Week 62: Update on Countway Remote Work Planning


The purpose of this week’s message is to update you on the progress we are making regarding creating a library wide plan for remote work. We have gathered the library staff feedback/request forms and are compiling the information into a comprehensive spreadsheet. We will review the information with CAT at our upcoming manager’s meeting. There may be some adjustments. Once CAT is satisfied with the schedule, we will be presenting the plan to HMS HR for final approval. Our goal is to submit all materials in early June. During the month of June, we will respond to any questions or concerns HR has and hopefully, be able to confirm individual schedules later that month. Below are some principles and questions we are addressing in designing our remote work plan.

Why are we doing this? What is the rationale for remote work?

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently completed a report with recommendations for Harvard regarding remote work. In their report, they cite the core principle: “any consideration of hybrid/remote work must be aligned with the teaching and research mission of the University and closely coordinated with the specific goals of the schools and units.”

“Most employees have some portion of their roles that can be done from outside traditional work locations, and some duties that make it beneficial to be onsite. And there are also some roles and functions that will always require a physical presence on campus.”

During the pandemic, we were forced to think creatively about how to safely realign our work to respond to the needs of our community while at the same time keep ourselves and our families and friends safe. At Countway, we created a hybrid/remote work environment in June 2020. We began with 16 hours per month on site and expanded to the current 48-60 hours per month per individual. We successfully defined tasks that could only be done onsite and identified tasks that could be accomplished offsite. While onsite we had no workplace transmission of COVID. Given this successful experiment, the library managers have heard our staff express interest in continuing a more flexible remote work option even as we prepare for a more robust campus opening and expanded library hours.

The report mentions the office is not going away; in our case, though Countway saw a large increase in number of people attending online classes and accessing our electronic resources, there is still a need for access to the physical collection and study space as shown by the enthusiastic response to our January reopening and Grab and Go services. The investments over the years in expanded access to electronic resources has paid off; the renovation of Countway space to accommodate more group rooms, staff areas that allow for social distancing, more office spaces, etc. have also paid off during COVID and after COVID.

Countway differs from many other departments and buildings on campus, as it is not strictly administrative focused, and has many parallels to retail services (open 7 days a week/75 hours per week). The library is a public space providing support and service to our customers who come from diverse groups, have changing needs and who have particular service expectations. Our intention is to be accountable and responsible to our customers as we balance flexibility for our staff.

What is the model we are testing? What is remote work for Countway?

In the coming months we will be testing a hybrid model where staff work 1-2 days remotely starting August 2nd through the end of December 2021. In addition to a remote day or two option, we are also testing in this model the option for some staff to have a compressed schedule. For example, some staff will work longer days in order to help open or close the library. Other staff will rotate a weekend shift or have selected a weekend day to be onsite. This broader definition of hybrid/remote work allows us to arrange for coverage for all hours the library is open and provides additional flexibility for our staff. Once the library wide schedule is finalized and approved, staff will keep their schedule through the fall semester. This schedule will be evaluated over the semester and observations and lessons learned will be documented so adjustments to the schedule can be made in January as needed.

What will CAT consider in reviewing staff scheduling choices as the final library wide schedule is designed?

As CAT began to review departmental schedules, the team is applying certain parameters to ensure proper coverage for Countway patrons and to ensure the business needs are being met. These include the following basic tenants:

  • There must be a manger onsite Monday-Friday
  • Each unit must have at least one representative onsite each day Monday-Friday
  • The schedule must consider library-wide customer business needs first, team needs second, and individual needs third
  • Staff schedules must work within the parameters of onsite building security presence
  • There will be back up for opening and closing the library and weekend rotations

Questions to be addressed and Next Steps

We are in the beginning stages of designing the Countway hybrid/remote work plan. We understand there are still many questions to be addressed. At this point, we want to acknowledge your questions and let you know in some cases, we are awaiting guidance from HMS while in other cases, we are working on our own procedures to put in place. Below are some of the questions that need additional follow up, I encourage you to send more questions so that we can continue to address outstanding issues as the library moves forward with its reopening plan:

  1. What will Harvard’s new COVID protocols be based on the Governor’s recent announcements?
  2. Will we still have a Safety Ambassador program?
  3. What will the new concierge service look like and who will participate in staffing that program?
  4. When will we open to visitors?
  5. When I am backup for opening and/or closing, what am I expected to do?
  6. On my remote work form I selected I would consider working a weekend rotation, what does that entail?

We welcome your questions and will continue to start working on the answers to them as we plan for the next phase of library work and opening. This is an exciting time for Countway. It is an opportunity for us to redesign the workplace, and to provide a more flexible work arrangement while always keeping in mind our users needs and the business operations. Stay tuned for more.