As the university begins to transition to a more “normal” fall quarter, units will be encouraged to explore flexible work opportunities for some staff jobs.
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne told the campus community during a Campus Conversation on Wednesday that he envisions a six-to-nine-month period in which the university will test what work alternatives used during the pandemic could continue into the future.
The hope is, he said, that such new work arrangements will support staff well-being and work-life balance, enhance inclusivity and diversity and help address affordability and sustainability challenges.
Tessier-Lavigne said it will take time to develop flexible job approaches that work for Stanford’s culture and its operational needs.
As a result, between now and Labor Day, university units will experiment with different options during a multi-part phased program. Most flexible job arrangements will be made at the unit level, he said, emphasizing that there “won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach” and that “nothing is set in stone at this time.”
The Campus Conversation included Provost Persis Drell, Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, and Elizabeth Zacharias, vice president for human resources. The speakers also touched on such subjects as the university budget, mental health resources for Stanford community members, vaccination progress in the region and Stanford’s continuing work in instituting programs to combat racism and inequities. Tessier-Lavigne also acknowledged that the Campus Conversation was occurring just hours after a tragic mass shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority hub in San Jose.
He also used the Campus Conversation to respond to recent incidents that have raised concerns about the fundamental climate in the Stanford community for the discussion of divergent views. Read his statement here.
Testing work options
For an explanation of the phased approach to returning to on-site work with more flexibility options, the president turned to Zacharias. She shared that 12 schools and units are currently planning to participate in some pilot experience this summer.
“We anticipate some trial and error as we evolve our work practices to support our mission and achieve operational goals,” she said. “Those goals also include determining how flexible work may address some affordability concerns, promote retention, increase diversity and enhance engagement and employee well-being.”
She called this an “opportunity to re-image nearly every aspect of work, starting with where and how we work.” Prior to May 18, when Santa Clara County entered the least-restrictive tier for COVID-19, employers were required to maximize the number of staff teleworking.
Zacharias cautioned that some planning depends on public health regulations yet to be determined, as well as the return of infrastructure and services disrupted during the pandemic, including schools, transportation and childcare. Those services, she noted, are unlikely to recover as quickly as needed to support in-person work.
Communication will be essential throughout the return-to-work process and the testing of new work approaches, Zacharias stressed. As a result, resources will be launched next month to support managers and encourage employee feedback.
The phased return to work begins with a “socialization” period during which schools and units will decide what options might work for their organizations. Running in parallel will be a “design” phase in which the Flexible Work Committee will help managers, employees and workgroups evaluate flex work options.
By mid-June, Zacharias said a “pilot” period will be instituted to allow units to experiment with new organizational norms, test flexible work approaches and try new tools.
“Everyone will play a role in the pilots, regardless of our places of work,” she said. “The summer will be the first time in many months where staff can move from being fully remote to returning on-site or to a hybrid workweek. This will be different from our experience during the pandemic.”
By fall, when campuses are fully open, Zacharias anticipates a “refinement” period during which it will become clear which flexible work arrangements work. From there, the university will enter an “assessment” phase. And, by winter quarter, practices will be made final and work arrangements confirmed during an “operational” period.
Zacharias encouraged members of the campus community to share feedback and ideas with the Flexible Work Committee via the group’s website.
Much of the university’s and region’s ability to prepare for life and work post-pandemic is due to the efforts of Stanford Medicine, which has administered more than 625,000 COVID-19 tests and given more than 420,000 doses of the vaccines.
Minor said Bay Area counties boast some of the highest vaccination rates in the state and country.
As a result, he said signs are looking “positive and encouraging” for a safe return to school in the fall. In response to a question about the possibility of a COVID-19 resurgence, he expressed confidence that continued vigilance will keep the university’s campuses safe.
He added that the high vaccination rates in this region, coupled with the effectiveness of the vaccines and declining numbers of infections are also encouraging signs.
At Stanford, Minor reported that data collected from Health Check shows that nearly 5,800 students have confirmed their vaccinations. Another 10,000 employees and postdocs reported having received at least the initial dose. Just three students have requested exemptions to the university’s vaccination requirement.
In addition, he noted that it has been 14 days since a positive test was seen in the Stanford community.
Drell also reported on the university’s budget, reiterating points made during a presentation to the Faculty Senate last week.
She said that markets performed better than expected during the past year. The resulting returns, coupled with strong university reserves, means that Stanford can cover the very significant expenses and revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic without further program cuts.
Despite considerable budget challenges, the university was nevertheless able to enhance accessibility for students, continue research momentum, expand diversity initiatives and maintain strong reserve levels.
The university, she added, is positioned well as it recovers from the pandemic. Guiding decision-making in the budget process has been research continuity, student access and education and support for the community.
Drell outlined the budget priorities for 2021-22 as:
- Implementing a market-based salary program for staff and faculty
- Increasing student financial aid with no tuition increase
- Addressing essential needs in research support and compliance
- Advancing Long-Range Vision initiatives
- Maintaining a general funds surplus in preparation for unseen expenses, including those created by an anticipated surge of deferred students in the fall
She also reported on other allocations that will support the university’s mission and its Long-Range Vision, including:
- Increasing faculty diversity through programs such as the Faculty Development Initiative, the Faculty Incentive Fund and the 10 faculty cluster hires.
- Efforts aimed at students, including an expanded residential experience with the launch of ResX and increased funds for Learning Technologies and Spaces with reimagined classrooms and enhanced academic advising.
Drell reiterated her gratitude for the “flexibility, patience, creativity and persistence” shown by the campus community during the uncertainties of the past year. In particular, she noted that budget cuts resulting from a revenue shortfall were “difficult and painful.”
Health and well-being
Drell acknowledged that the campus community will likely have to contend with the effects of the pandemic for some time, including those associated with mental health.
“COVID has affected everyone. Every one of us is carrying that burden. But it has hit some harder than others,” she said. “Financial issues, caregiving challenges, health worries, prolonged isolation. It’s important to recognize that all of that adds up.”
Drell urged members of the campus community to take advantage of continuing and new benefits and resources designed to support health and well-being.
For instance, Drell noted that, two months ago, the online mental health program Meru Health was introduced as a free benefit to those enrolled in a university health plan. The plan, she said, has been well-received with more than 1,000 Stanford community members signing up. Employees have also been offered COVID Flex Hours and 24 hours of self-care time. In addition, she said the Faculty/Staff Help Center has received requests from more than 2,000 community members seeking appointments.
Looking forward, employers such as Stanford will be required to collect information about the vaccination status of employees working on site. Drell said Stanford will comply through Health Check, which already contains a question about the vaccination status of those doing daily self-reporting.
She encouraged everyone in the community to get vaccinated if able.
The president also used the Campus Conversation to note the recent one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.
“Since that appalling day, our community has responded with renewed energy and conviction to combat racism and inequities, both at Stanford and in our society,” he said. “I am deeply grateful to everyone who has shared their personal experiences with me, and with other members of campus leadership.”
Since last June, Tessier-Lavigne said the university has been accelerating research and teaching to advance a more just society and, at the same time, working to counter racism within the campus community.
“These efforts include establishing the Community Board on Public Safety, creating the IDEAL Staff Advisory Committee, launching the IDEAL Fellows program and much more,” he said. “We’ve made progress over the last year, but there is still more to do.”
The president reiterated his commitment to ensuring that progress continues and is grateful he has seen the shared commitment throughout the campus community.