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May 17 town hall on telecommuting and parking

Between July 1 and August 23, we'll be starting to implement some of the new plans that we're putting in place.

The University of Utah hosted a webinar on Monday, May 17, 2021, to provide information and answer questions related to telecommuting and parking as we look at resuming full campus operations. Panelists included Jeff Herring, chief Human Resources officer; Cathy Anderson, chief financial officer; Steve Hess, chief information officer; and Gordon Wilson, associate vice president for administrative services. Collin Simmons, interim director of commuter services, also participated in the discussion. Chris Nelson, communications director, moderated the webinar.

Below is a recording of the town hall, followed by a transcript. Here is a link to an FAQ for employees on telecommuting prepared by Human Resources. And here is a link to an FAQ for managers and supervisors on telecommuting.

Webinar transcript

Chris Nelson, communications director: 

I want to welcome everybody to our May town hall meeting. Today’s town hall is focused on telecommuting and some of the human resources and logistics issues associated with the University of Utah’s return-to-work this fall.

Before we start, I want to push everybody to check out the Work Reimagined website, that’s This is a website was put together by our human resources team. A lot of great information on there as well. Let me briefly introduce the panelists and then we’ll get to some of the many great questions that were pre-submitted.

Today we’re joined by Jeff Herring, who’s the university’s chief human resources officer. We’re also joined by Cathy Anderson, who’s the university’s chief financial officer, Steve Hess, who’s the university’s chief information officer. Also, Corey Roach, the university’s chief information security officer, Gordon Wilson, who is the associate vice president for administrative services. And Collin Simmons, who’s the university’s interim director of commuter services. So with that, we’ll turn the time over to the speakers and then we’ll get to the questions. So with that, Jeff, I’ll turn the time over to you.

Jeff Herring, chief human resources officer:

Thanks, Chris. And thanks everybody for joining us today. I did a little bit of calculations. I start my timeframe for this pandemic on March 16 of 2020. That is when we really pushed people, a significant portion of our campus, to go to remote work. And it has been 428 days since we as a campus moved in that direction. It has been a difficult and anxiety filled time for many in our community. And I think it’s okay for us to recognize how many sacrifices and difficulties we’ve experienced as we’ve gone through this last 428 days. Fortunately, with a lot of the directions that we’re seeing with public health, we are seeing some increasingly encouraging signs ahead for us. I want to thank all of you. I want to take a minute to thank all of you, our faculty, our staff, our students, the larger community, for all the efforts that you’ve done in helping us get through this last year.

Think about this, not only a pandemic, but if you remember, it seems like ages ago, an earthquake, hurricane force winds, political and racial trauma, everything in this last year. It’s just been amazing to go through and see what all of you have done to help us get through that. I want to make a special acknowledgement because I feel like we need to, for our healthcare workers and all our essential workers, people that kept the campus going throughout this last year. You’ve been amazing. You’re inspiring, and I want to extend our appreciation for that.

We’ve learned a lot in this. As we adjusted, there’s some silver linings. The changes that were forced upon us by the pandemic, some of the things that we had to do, we had to learn to embrace technology in a different way. We found ways to come together socially, even while remaining physically distanced. And we had to find new ways to navigate situations that changed not just weekly, but daily and often hourly. So a constant change was probably indicative this last year. So, moving forward, that’s what our goal is today. Eventually, the pandemic will end, and this really is a discussion that I want to get to about what we do and the telecommuting environment going forward, taking some of those silver linings and things that we’ve learned.

First, I want to acknowledge and address this. Last week, many of you probably saw the CDC changed the guidelines for masking and physical distancing and what you can do when you’re vaccinated. One, I want to put in a plug: Get vaccinated. That is the number one message that we can get out to you right now. But that CDC guideline will obviously change things for both masking on campus and physical distancing on campus. We’re having discussions with many different task forces. Things will definitely change on campus. We are working through the details. We want to do it right.

So expect later this week for guidelines to come out to the campus community on what that will be going forward.

