4.30.21: Update on the Phased Resumption of On-Campus Work for Staff

A message sent to Lehigh staff and shared with faculty.

Dear Colleagues:

We are writing to provide an update on the phased resumption of on-campus work for staff. As you know, we have remained in a status of encouraging remote work where possible throughout the pandemic. In the coming months, we will be transitioning from this status in two stages.

Our two-stage transition will provide staff and supervisors with two months in which to re-acclimate to on-campus work. It will also provide the time necessary for the consideration of flexplace agreement requests in accordance with our forthcoming policies for flexplace and remote work.

Stage One: June 1, 2021

In stage one, beginning Tuesday, June 1, we will move to a status of work on campus being broadly permitted at the discretion of managers. Staff and supervisors should consider where work can be performed optimally, and supervisors may require an employee to work on campus. Supervisors have flexibility regarding what their individual office schedules look like to account for variables such as physical distancing and density. Supervisors should provide no less than two weeks of advance notice when requiring any employee to return to campus.

This intermediate change of status will allow us to prepare for the fall, building on the best practices already in place for safe working environments that have proven successful in preventing virus transmission among employees working on campus. As will be the case for the foreseeable future, all employees working on campus will be required to comply with current COVID safety protocols.

By the end of May, the new Staff Flexplace and Remote Work policies will be approved. Staff who wish to do so should submit flexplace arrangement requests during stage one.

Stage Two: August 2, 2021

As has been previously announced, Lehigh will be returning to a fully residential campus in the fall. On Monday, August 2, Lehigh’s staff workplace status will move to a return to full on-campus operations. Approved flexplace arrangements will also take effect by that date. Anyone without an approved flexplace or remote work arrangement in place will be expected to return to their pre-pandemic work configuration by August 2.

On the Value of Being Together

We are proud to offer a new flexplace work policy in recognition of the evolution of the 21st century workplace. On August 2, we do expect there will be more staff working remotely than there were pre-pandemic. However, we want to take a moment to emphasize the value of being together and in person.

  • First, Lehigh students choose our university because of its distinctive and high-quality residential college experience. With all students returning to campus this fall, optimal service will generally be accomplished in person.

  • In addition, as Provost Nathan Urban has noted, being in person allows for certain spontaneous and unexpected interactions that can foster relationships, culture and creative problem solving. These “hallway moments” are opportunities that are important for the work of a university.

  • After 14 months of “unmuting,” we think we can all agree that communication generally works better in person. Zoom is a great tool, and we will certainly continue to use it, but it cannot fully replace the in-person experience.

  • Finally, after more than a year of separation, we want to enhance the sense of community at Lehigh. Grab a coffee at The Grind with a colleague. Pick up produce and baked goods at the Bethlehem Farmers Market. Take a lunchtime walk and enjoy the gorgeous fall colors. You'll soon be reminded why working on our beautiful campus with our exceptional staff and faculty is such a special experience.

We understand that the return to campus may elicit a mix of reactions, from excitement about seeing colleagues and campus to anxiety about safety. We can assure you that the University will continue to take steps to provide a safe working environment.

All Lehigh students will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in addition to the many other vaccinations they have traditionally been required to receive prior to living on campus. We know that many of you have already been vaccinated, and we strongly encourage all of you to do so.

To address some concerns staff may have regarding safe on campus workplace practices, the Employee Relations Advisory Committee (ERAC) will host a Knowledge @ Noon panel discussion on Tuesday, May 4 with Gregory Reihman, Vice Provost, LTS; Richard Sause, Joseph T. Stuart Professor of Structural Engineering; Jason Schiffer, Chief of Police; and Brent Stringfellow, Associate Vice President/University Architect. You can register at this link.

We will continue to keep you updated as the spring and summer progress. Stay up to date on all COVID-19 related developments and recent policy and practice changes by visiting the Coronavirus Information Center.

Please also remember to take advantage of the opportunity to provide your feedback by May 7 on the Staff Flexible Workplace Policy by following this link.

With gratitude,

Chris Halladay

Associate Vice President for Human Resources

Co-Chair, Task Force to Safely Open Lehigh’s Campus

Brent Stringfellow, AIA

Associate Vice President of Facilities/University Architect

Co-Chair, Task Force to Safely Open Lehigh’s Campus