University of Michigan faculty and staff who have been working remotely through the COVID-19 pandemic will begin a gradual return to more on-site work in the coming months at the direction of their unit’s leaders as the university prepares to welcome students to campus for the fall term.

President Mark Schlissel said employees should look to their supervisor or department leader for specific requirements for on-site, remote or a hybrid of on-site and remote work, and the process for assessing return-to-work needs.

With adequate and convenient access to vaccination, expectations around on-site and hybrid work will focus primarily on the nature of the work and how it can be accomplished to fulfill the university’s mission.

“Generally, but not always, we would expect there will be more opportunity for work that is partially remote and partially on campus in the future,” Schlissel said. 

“More hybrid work where it is possible also helps the university meet several goals of our institution, including a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality, reduce costs related to campus facilities and parking, enhanced work-life balance and increased job satisfaction for employees.”

The university also is monitoring Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “MI Vacc to Normal” plan to push toward its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of Michiganders age 16 or older, but units should continue to make decisions that support the university’s mission. 

The plan for a gradual return of U-M employees to campus will be based upon unit, job and project-specific details and will be determined at the school, college and unit level.

While details of the plan to return to on-site and hybrid work continue to be developed, the university’s overall goals for an innovative return to campus include:

  • Enhancing ways the university accomplishes its teaching, research and service missions, leveraging all that the campus community has learned about new ways of working and learning. 
  • Increasing efficiencies and reducing costs, in particular by reducing space needs.
  • Reducing the environmental impact and helping the university achieve its carbon neutrality goals as those are developed.
  • Enhancing the university’s position as an employer of choice with particular attention to employee satisfaction.

Provost Susan M. Collins said that while the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how the university operates over the past year, faculty and staff have learned how to work in a more flexible and innovative manner and that university officials look forward to experimenting with a new approach to working at U-M. 

Units will provide employees advance notice before scheduling them to return to on-site and hybrid work. While all staff and faculty who can work from home will continue to do so, preparations for a residential student experience will increase the range of work to be done on site. The university will continue to gradually and carefully resume various on-campus activities. The expectation is that most fall-term classes will be offered in person.

Preparing for fall

Many members of the U-M community have been working on campus to maintain essential functions during the COVID-19 pandemic, while others have been working largely remotely. 

The state’s extension of workplace restrictions for an additional six months in April does not prohibit in-person work, nor does it affect on-site campus work or plans to gradually resume on-site work in the coming months.

Fall on campus will have a different feel this year, as university officials are hopeful the coming academic year will be a transition, with some public health measures still in place early on. Depending on public health guidelines as the academic year progresses, university officials hope to have fewer public health measures later in the year as the community’s vaccination rate increases.

Flexible work environment

Returning to work on campus for faculty and staff will require flexibility, creativity and collaboration by all schools, colleges and units to enhance the ways the university accomplishes teaching, research and service missions, Collins said, noting that some units already have shared their plans with employees.

As more faculty and staff return to campus, university officials continue to work on ways to identify opportunities to offer flexibility and improve employees’ work experience.

The results of a staff survey by University Human Resources in December 2020 support many of the recommendations made by the Workforce Innovation and Staff Experience Committee, in particular those around supporting remote work. A small work group is now considering the WISE report to determine which recommendations can quickly be adopted and which ones will require further study.

The work group has developed some initial recommendations related to pressing work requirements. The university has endorsed these recommendations and is working on implementing them rapidly, said Richard Holcomb, associate vice president for human resources. They are:

  • Establish or re-establish telecommuting work agreements, which outline expectations under which remote work occurs, and include considerations related to duration, hours and frequency of remote work, requirements for in-person meetings and other unit needs, computer access in the remote workspace and other matters. Templates are being reviewed and will be available to units by next month.
  • Priority should be given to establishing these agreements for employees who will likely need to be remote for the foreseeable future. Use of these agreements for remote and hybrid work arrangements has been a long-standing practice in a number of units at U-M, though not all. The regular use of the agreements prior to a remote or hybrid work environment was set aside temporarily during hastened transition to remote work during the pandemic.
  • At this point, hiring remote employees to work from foreign countries should be discouraged, absent compelling business reasons, and made only after careful review and approval from central administration.
  • For units contemplating allowing remote work out of state, it will be important for them to be aware and account for the possible added risks and costs that may be incurred with out-of-state remote employees.
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