Message to Administrative and Other Staff About Return to Campus

March 26, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

As we face the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also see a brighter road ahead. President Bollinger’s March 17th statement to the Columbia community addressed our need and desire to begin planning for the future and to think about a time when we will again be together on Columbia’s campuses.  Our goal, he wrote, is to return to normal University life by September.  We would like to take a moment to address what that might mean for the administrative and other staff of the University.

What has become clear after thoughtful discussion and planning is that there isn’t a single path from here to September, nor a single answer to the question of when and how our new work schedules will unfold. Many people are already working regularly on campus.  Some have been doing that consistently since the pandemic began, reporting to work regularly at their offices, labs and worksites, providing care for our patients and seeing to the welfare of our people, buildings and operations.  We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude for delivering on our mission and keeping the University operational and safe in the face of great uncertainty.   Others have returned to the campus in recent months and continue to do so, as our activities have ramped back up.   

But what about those who are still working remotely?  When can you expect to return?  What will conditions look like when you do?  Will everyone return full-time or will some continue to work remotely, or partly on campus and partly remotely? 

All these questions are now under careful review by a steering committee and working group tasked with developing a University-wide framework for future workforce planning.  Primary responsibility for such planning rests with the schools and departments.  In support of their efforts, the University-level committees are seeking input from stakeholders on the lessons learned about remote work over the past year.  These committees are also working with our public health experts to ensure that our decisions take into account density requirements, protocols for sharing workspaces, and all the other considerations that bear on the safety of our campus and employees. 

Here is what we can say right now:

  1. There will not be a single date on which all those who are now working remotely will be expected to return fully to campus. 
  2. Under the framework, schools and departments are encouraged to plan their activities in a way that phases the return to meet functional needs and provides employees with adequate notice.  Employees even in a single school or department may be asked to return at different times, taking into account the job function and role of each staff member and the needs of the unit, including density and distancing requirements for our workspaces.  Some employees may be asked to return, at least initially, on a hybrid basis, doing some work on campus and some remotely. 
  3. Although planning is already underway, centrally and at the school and department level, it may be some time before you receive clear direction.  We ask you to be as patient as you can as this planning continues.  Please note that schools and departments will provide employees now working remotely with as much notice as reasonably possible before expecting them to return to campus on a regular basis.  In most cases the notice period will be at least three weeks in advance of the expected return.  Given the complications of caregiving, schooling and the rest, schools and departments will endeavor to be as flexible as possible to accommodate individual circumstances. 
  4. No matter when you return, you will see that our campuses are safe.  And they have been safe from the beginning of the pandemic, even before vaccines were available.  We now have some 10,000 faculty and staff coming to work on campus in any given week.  We have been and will remain vigilant in protecting the health and safety of our community. 

Wherever you are now working, whether on campus or remotely, we ask that you continue to take preventive measures and that you focus on your own well-being and that of your colleagues to help us get through these next challenging months. It is the simple things that sometimes have the greatest impact – taking breaks throughout the day, stretching, checking-in with colleagues to see how they are doing, and when feasible, setting boundaries for work hours for those who continue to work remotely.

As you look for ways to care for yourself and loved ones during this time, please take advantage of the many resources available through the University:

In the months to come, we will work together with our University community to support a thoughtful, safe return to campus for those working remotely, and we will keep you up to date on next steps. In the meantime, please know that wherever and however you are working, your dedication to Columbia’s mission has never been more evident than over the past year, and it has been sincerely appreciated.

Sincerely,

Gerry Rosberg, Senior Executive Vice President  

Donna Lynne, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, CUIMC and University COVID Director