As the pandemic loosens that script, we are going to be returning more to normal operations. We anticipate this fall to be as close to normal as we possibly can. Our university business is focused on operations around serving students, supporting research, our critical health care, and serving the greater community at-large. With these areas operating in-person on campus, it’s important for us to figure out how we make the adjustments we need to, to support all of those. Therefore, we are starting to implement, and I think the group here as well as others, in helping us put together long-term telecommuting guidelines in place. But we are starting to put this and want to communicate with you some of the greater philosophies of what we’re operating and where we’re going to be going.

First, let me talk about the timeline. Many of you might have heard the timeline that we’re still operating on. I think that regardless of the CDC changes, we are still operating on the same general timeline between now and July 1 is all the planning that we’ve got to take place in this return-to-work. From July 1 to August 23, the first day of classes, is where we’re looking at the transition and the implementation, the things that we put in place over the last year, we’ve got to unwind that. We can’t just flip a switch and come back to work in a day. So that six, seven weeks, between July 1 and August 23, we’ll be starting to implement some of these plans that we’re putting in place.

And then after August 23, it will be this implementation into whatever the new normal is. It’s going to be an iterative process. Along those lines, as we put in telecommuting guidelines in this new normal, it’s going to be a pilot period lasting no more than 24 months. We think that there are going to be many lessons learned, continuing many changes that we’ll see in that. So we want to be able to monitor and modify as we go forward. So, therefore it will be a 24 month, limited time pilot on that. The thing that I really want to reinforce is that we will implement these telecommuting guidelines, and they have to be implemented in the best interest of the university.

That being said, the pillars of the university are student success, research, our healthcare mission, and enlightenment to our greater community. I’ve had many conversations where people have indicated that we have demonstrated over the last year that we can do this all remote, which we’ve been forced to, at least primarily. The difference that I would say, that I think we need to articulate really at the beginning, is that that has been where most of our students and research have also been offline. This fall, it will be a new method of operations. And with the students being here, that is our primary focus as the business of the university. The faculty needed to be there to support the students. The staff needed to be there to support the faculty and students and operations. And therefore, it is a different phase than what we’ve been in the last year.

I also want to make it clear that this is a manager and directed benefit, not necessarily a right of employees. I think that’s important. Managers and supervisors have been put in their jobs, leaders of the organization, to know what is in the best interest. Now, those might be subjective and different, but they won’t be put out there inequitably. And what I mean is that there will be decisions that are going to be made on many factors, but many of these decisions might be different. The same job might have a different decision because a different manager feels differently about that. So I always say they will be implemented equitably, but equitably does not mean the same for everybody. We cannot mow the lawns at the University of Utah from our homes. So therefore, jobs that are different have different requirements on that.

We want to encourage as much flexibility as we can. We will encourage flexibility for what can be done remote, but please be aware that this is not an employee-driven right with that. If telecommuting is allowed, all of the expectations of employment and customer student service are still going to be required. We’re looking at implementing this just in a different location, but the work is still the work. So, I want to make sure that’s mentioned. And I think it’s important as we look at the telecommuting options, the materials that the leaders have got that are put in place. If we are going to see some of the benefits that we anticipate and want to see out of this, some of the silver linings in parking, in space planning, in sustainability and environmental efforts, we’ve got to spread these telecommuting options throughout the week. They cannot all be on Friday and Monday where I’m sure we’d all like them to be, but they really do have to be spread out across the week.

So, that’s it. This is a pilot. I’ve mentioned that it’s 24 months. We’ll monitor and it will be iterative. But again, I just appreciate all of your efforts as we go through this process. We’re going to learn a lot together, but I appreciate it. So, Chris, that was my comment. So back to you.

Chris Nelson:

Excellent. Yeah, we’re going to come back to some, I think, more specific questions. I did want to point out that President Good, Interim President Good, was going to join us but he had a conflict, so Jeff and Cathy are representing him today. Cathy Anderson’s the university’s chief financial officer. You’re up next.

