Planning for a return to work on campus

Williams staff and faculty,

We know that many of you, like us, are eager to return to a more familiar mode of campus operations as we anticipate the eventual lifting of the state’s stay-at-home orders. Work is underway on a process and timeline. Following are some early details based on efforts by the Operations and Business Continuity Committee and others.

About timing: Maud has told us all that we can expect an announcement about the college’s fall semester plans by no later than July 1. Our timeline for returning to work will depend largely on that decision: if no in-person fall semester is planned, our need to move back to full campus operations will be less urgent.

Relatedly, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently extended his stay-at-home order through Monday, May 18, and further extensions are possible. The college, of course, can’t reopen before his order is lifted.

So we’re thinking of the college’s approach in two phases:

  1. Between now and July 1 (or whenever Maud announces the plan, if it can be done sooner), the college’s current remote work policies will remain in effect: staff who’ve been working remotely should keep doing so, and essential staff who’ve been reporting to campus jobs should continue on their current rotation. Faculty will continue to work as you have been. All of this will hold true even if the state rescinds its stay-at-home order in the meantime.
  2. Shortly after a direction is announced for fall semester, the two of us will write to share details of a corresponding workplace plan. The Operations and Business Continuity Group is already assessing requirements and safety precautions so that we’ll be able to move promptly once a decision is announced.

About process: a return, whenever it happens, will have to be gradual and phased. We’ll need to minimize risk, practice social distancing and take other public health measures. With that in mind, please assume that you’ll be encouraged to work remotely for as long as is practical, even after some individuals start returning to campus. You’ll also be encouraged to stay home if you have children who lack childcare, or if you’re high-risk or are caring for someone else who is.

We’re developing a method for determining which offices and functions need to come back most urgently. If you have questions about this, please talk with your manager. And if you’re a department head who wants to begin planning for your own office’s eventual return, we invite you to contact Matt Sheehy. He and the Operations Group will be happy to help.

Our return, whenever it happens, won’t be to business as usual. In fact, Maud recently described it as “business as unusual”: For example, in his May 1 order, Governor Baker required the wearing of face masks or cloth face coverings in any public place throughout the state, indoors or outdoors, where social distancing isn’t possible. We may also need to think about options like taking people’s temperatures or administering COVID-19 tests. Clearly, our campus workplace will have a different feel to it for the foreseeable future. Safety will be paramount, and we’re working with medical professionals and public health experts to make sure we’re protecting everyone.

To sum up: We’ll continue current practices while awaiting news about the fall term. We’ll keep encouraging remote work for as many people as possible, even after that. And we’ll provide flexibility for anyone dealing with a lack of childcare or a medical risk.

The Williams community has done an incredible job of uniting to navigate this disruption and care for our students and each other. Many of you are working in less than ideal circumstances at home, and are finding ways to contribute even when you can’t do your regular jobs. Thank you for that: it’s really what Williams is all about. Please know that we and our Operations Group and Senior Staff colleagues are doing everything we can to prepare for your safe return.

In the meantime, look for an announcement next week about a virtual forum for all staff and faculty. Maud and Senior Staff will invite everyone’s questions and respond to some of the ones most commonly asked. We’re also working with the Williams Staff Committee and the Staff Advisory Council to explore other ideas for bringing everyone together virtually. We encourage you to contact either group with ideas and suggestions.

We look forward to seeing you all in person as soon as safely possible.

Wishing you all well,

Denise K. Buell, Dean of the Faculty and Cluett Professor of Religion
Fred Puddester, Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer