Announcing a revised remote/flexible work policy for staff

Williams staff and faculty,

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Williams, like other employers around the world, to quickly change the nature of workplace expectations. Many such changes were intended to be temporary. But our experience of the last two-plus years has also steered new attention to the question of long-term remote and flexible work policy.

Today, I am writing to share a revised Williams policy for staff and introduce a related pilot effort that we will launch this spring. I also invite you to read the working group report on which our policy and pilot are based.

The report and recommendations were developed by the Working Group on Staff Remote and Flexible Work Arrangements. I had charged the working group with “reviewing Williams’ remote work policy in light of the questions raised and lessons learned during the 2020-21 academic year and making recommendations to Senior Staff for possible revisions to the policy.” Their process included soliciting campus comment; hosting virtual listening sessions; meeting with committees, units and individual employees; and studying diverse models in higher education and beyond.

Senior Staff and I accepted their recommendations in full. We subsequently revised the college’s policy. Our intention is to offer managers enough flexibility to develop plans that suit their staff’s circumstances and needs. Such plans should also take into account our mission as a residential liberal arts college, and the value Williams places on close educational relationships, inclusion and sustainability, among other principles.

We will review the proposed unit plans from a college-wide perspective and authorize them to proceed on a pilot basis from April 1, 2022, through June 2023. At that point, Senior Staff and I will assess the results, along with input from managers, and decide whether to continue as is or adjust course.

During the working group’s campus outreach, Williams again showed itself to be the lively, “multi-vocal” place that I appreciate so much. The group heard from some staff who wanted to be fully remote and others who prioritized physical presence on campus. Some who were attracted by the prospect of change, and others who worried about what might be lost. And of course our community includes many staff whose work can only be done in person, while others have jobs that allow thinking about remote or flexible arrangements.

This wide diversity of views and circumstances has to be addressed coherently and fairly. A flexible approach gives units room to exercise judgment while still allowing us to coordinate across the college. I see the policy as an expression of our twin duties to care for people individually and as a community. My hope is that we will learn from the pilots about how to do so, cultivating an accommodating and attractive workplace at Williams for you and other talented, devoted people like you.

I look forward to the pilot. In closing, I also want to express my appreciation to the working group members for their hard work and exemplary report, and to all of you who contributed along the way.