Cathy Anderson, chief financial officer:

Thank you, Chris. I want to say thank you to everybody that’s joined us for this meeting. And also, I want to echo what Jeff said. Lots of thanks to our faculty, staff and students for this past year. I’m both amazed and humbled at what we have been able to accomplish. Truly amazing and good work has continued—something that if you had taken a poll, probably across the institution, back in February, there would have been a lot of skepticism and doubt. And I think if you take it now, just the amazing amount of work that’s gone on and education of our missions.

I do want to say that Jeff has mentioned how this fits in with our One U vision. I know all of you are familiar with the Strategy Refresh and what we’re looking at accomplishing at the institution. And part of what I look at with this is, yes, we are doing our education, our research, our health care, our community outreach missions, many of which require in person. But particularly, I wanted people to think about the mission of the long-term vitality of the university. And that’s looking at how we wisely use our resources, how we work together. We all know that our biggest resource here at the university is our people, our faculty, and our staff, and the work they do.

And so we are not the first place that has looked at telecommuting. In fact, I think if you look at higher ed, we’re one of the last businesses to really be looking at telecommuting and how we can leverage that to benefit for employees and for employers. So there’s lots of good practices out there that we have, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at. I do want to say from my own perspective, I’ve worked places where I had that flexibility that aligned with what the employer was doing. Many benefits there. A lot of this, the technology is important. That’s the easy part. The hard part is the culture and how we work together, and that will be something that we will be focused on in this pilot.

I’ve looked at some of the things that we’ve done. We’ve had meetings, conferences, other things that in the past you would have had to physically travel to. And fewer people were able to attend. I mean, a meeting like this today, where we’re reaching out, a lot of people can participate. So going forward, I think it’s going to behoove all of us to look for the benefits to staff, faculty, and the institution. And culturally, how we work together to make sure that we are doing the best jobs that we can.

That’s kind of what I want to focus on here, to support and talk about how we do this from a financial standpoint. But we do know we will be competing against other educational institutions who managed to do this and figure out how to use their resources and funding wisely for, as Jeff mentioned, office space, parking, other resources, that much of it comes from our tuition and our state appropriations. If we can figure out how to use those resources wisely, it will make us a stronger and better university. Thank you.

Chris Nelson:

Thanks, Cathy. Steve Hess is the university’s chief information officer. Steve.

Steve Hess:

First of all, I’d just like to say, representing the IT workers on campus, a special thanks to them. There’ve been some long hours and some great efforts in trying to maintain our systems as we move from a physical face-to-face to online. It was amazing how few problems we had and how we’re able to go forward. That our staff worked very diligently and effectively in providing that assistance and providing this opportunity that we can move online and continue on as a university.

I’d just like to talk about a little bit of a concern that we have. We know that we’ll continue to work at home and some departments would choose to do that. In relationship to that, we have concerns about the private information and making sure that’s protected. There is a guideline, 5-4140A, which is in the regulation’s library, that talks about telecommuting for the University of Utah and the clinics. If you look at that, there’s some information about security or IT security, and also the care of university equipment if you choose to take IT equipment home. If you choose to take IT equipment home, there should be some form that you fill out to your supervisor to make sure they’re aware of what you have at home that belongs to the university. Of course, it would be your responsibility to protect that equipment, make sure it’s returned at the appropriate time. There is also some information that is critical that you can’t use this for personal use, but only in an incidental kind of way, but any liability for anybody else using that equipment, which should not be done, is your responsibility.

Some of the guidelines, again, in relationship to protecting private information is in policies 4-001 and 4-004. You may say, “Well, where is that?” Well, if you go onto the website and type that into your search engine, you can call up these policies. These are the two policies that regulate work at home. And the security policy 4-000 particularly deals with what you should be doing to make sure you protect data on your home machines. We would prefer that sensitive, restricted data not be on personal devices, but if they are on personal devices, you need to make sure that those personal devices meet the standard of a university IT equipment so the data is not lost. We’d also make sure you have the same physical security habits that you have if you were at work and make sure that people around you at your home don’t have access, so there’s some physical security or separation so they can’t access or look at that physical data. If you work at home, we recommend a virtual private network, which is available in the rule 4-004H. Again, the policy procedure manuals will tell you what you need to do.

