Remote Work at Boston University, Message to Faculty

To: Boston University Faculty
From: Robert Brown, President
Jean Morrison, University Provost and Chief Academic Officer
Date: June 23, 2021
Subject: Remote Work at Boston University

We hope you are enjoying a much better start to the summer than last year. Looking ahead, we all anticipate that with high rates of vaccination we will have a much more normal academic year beginning in the fall.

We are writing to share with you the recommendations of the Committee on the Future of Staff Work at Boston University and to outline next steps being taken by the University. You will recall that the committee was charged in February with proposing recommendations for post-COVID University-wide policies for remote and flexible work by our staff. The membership of the committee is listed in the Appendix to this memorandum.

Although these recommendations do not apply to you directly, they are important in the context of their impact on in-person teaching, student services, and research.

Boston University brings together almost 32,000 students, over 3,700 faculty, and 6,100 staff into a community that fulfills our mission as a residential research university. The mission is intensely collaborative, carried out in our classrooms, laboratories, studios, and in countless formal and informal meetings in conference rooms, offices, and around dining tables across our campuses. Traditionally, face-to-face contact between our faculty, students, and involved staff is at the core of these activities. After 15 months of disruption caused by the pandemic, we are beginning to return to these activities.

The quality of our staff and the quality of your academic work are intertwined; both advance the mission of the University. The successful pivot by many of you and our staff to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that some staff work can be effectively performed remotely. Even before the pandemic, approximately 10% of our staff worked partly or fully remotely. As our campuses return to full in-person operation in the fall, the question is how to balance the importance of in-person connectivity—and its role in advancing the mission and culture of departments and the University—while providing the staff flexibility of off-campus work arrangements.

Survey of All BU Staff and Faculty Supervisors of Staff

An important part of the committee’s work was a survey of staff and those faculty who supervise staff that was administered from May 4 to May 17. Staff participation was high; almost 3,000 staff responded (48% participation) with 78% from the Charles River Campus and 18% from the Medical Campus. In addition, responses from faculty supervisors totaled 252. Here we touch on some of the most important findings:

  • 90% of the staff responding prefer to work from home two or more days per week. The median number of days per week preferred to work from home is three, which is consistent with what supervisors feel would be reasonable.
  • 90% of the staff respondents feel that they were equally or more productive while working from home during the pandemic.
  • 82% of the faculty supervisors who responded reported that the level and quality of support they received from staff was the same or better during the pandemic compared with before it.
  • Nearly 70% of the faculty supervisors who responded would support remote work options for staff. Another 22% would consider supporting such options depending on the specific role of the staff member requesting the flexibility.
  • 61% of the staff respondents said they are likely to explore job opportunities outside of Boston University if remote work options are not available.
  • Over 60% of the responding supervisors expect to have challenges recruiting and retaining staff if remote work options are not available to those staff.

A more detailed summary of the results of the survey can be found here.

Committee Recommendations

Based on benchmarking external trends, the survey results, and additional input from University leadership and faculty and staff managers, the committee made the following recommendations to support remote work for the staff of Boston University. The recommendations are based on four guiding principles:

  1. Give staff members, to the extent feasible within our residential research university environment, the flexibility to accomplish their performance goals and objectives working partly or, in a limited number of cases, totally away from campus.
  2. Give this access to off-campus work as a benefit to high-performing employees of the University. Remote work is not a right.
  3. Create an environment that enables managers to effectively supervise staff who are working away from campus.
  4. Create an environment where all employees—whether fully on-campus or working partially or fully remotely—are equally part of the Boston University community and culture. The location where one performs work should not negatively impact opportunities for advancement.

An essential element of implementing hybrid and remote work by the staff will be to ensure that the essential support of in-person teaching by the faculty, and support of our students and of our research mission, is not compromised by these arrangements. The committee has recommended the following elements:

  1. Remote work arrangements must be approved by the staff member’s manager, department head, and the appropriate dean or vice president.
  2. Remote work outside Massachusetts also requires approval by Human Resources because of tax and legal considerations.
  3. Managers will decide which positions and staff employees qualify for remote work. The decision will be based on defined criteria, specific job responsibilities, and actual job performance; many staff and staff positions will not be eligible for remote work. Roles that lend themselves to hybrid or fully remote work are generally those that:
    • involve work that can be accomplished independently with limited direct supervision;
    • do not require extensive face-to-face contact with students, supervisors, staff, and faculty, or the public on the BU campuses;
    • do not require access to equipment, materials, or information that can only be accessed while on the BU campuses;
    • do not need to be conducted on campus because of security, logistical, and other business-related reasons.
  4. Managers will review continuation of the privilege of off-campus work on at least an annual basis, and, taking into consideration the employee’s job performance, have the discretion of withdrawing the privilege with appropriate notice at any time.

Comprehensive guidelines for remote staff work arrangements are being developed by Human Resources and will be available by early August. These guidelines will provide additional details for operationalizing the principles and process details described above. We are envisioning that eligible staff members will have the option of requesting working remotely up to two days per week. Working remotely three or more days a week, including fully remote work (employees that do not come to campus at all except for occasional on-campus departmental meetings or events) will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and be approved only in exceptional situations.

We also believe that harmonizing work taking place off-campus with the timing of on-campus work will require that off-campus workers are available during normal campus working hours of 9 am to 5 pm. When possible, department and other meetings should be scheduled during core business hours (10 am to 3 pm) to provide scheduling flexibility at the start and end of the workday.

There are details to work out over the coming months, many of which will be described in the guidelines being developed by Human Resources. However, we need to realize we are entering into new types of work arrangements with many of our staff and there will surely be unexpected situations that develop.

While discussions between managers and individuals about remote work eligibility may begin now, formal implementation of remote work schedules for staff members not covered by previous remote work agreements cannot be finalized until the Guidelines for Remote Staff Work Arrangements are issued by Human Resources in early August. The guidelines will be shared as soon as they are finalized.

Institutionalizing remote staff work is an important step for continuing to attract and retain the talented staff who will advance the mission of Boston University. Maintaining our culture of collaboration and connectivity with a more distributed staff will require change by all of us. To support these changes, the University will form a new Committee on Advancing a Common Staff Culture at Boston University. The committee will be formed at the beginning of the fall semester.

Thank you for your support of our staff and for everything you do to support the mission of Boston University.


Appendix: Membership of the Committee on the Future of Staff Work at Boston University

Ken Freeman (Co-Chair), Vice President for Human Resources, ad interim

Natalie McKnight (Co-Chair), Dean, College of General Studies

Diane Baldwin, Associate Vice President, Sponsored Programs

Jorge Delva, Dean, School of Social Work

Mariette DiChristina, Dean, College of Communication

Ira Lazic, Associate Dean for Administration, School of Public Health

Elise Morgan, Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Development, College of Engineering

Janet O’Brien, Senior Associate Vice President, Information Services & Technology

Patricia O’Brien, Associate Provost for Budget & Planning, Office of the University Provost

Hee-Young Park, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, School of Medicine

Silifa Wallace, Associate Vice President for Internal Audit

Juliana Walsh-Kaiser, Senior Associate Dean for Finance, College of Arts & Sciences

Office of General Counsel Liaison: Jennifer Belli, Associate General Counsel

Administrative Support: Jennifer Horgan, Office of the President