Campus News

Thoughts about the return to campus

The Well recently asked University employees for their hopes, concerns and questions about returning to campus to work. Here’s what we’ve heard so far.

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This "All Together" banner hangs from a lamp pole on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Most University employees who have spent the past 15 months working remotely will be returning to campus full time on July 19. As the date draws closer, staff and faculty members are expressing hopes, concerns and questions about the details of the return to campus.

While many of the details about the process are still being worked out, the Employee Forum and the Office of Human Resources are organizing town hall meetings in the coming weeks to address employee questions and concerns. The Employee Forum Town Hall will take place noon to 2 p.m. today. The Office of Human Resources will be hosting two hour-long information sessions, one for managers and supervisors at 3 p.m. June 29 and one for all University employees at 2 p.m. June 30. Participants who register and submit questions in advance will receive an email with a link for the YouTube session. 

In the meantime, here are some of the sentiments that The Well received in response to our June 8 solicitation.

Back to normal

Not surprisingly, what many say they have missed the most is interacting with each other and with Carolina students. Employees want to get together again and build community ties; they want to get back to normal.

“I am looking forward to seeing the students again,” one employee wrote. “Our grad students are there year-round, and we’ve been working together via Zoom and email. It will be nice to visit the lab once in a while to say hello and check in on their personal lives.”

Another employee is looking forward to “UNC, school-wide and departmental community, more student interaction and welcoming international students who had to defer matriculation.”

One employee anticipates “seeing work colleagues and students again when it is safe; having face-to-face interactions in a safe way,” while another is eager to “see my colleagues! Get back to normal. And (eventually) go back to the gym — not quite ready to trust an indoor exercise environment.”

“I am hoping there will be fewer Zoom meetings and return to a sense of ‘work family,’” someone wrote.

Taking a broader view, another person expressed hopes for employees and for students: “My hope for our faculty and staff is that we move past the many issues that have challenged us this last year to come together as a community. My hope for our students as they return to campus is that can experience as close to normal a year as possible. So many lost so much last year and their time at Carolina is so short, so my wish is that they can enjoy the same types of learning, experiences and friendships that their long line of predecessors did.”

Mixed emotions

While many are looking forward to working on campus again, some will miss the flexibility of the past year.

“I really enjoyed working from home,” one employee wrote. “I feel like I can get so much more work done at home. No commute (my commute is 45 minutes to an hour), so saving that time has been awesome.”

“While I’m not looking forward to managing daycare drop-off and pickup on the way to/from work again, it will be nice to walk across campus again every day,” another wrote.

This employee expressed that while “looking forward to having a dedicated space for work, I am hoping for flexibility in every sense of the word. I have been working from home for over a year and, as head of my household, schedules and priorities have shifted significantly. My honest concern lies around the rigidity of schedule and expectations after 15 months of flexibility.”

Employees also shared concerns about the virus itself and being exposed to it on the commute, through COVID-19 variants, unvaccinated people and possible new rounds of the disease, like the way the 1918 flu kept coming back.

“The pandemic is not over. Until many more people are vaccinated (not just locally, but statewide, nationally and globally), community transmission of COVID-19 will continue and pose risks to everyone. Furthermore, there is a potential for local outbreaks and new surges in cases,” someone wrote.

“I’m fully vaccinated, but I’m still concerned,” wrote one employee.

Some are also tired of wearing masks.

“I have concerns about wearing a mask all day. Otherwise, I have to close my office door. At that point, I might as well be working from home. I also envision forgetting to put it on every time I have to use the ladies room, etc. — habits I don’t have after working at home for a year plus,” one employee wrote.

One employee even had a thank you for The Well, just for the questions. “Thanks for asking. Love this approach to an article and acknowledging people’s concerns,” they wrote.

So we’re asking again. Please send your comments and questions to thewell@unc.edu, and include the phrase Return to Campus in the subject line. We will publish some of your responses and will try to answer your questions — always anonymously — on The Well website in the weeks leading up to July 19.