We understand that a lot of people just jumped on online and that some of these guidelines may have not been followed, but if there’s going to be a continuation, we need to really step up our IT security game and make sure that the data that we have that is private or restricted is protected. People, and you can say this to yourself, if you have private or restricted data like your social security number and things that could really hurt your identity online and cause you to have problems, if that data relapsed, you’d be pretty mad. And I can tell you if the data that we have that is private and restricted of other people is lost, people get pretty mad—so does the government. There are fines associated with it. So please, pay attention to security rules and regulations and the policies that we have so that we can be secured going into the future, since we’re quite sure many will continue to be working online. So that’s all I have. Chris.

Chris Nelson:

Thank you, Steve. Gordon Wilson is our associate vice president for administrative services. He also has parking community services that rolls up underneath his part of the org chart. Gordon.

Gordon Wilson, associate vice president for administrative services:

Thanks, Chris, and thanks to all of you for joining us today. I think this is great to come together and talk about this. Community services, aux services, administrative services, we are excited about telecommuting. Prior to the pandemic, we were extremely interested in allowing people to work from home one day a week, spread out through the week. That would take the pressure off our parking lot. So post-pandemic, as we get to the end of the pandemic, we can look to telecommuting. We fully support this. And we have adapted and adjusted some of our parking options to make it as easy as possible, from a day pass down to a semester pass down to a day pass to a half day pass to hourly parking. We have lots of options that are available for any faculty, staff, or student that needs to come on campus. So we look forward to participating and supporting, and we are trying to keep our website up to date on the latest options for you. So you can go through the regular telecommuting site or you can go to Commuter Services website and pick up the same information.

Chris Nelson:

Excellent and kudos to everyone on the recent commencement and convocations on campus. I think everything went really well. Alright. Now, we’re to the speed round. So I want to, first off, thank everybody who submitted questions we received—goodness, probably a couple of dozen questions, some very specific questions. If we don’t get to your very specific question, we’ll get back to you and direct you to the right place.

But, Jeff, I’m just going to kind of run through these. We’ll start with some of the teleworking questions. We have a couple of the questions around expenses and then a number of questions for Collin and Gordon around parking and commuter services.

Jeff, I know you touched on this, but I’ll bring it up again. Specifically, how are decisions being made about who, when, why certain departments and employees can telecommute and others cannot. I know you talked about it and said at the very department-level specific, department specific, but maybe just reiterate that and touch base on what that process is for a frontline employee who might want to consider teleworking or continue teleworking.

Jeff Herring:

Well, thanks, Chris. Let me also indicate that we’re not alone in doing this analysis. The state of Utah itself is going through that. And as part as an executive order, the governor is asking us as all higher ed institutions, not just the University of Utah, to do it—analysis down to an individual level of those people that would be eligible, their jobs would have them eligible for any type of remote work or telecommuting. So we’re putting that together and campus leaders have got those forms on that right now. So we are going to be doing an individual analysis.

More specifically to your point, Chris, the decisions on this again, need to be made at the unit level. Now, I know that the sign-off will come through the deans, through the business leaders on that, but really it’ll probably be down in the recommendation. Those forms will be filled out at the supervisor level with a plan for a unit to be put in place of what that is going forward. That will be a snapshot in time. That report is due to the governor on July 1. We’ve asked for all campus leaders to have the report for the staffing plans by June 4 so that we can do what we need to do. So we’ve got about a month and we’re putting that together.

But I just want to reiterate that it is going to be different across campus. Hopefully, and we encourage people to see the flexibility and let’s get as many of the wins as we can, but at the end of the day, it really is those deans, department chairs, supervisors, that need to understand the business that is being done and develop those plans that they need to going forward. So certainly a dialogue with employees, but at the end of the day, the decision has to be made by those business leaders.

