How to decide on return to work: who vs. what Part 1

Date: 6/24/20

Presented by: Barbara Roberts, Director of WorkLife Office

The WLO is working in concert with return to campus committees to help us figure out how to know what work must be done on campus, and what work might be done remotely, which will help identify who needs to return, how much and why. Dr. Barbara Roberts will present a decision-making protocol used in other settings, inviting discussion and input on how we might apply this idea to returning to campus in the time of COVID-19.

You can preview the protocol here WLO decision making protocol  Please join us for a discussion of how consistently applied questions and analysis can help make equitable and accountable decisions.

Link to PowerPoint slides


  1. How do you balance between “Privacy” & “Transparency”? If there are privacy issues then how are things completely transparent? Answered at 12:00 min. mark.
  2. This is probably going to be addressed, but what if you have a discrepancy between what you consider essential and what your supervisor does? Answered at 18:00 min. mark
  3. I’m wondering if MSU has a list somewhere of who is/not essential. My personal understanding is that “essential” is the specific category of people who would come in even if we had a snow day, if that makes sense. Answered at 18:00 min. mark
  4. I appreciate your presentation very much. I also appreciate that you have mentioned power dynamics and the need to be “fair” in making these decisions. I want to ask more explicitly about the role of systemic racism in these processes: How do you take the realities into account in the approach to returning to work on campus? I would say that there are intersectional issues related to this, as well. Answered at the 27:00 min. mark
  5. What if you feel that your health considerations are not being taken into account, and you have shared those concerns with your supervisor, offering to do other duties? Answered at the 32:00 min. mark
  6. In theory this sounds good, but practical application for the supervisor can be more difficult. Eg, two employees doing similar jobs, both performing well prior to work at home. Since working at home, one doing very well – in some ways even more productive. The other is not doing well – easily distracted by kids during the day, spouse does not appreciate her working evenings, poor internet connection that goes in and out all resulting in decreased productivity and quality issues. How do you keep the ‘who’ out of it? Answered at the 38:00 min. mark
  7. How should decisions about remote teaching be made, when the university is asking students to return to campus and students/parents expect an in-person experience? Answered at the 43:00 min. mark
  8. If the state of the work unit has changed in response to the pandemic and are likely to be permanent; the impact on the workplace implications (e.g. re-skilling, redeployment, etc..) exists, which analysis would you recommend to ensure or demonstrate there will not be an unintended adverse impact on minorities and older employees (ageism) in the unit? Answered at the 46:00 min. mark
  9. Units are being asked to take large budget reductions. Employees are taking salary cuts or being put on furlough. Not realistic to expect them to now fund laptop computers, monitors, Internet access and even ergonomic chairs for employees. Answered at the 49:00 min. mark
  10. I appreciate the level of thinking that went into this — it strikes me as a great framework for decision-making with respect to individuals. But we also have to make decisions at the unit level and it may be that the best way to get the work of a unit done, as well as to accommodate individual needs, is to reallocate tasks among the employees of a unit with individual constraints in mind. How do we approach this? And importantly, what if this redistribution of tasks results in some being unhappy, while the net productivity for the unit is better? Answered at the 52:00 min. mark
  11. Are various units exploring different ways of providing office services remotely with their staff that used to be in-person (reception, for example)? I’m curious if people are exploring alternatives to the traditional “we always have 3 people in the office for coverage for any questions, faculty needs, etc.” Answered at the 55:00 min. mark
  12. How do you balance the responsibility of the employee to manage their many responsibilities across work/home/family, etc, with the responsibility of the supervisor to provide solutions for them? It sounds like you are placing responsibility on the supervisor to determine if flex time will help them, to offer child care resources, etc. Don’t employees need to assume some responsibility for managing their many responsibilities when they accept a job? Answered at the 57:00 min. mark