Campus News

The future of work at Carolina

Facilitated by Operational Excellence, a design team is re-imagining work at Carolina and developing guardrails for flexible work arrangements.

Bell Tower with fall trees
(Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A diverse group of employees is focused on a big project, looking at how Carolina staff will work in the coming years.

The Future of Work project is an opportunity to re-imagine work at Carolina, leveraging what the University learned during the COVID-19 pandemic while prioritizing the on-campus student experience and meeting the demand for flexible work arrangements.

The pandemic has caused everyone in the workforce to wonder about how work will happen in the years to come.

While this project at Carolina is not a response to COVID-19, its timeline was prompted by the pandemic, said Candace Reynolds, Operational Excellence transformation manager.

Facilitated by Operational Excellence, an effort launched in 2018 to streamline the University’s administrative operations, the project aims to establish guardrails for flexible work arrangements, including defining the options for remote work, and create a toolkit to use in making decisions for non-faculty employees.

“We know the workforce is changing, what people are looking for is changing and technology is changing. We want to create a modern workforce, offering flexible opportunities to our employees,” said Becci Menghini, vice chancellor for human resources and equal opportunity and compliance. “We need to balance that need with ensuring we’re maintaining a world-class on-campus experience for our students.”

Menghini, Nate Knuffman, vice chancellor for finance and operations, and Rick Wernoski, senior vice provost for business operations, are the executive sponsors of the project.

The 13-member design team, which began its work in mid-October, will make a recommendation to the Chancellor by the end of this calendar year. Menghini emphasized that the design team will be a big voice but not the only voice in the decision process.

four people in a group discussion

During a recent design team meeting, (left to right) Candace Reynolds, Roderick Lewis, David Hare and Katie Musgrove share their perspectives about flexible work arrangements. (Meagan Solloway/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The Future of Work project was launched to build on the Flexible Work Location Pilot Program that began July 19 for some personnel in participating units. The pilot allowed participants to explore hybrid and remote working arrangements depending on business needs.

Once approved, the timeline calls for guardrails, or guidelines, to be delivered to deans and vice chancellors in January 2022. As a next step toward modernizing the workforce at Carolina, the guardrails will be used in implementing flexible work arrangements.

Some roles may be remote and others may be hybrid roles, while others may have flexible work schedules. A playbook will provide a framework for supervisors to use in implementing work options and planning conversations with employees, Reynolds said.

The project includes all staff employees except for those in the UNC School of Medicine because the school is aligning with UNC Health’s effort to rethink its physical workspace.

Employees also had an opportunity to share their views on flexible work options in a survey sent to employees on Oct. 8, with 59% of employees responding. Results from the survey will be used in this project.

Sharing input

There’s a spectrum between remote and onsite work, said Roderick Lewis, director of external relations, marketing and analytics for University Career Services. What it means for various employees on campus is different, depending on roles.

“The project’s focus is on providing a world-class on-campus experience for students,” Lewis said. “Our purpose in higher education is different from a corporation. Our primary customers are walking with us on campus. We have to think about being service-oriented to students.”

Lewis said that while part of his job could be done virtually, it’s important to be on campus to connect with students. As an example, he said he often walks on campus, stopping to talk to students about careers. Or his team may help an employer set up a table on the quad or the pit to engage students about job opportunities. In-person interaction is important in some program elements — such as career treks and job shadows — where students get to physically tour the workplaces, have lunch with alumni and business leaders, and observe professionals performing various job roles in real-time.

“You have to add value for the students,” he said. “It’s important for students to see you smile and also for them to appreciate the physical appearance of the campus and the cleanliness of the residence halls or classroom buildings.”

Katie Musgrove serves a dual role on the design team: She’s a supervisor of staff in several of the 10 clinical programs at UNC School of Law and was elected by staff employees as chair of the Employee Forum. In the clinics, more than 100 primarily third-year law students serve as supervised legal counsel for clients. Musgrove returned to work on campus in a staggered schedule in May 2020, helping to keep the clinics operating through the pandemic.

“As a supervisor, it’s exciting to be working on resources and guardrails. This gives us some structured flexibility and some tools and options so that supervisors can choose what works best in their units in a fair and equitable way,” she said.

“On an Employee Forum note, I’m excited that we’re doing our best to stay competitive for the best talent. Carolina needed to take this step to offer flexibility,” Musgrove said. “It’s a work in progress, and this is a launching point so we can make sure we’re progressing with the times and the changes in the workforce that COVID brought about.”

Taneisha Henderson, programmatic support coordinator in the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion, manages the office’s finances, including its budget.

One of the challenges she faced in working remotely was in finance training, where she learned to use Carolina’s systems for business processes. While the hands-on training was great, she said, some of the online training was difficult because the two-way dialogue with instructors was missing. Through her work, she was able to build a strong network with other finance professionals across the campus.

Describing herself as an “in-person person,” Henderson is glad to be back working on campus in a hybrid schedule of three days on campus and two days at home. She said she’s happy to see her colleagues’ bright eyes, even though they’re behind a mask.

As part of the design team, the group is getting to know each other and has spent a lot of time discussing what remote, hybrid and on-campus work options might look like. Tools for decision-makers are critical, she said.

The members of the design team come from different backgrounds. “It’s nice to be heard … and let your thoughts evolve as you hear from other people, and it feels nice to be a stakeholder,” she said.