Chris Nelson:

Jeff, how long would a typical teleworking agreement last? Again, unit by unit or is there a standard you’re proposing?

Jeff Herring:

There’s no standard on that. It will certainly change. Like I said, I think the first 18, 24 months, we’re going to learn a lot. And the nature of work changes as circumstances around us change. What we would like to see done is anytime that does change, we want to document in the telecommuting agreement what those changes are. So we’ve got those in place. Please work with your Human Resource contacts in doing those. We anticipate, probably initially, until we can get something on an ongoing basis to capture that, doing this at least once a year so that we can continue to collect the data and monitor effectiveness, building occupation penetration. That’s going to be important as we start talking about some of these things. There’s no set date, Chris, on how long they last, but I wouldn’t recommend doing a telecommuting agreement for a day. It should be something that is regular and ongoing.

Chris Nelson:

But on the flip side, also no such thing as a permanent telecommuting.

Jeff Herring:

It is management discretion on that when those can be put in place and/or revoked.

Chris Nelson:

I think I know the answer to this, but we had a lot of questions about people’s pre-pandemic schedules—”I had agreed to this with my boss.” Probably a chance to reset all those conversations as well.

Jeff Herring:

I think it’s always good. You will never hear me say that a conversation is not good between the supervisor and employee. I’ve never met an employee that doesn’t want to know what expectations are. I think it’s great. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to have the discussions about the new way of doing work, new opportunities, new expectations, new wants from the employee, things like that. It’s a great chance to touch base as we put these plans together to just talk about how the best way we can fulfill the mission of us personally, professionally, as well as the university’s goals, how we can accomplish those together.

Chris Nelson:

We had a question which I think is interesting, flexibility about deciding how much on-site time is required. Again, and probably we’re going to be apparently the same answers, but unit by unit.

Jeff Herring:

It’s unit by unit. To be honest, some of these questions, and managers, “How do I manage a remote worker?” Well, hopefully we have enough outcomes and ability to assess effectiveness. If we can’t monitor that, I don’t know that walking around with a clipboard just saying, “People being present really monitors outcomes.” It should be something probably a little bit deeper than that of what are we able to accomplish? We should give some thought to how do we accomplish that remotely? How do I monitor that remotely?

But I think to get to the root of this, there’s going to have to be some element of trust that all of us want to do in the best interest of the university, whether it’s remotely, whether it’s on-site, whether we’re an employee, a manager, a supervisor, a dean. Whatever that is, we’ve all got to put some altruism into this of saying, “Yeah, I’ve got a responsibility in helping do whatever I do to cure cancer, to educate the leaders of tomorrow, things that I do right now are getting us as an organization further along.” I think there’s going to have to be some elements of trust, but also maybe some better metrics in place and obviously, more communication. If you’re remote, you’re going to have to have more opportunities for communication.

Chris Nelson:

Yeah, and a little bit of gray area. Your advice: If in doubt and your specific question wasn’t addressed about your situation, reach out to your manager and then have them reach out to HR.

Jeff Herring:

Yep, for sure.

Chris Nelson:

This one is probably for Jeff and for Cathy. This is around expenses. Folks who have been working from home, they may have purchased technology or are trying to work from home. What was the university’s approach to reimbursing for that to setting people up from working at home? Cathy, do you want maybe to take that one?

Cathy Anderson:

Sure, and Jeff can add some comments, too. We had policies about this prior to the pandemic about what was reimbursed. Again, this is like Jeff was saying, a lot of this is on a case-by-case basis with your supervisor and what the needs are. There are some things that are consistent across the university, but we will be looking at this as a pilot program. The intent here is to make this beneficial for both employees and the employer, with the employer being the university.

If this gets too complicated, if this gets too expensive, we know how we work in person and we would probably resort back to that. I think there will be a lot that goes on as far as learning and best practices. Jeff, do you have anything you’d like to add to that?

