’s work or obligation, as well as the ability to provide appropriate social distancing in a unit’s particular workspace.
Here are some things to assess and steps to consider in your conversations with employees about staffing for your area:
- The Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion (HRDI) COVID-19 information hub is now live and contains information that can help employees and departments plan. Information will continue to be added as appropriate. Please visit this site for the latest updates.
- Consider a group virtual meeting to begin the conversation about operational needs and staffing but also be prepared to talk with staff individually as some may not be prepared to discuss concerns or needs in an open group.
- Review the guidance (and encourage staff to review as well) offered in New Paltz’s Fall Semester Restart Plan, especially the section that speaks to “Safe Work Practices” as well as the College’s FAQ.
- Ask staff if they have any questions or concerns not answered in that information. If there are questions, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance with those questions.
- Reassure employees in your area. We can all use some words of encouragement and compassion!
- Acknowledge that you understand that the last several months have been difficult and even traumatic for some, and the steps we are taking toward reopening the campus bring opportunities to consider innovations and new approaches for how work is accomplished.
- Affirm that everyone’s health and safety is a priority. Use of masks/face coverings and social distancing as outlined in the reopening plan will be required of all employees, students and visitors while indoors and using walkways, elevators etc. (unless there are medical reasons preventing someone from wearing a mask/face covering).
- Remember that some may be looking for some campus presence to help provide structure, routine and the connection with colleagues!
- Let staff know that you are open to hearing their concerns as well as the needs that may impact their return to work. With school, day care and after-school care still unclear, many employees may have new challenges to balance. Employees should be encouraged to contact Benefits through email@example.com to ask about a range of benefits options that could support family needs.
- Likewise, many employees may be vulnerable due to their own health conditions or the health concerns of those in their home. Let them know that if they have questions about returning to work due to medical vulnerabilities, they should seek information about the ADA process, which can be accessed at https://www.newpaltz.edu/hr/accommodations-ada/. This process will require an employee to provide medical documentation that is submitted to Benefits and once completed, HRDI staff will work with supervisors and staff to provide appropriate accommodations. We ask for patience as this process does take some time to provide proper review and individualized guidance.
If after assessing operational needs it is determined that part or all an individual’s obligation/position is essential and requires campus presence, here are some steps to consider:
- Understand where (and when) there is a need for protective equipment or cleaning supplies for your area and discuss these needs with your Vice President or Dean before submitting requests for these materials.
- Provide staff with adequate notice about the essential nature of their obligation/position and discuss the work and schedule that is needed for on-campus presence and the work and schedule that is expected when working remotely as appropriate. We advise at least two weeks before a new schedule is effective so that individuals can make necessary arrangements. HRDI can help with communication tips for these conversations. Please let HRDI know when you have made determinations and we will provide you with a template to communicate to employees, in writing, of their designation as essential workers and requirement for campus presence.
- Set up and discuss with staff a schedule that makes clear when different staff members are required in the office. Keep in mind that not everyone will be required to have campus presence – that decision should be based on the needs of the office and the work scope of the individual, as well as the ability to social distance within assigned workspaces. Please consult with your Vice President or Dean as necessary. HRDI can offer support with questions around scope and structure of work.
- Discuss how you might be able to help better balance or accommodate work expectations with needs such as schooling, child-care or elder care. Be prepared to be flexible as factors may change.
- Together with the employee, update the telecommuting plans if there are changes following these discussions and submit revised plans to Jodi Papa firstname.lastname@example.org (for MC and UUP) and Irene Okwang email@example.com (for CSEA).
Many of us have grown used to a traditional work schedule and typical rhythms of a residential campus. However, we are all now navigating a different campus rhythm, different work and personal priorities as well as new and innovative ways of engaging in the work that supports the life of our campus. These conversations, for many, are new and unfamiliar. Health, safety, mission and service to our students are excellent guides when planning. Prioritizing safety for employees is important as well. Please review the considerations above as you plan and engage in conversations and rely on consultation with leaders in your areas. HRDI is also here to help. Together we will move New Paltz forward.