Jeff Herring:

No. I just agree, Cathy, that I think that certainly the office expenses, things like that, that are in-person will continue how they were pre-pandemic. We aren’t planning on doing any type of stipend or other policies right now in place for employees that are choosing to telework. We believe that there are certain inherent benefits with being able to continue teleworking and commuting and work-life, things like that.

But I do agree with Cathy that part of the pilot is to take a look at that ongoing, monitor what we can and see the end of the pilot if there’s any adjustments that we need to make with that. We’re certainly willing to make adjustments if we need to, but that’s not the direction we’re going right now to have any type of stipend for those costs.

Chris Nelson:

Excellent. As you’ve said, we’re here to train students, educate students, provide health care, do life-changing research, serve the community. Those inherently are very much in-person services.

Alright. Moving to everyone’s favorite subject on campus, although it’s been nice if you’ve been coming to campus lately, there’s not been a parking problem probably for the first time ever. Gordon and Collin, I’ll just start with the major one. Altering, adjusting pricing, for folks who might be doing a little bit of, any looking at tiering costs for parking permits if I’m willing to be working on campus three days a week or two days a week?

Gordon Wilson:

Great question, Chris. I’ll have Collin jump in with me on this. I need to say from the get-go that the parking on campus is not, nothing comes from the state legislature that says, “Here’s your parking.” We have to create the parking. We have to pay for the parking. We have to maintain the parking lots. We have to do all those things. With that, obviously, comes a cost very similar to what you’d see in Salt Lake City or other places.

With that in mind, obviously, the parking prices are set each year and approved at different leadership levels at the university. Within that, we do have the ability to adjust and adapt. Our answer to this is let’s create a semester pass. Let’s create a half-day pass. Let’s create an hourly option so that whoever is coming on campus, there’s an affordable or a reasonable, I think, affordable option for parking depending on their situation. They need to run to the campus for one hour, we’ve got a great $2 option in our paid parking or our metered parking area. If I need to be there for a half day, we’ve got half-day passes.

I think we’ve got the options that provide a reasonable means to get onto campus, including we will push pretty hard this year to get folks back on the trains and the buses. Working closely with UTA prior to the pandemic, we had about 8,000 riders per day. We’re down to several hundred a day. We’ve got to make that adjustment. That’s a great option that allows you to come and go when you need to from campus.

Collin, anything you want to add to that?

Chris Nelson:

Along that same line, Gordon or Collin, we have some very specific questions about the building they work in, specifically 102 Tower and a tiered plan for some of those. When you talk about these tiered plans in the semester, this will apply to all of our parking or some of these off-campus locations, what will be the situation there do we think?

Gordon Wilson:

Collin, do you want to visit with that?

Collin Simmons, interim director of commuter services:

Yeah, I can. In reference to that, some of the off-site parking lots, it depends on the situation, to be quite honest, with the building and the lease that is appropriate in that area. We’ve worked very closely with the Real Estate Administration Office in identifying solutions for the folks in those buildings that are university employees. Different ideas have been discussed about parking permits that are allowed in these downtown locations. It would also work on campus on top of having shuttles that run between some of these off-site campuses.

But as far as changing the way that the pricing and the permit system is, we’ve tried to just identify leaving the annualized and those things that are available for the folks that will be up here in normal operations. We’ve tried to highlight, like Gordon mentioned, the options for those that are up here, whether it’s one day a week, one day a month or one day a semester. We’ve tried to highlight all the different offerings for everybody so they have the right option that works for them and their needs.

If that changes in a six-month period or even a three-month period, changing those options can be done fairly quickly. That’s one of the goals we’ve had as a department is to make it accessible for everybody regardless of their circumstances working from home or on campus.

Chris Nelson:

Collin, I’m a frontline employee. I’m starting to talk to my manager about when I’m going to work. Your best advice to those folks is to sit down and look at the commuter services website, to call somebody. Where should an employee start?

Collin Simmons:

Correct. One of the best resources we have as a department for commuter services as a department is we have an information center with dedicated information analysts that have every possible amount of information commuter services-related. You can call their phone number that’s on our website. They can speak with you about a variety of topics. Everything from if there’s an event on campus or a certain parking lot impacted, we try to centralize all that information so they can be as helpful as possible and not direct you to different people within the department. But that is specifically their job—to handle any kind of information that flows through commuter services and have the most up-to-date and accurate information.

I will say, if you find yourself, I think one of the questions I saw that there’s a remote location or a certain parking lot on campus that doesn’t have some of these options very close, whether it’s a meter stall or obviously kiosk stalls are more in robust, large visitor lots, but metered stalls, we can evaluate that lot. Reach out to our department and let us know where you’d like to park and we can pull our visitor team together and assess that area. If we need to add some pay-by-phone metered stalls, we are more than willing to do that to help accommodate some of those folks so they have that option as wel.

I think Gordon has some of those numbers. We have over 1,000 metered stalls on campus alone and about 900 kiosk stalls on campus, all kind of strategically placed in good places. But if we need to add to that inventory, we are more than willing to do that.

Gordon Wilson:

That was all pre-pandemic. Now, we’re getting to the other side of this and we can call and say we’ll adapt and adjust. We just need to know what the thoughts are out there and what concerns are brought forward, and we’ll try to adjust accordingly.

Chris Nelson:

Excellent. Now you all have a difficult job, and if there were plenty of resources and plenty of land, it wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s a careful juggling act. Thank you, both. Jeff, we had a question about sick leave. Will there be enhanced benefits around sick leave to protect us for the folks who might be working in office spaces that are crowded? So, any proposed changes to sick leave policy?

Jeff Herring:

There aren’t going to be any change in sick leave policy, I think. Working through a pandemic, we certainly understand the benefits of some of the measures that we put in place beyond COVID-19. So we would certainly encourage and reinforce to people to where they can, I think the idea of wearing a mask when we’re not feeling well, staying home when we’re not feeling well, will certainly take on greater importance going forward, post-coronavirus, the pandemic, that we’ve had. But we have very generous sick leave benefits now. We’ll certainly continue to implement and use those as they are. But I would just say heightened awareness of some of the preventative measures that we can take to try and keep the workplace safe. We always do the flu vaccine. I imagine that in the future, there might be some vaccine boosters for coronavirus. But certainly work with our wellness, we’re always looking at wellness to make sure that we take care of as much as we can to keep people well on campus.

Chris Nelson:

Yeah. I would remind employees and their families who are insured through the university that they have access to the vaccine through the health care system. We’re also doing weekly on-campus vaccination clinics. You can get that information on the website. So a lot of opportunities on campus to get that. Questions about vaccination, Jeff, is I know with the CDC change here, it looks like we’re shifting from the collective responsibility to a little bit more focus on individual accountability around vaccinations. We had a couple of questions basically asking the mandatory question. Is there any move to make getting the vaccination mandatory? And if not, can you ask employees whether they’ve been vaccinated or not?

Jeff Herring:

Yeah, that’s a pretty complex question, Chris. Certainly right now, with it being emergency use authorization, we can’t require it right now. Going forward, and this is just Jeff Herring, this is our public safety, public health individual, but I think it’s often more effective to help educate people on the valid reasoning for vaccination rather than mandating a vaccine. So I don’t know where it’s going to be as an institution. There might be certain segments of the population that are high risk that we have those ongoing discussions. To be determined on those. That being said, can you ask? We’ve been working closely and continue to work closely with OGC [Office of General Counsel]. The concern I have, and everything that I’ve read is, you can ask. The next question is what are you going to do with the information? Because we certainly can’t discriminate based upon any type of disability or religion or even, as of right now, any personal beliefs in vaccines.

So I don’t want to get into the debate on that. I would rather have a productive conversation about the science behind vaccinations, the benefits behind vaccinations and making it, like you had mentioned, Chris, as easy for people to have those discussions with their own health care providers. And then the availability of that, I think ,is probably much more productive than trying to enforce vaccines that I think is going to be a very difficult situation across campus.

Let me just say on the personal accountability side, again, this is Jeff Herring, Sociology 101 here, so it’s not anything that’s documented. But for a year, we didn’t have any way to protect ourselves, so we all had to take measures for us to protect each other. We were really truly all in it together. Now as we get more and more ability to get a vaccine, we do have the ability to protect ourselves with that. I think that at some point there is going to be, and I think you’ll see it reflected, that those that are vaccinated, at least the science and what we’re hearing, are fairly well-protected and they’ve done what they can do to protect. That’s where we want to encourage people to go.

That being said, I don’t think we can continue to focus all of our efforts as a campus community into trying to protect those when there’s an availability for them to protect themselves. So there is going to be some inherent risk that people are willing to take on, as well as some personal accountability in taking that on as well in getting the vaccine. But I think there’s productive ways that we can go through and encourage that and make that available as well. So, that’s where I’d put that focus, Chris.

Chris Nelson:

We had a number of questions, Jeff, this went back to you as well. I think I have a feeling for the answer, but the sentiment is I know I’m working hard, but I’m just not sure the other person in my office is working from home. What advice do you give to employees and managers as they deal with this, as we look at this personal management and accountability to each other?

Jeff Herring:

Extend grace would be my thing. Look, let’s extend grace with that. Let’s extend trust with that. I know that I’ve got enough to work on on myself and those that I manage, supervise, lead, to worry about my peers and how they take care of that. We are going to be in this together for a while, as we navigate this new space of telecommuting, other things like that. What I’ve found is if we all focus on doing what we can do to make it better, all of us will come together. I mean, that’s the beauty of an organization. Why I got into HR and what I love about HR is we all do individual things, but all put together, it helps us achieve great things as an organization.

So when I focus on my individual things, I let the other person—you hear this from Coach Whittingham on the football team—do your job. Do your job. Everyone does 1/11th out but that’s what I’d say in the workforce as well. Let’s focus on doing our job, trust that the other people are doing their job, and we’ll all work together to achieve great outcomes as a University of Utah. So, that’s my philosophy.

Chris Nelson:

Excellent. And I would remind everyone, We’ll include stories about this in upcoming issues of We’ve got the website, a lot of places. Some good information, but a lot of hard questions. There’s a lot of gray area here, and I suspect, Cathy and Jeff, you might agree that we’ll continue to probably evolve these things over time. And again, the great news is we’re toward the end of May, we’ve got a few months to really think about this before fall semester as well. I want to point out there were a lot of policies that Steve mentioned. We will get that posted in the transcript. We’ll get those out in as well. Jeff, Cathy, any closing thoughts?

Cathy Anderson:

Well, I’ll just quickly say again, thank you to our faculty, staff and students for the great work that they have been doing, and that I know they will continue to do. I look forward, I’m really excited about the opportunities here of how we change the way we work for both the university and for our employees. I think there’s going to be some great benefits coming out of this, and I’m really excited about this period going forward as we look at this pilot.

Jeff Herring:

I’d just add on that, as I look with my peers, I just want to extend also my thanks to all the students, faculty and staff for this last year. I also want to extend my thanks to some of the campus leadership on even allowing us to have this conversation with this Workforce Re-imagined. I think there’s some really great things that can come out of this. But as I do a canvas of some of the peers across the country, many institutions that are our peers out there are not going this direction. It is coming back to normal and then working it out. I think that has its own challenge with that, and I’m not sure you’ll ever get to the benefits that I think we can achieve through doing it that way. So I just appreciate being able to have, as a campus community, this discussion to say, how can we implement some of the things that we’ve learned, some of the positive aspects of this tough last year going forward? So I appreciate everybody, all they do. I, too, am humbled to be able to work alongside all of you.

Chris Nelson:

Excellent. Thank you both. And as we get closer to the start of the fall, we’ll plan another town hall meeting, probably more focused on student success as we get closer. So again, my thanks behind the scenes to Brooke Adams and the team at University Marketing and Communications for bringing this together, and we look forward to giving you a transcript of this and continuing this conversation. Thank you, everybody.