Our plan for a phased and safe return to campus

Thursday, June 25, 2020

This message was originally sent to employees by Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor.


What’s changed?

  • We have established a Return to Campus Working Group
  • We are following a four-phase approach for a gradual return to campus
  • We have developed a set of health and safety guidelines for supervisors
  • We are consulting University leaders to determine the order in which roles should return to campus

Colleagues,

I want to share an update on the plans and protocols we are putting in place as part of a four-phase approach to welcome various employee groups back to work on campus from now through November. 

Over the past several months, the University has continued to monitor and respond to changing circumstances relating to COVID-19. Public health advice and best practices will inform our next steps, and above all, the health and safety of our employees and our students will be our primary focus.

We have created a Return to Campus Working Group led by the Safety Office and supported by the Office of Research, Human Resources, the Registrar’s Office, Plant Operations, Health Services, Occupational Health, Space Planning, the Faculty of Engineering, and University Relations. This team, operating within the framework of the Integrated Co-ordination and Planning Committee (ICPC) structure, has developed a comprehensive set of Health and Safety Guidelines for supervisors to use as they consider future plans for returning some employees back to campus.

Plans are already well underway on our Research Ramp-Up initiative, which will see labs across campus start to re-open in a phased manner now through the end of August.

As we develop plans for other units across campus, we will consider functions and roles that directly support teaching, learning and research and will be most successfully carried out on campus during Fall Term. We will also consider positions that may be best delivered in a hybrid approach – some activities could be carried out via work from home and some activities may be more successful when delivered on campus.

We are also mindful that there will be emerging or changing circumstances to take into account such as any change in guidance for physical distancing and social gathering sizes.

Some of our employees may be in roles that should continue to be performed from home during the Fall Term. Employees are to continue working remotely until their supervisors and department heads communicate that their role must be carried out on campus, or if their work group is included in the next phase of the gradual return.

On campus, there will be adjustments to the physical layouts of many workspaces as well as adjustments to cleaning processes, the changing of work hours and shifts, and where necessary the use of General Protective Equipment (GPE) by employees to reduce the potential for exposure to the virus.

Human Resources and the Safety Office are currently consulting with members of the University’s leadership through the Executive Council to assess what roles should be considered for a return to campus starting in August. Final decisions on this strategy will be made by the Central Planning Group of ICPC and communicated with supervisors towards the end of July.

Please see the summary of the four phases we are following below. Throughout every phase, we will make training and resources available to help employees return safely. 

You can expect continuing communications from us during this gradual, phased return to campus, including new Health and Safety Guidelines, updates to Work from Home guidelines, and more. In the meantime, visit the University’s COVID-19 Information website for the latest updates and news.

In closing, let me say how proud I am of your response to these challenges as individuals and as members of the University community. The safety of our campus community is our top priority and is informing all of our plans going forward

Thank you for your dedication to Waterloo.

APPENDIX – Four-Phase Return to Campus and Health & Safety Guidance

Phase One: Essential Employees (March 2020 to June 30, 2020)

Currently we are in Phase One of our return-to-campus framework, with employees whose roles have been deemed essential to the maintenance and continuation of University operations and infrastructure working on campus in physically-distant settings wherever possible. Research faculty and staff, as well as research graduate students, have been working in limited capacity for critical and COVID-related research, while all clinical research involving human participants has been paused, and academic faculty, instructors, and staff have been working remotely. Library operations are limited to virtual interactions and digital access.

Phase Two: Research Ramp-Up (July 2020 to August 2020)

In this phase, within the limits imposed by Health and Safety guidelines, we will see the laboratory research work continue for research faculty and staff and research graduate students. Academic faculty, instructors and staff may be able to return to campus as circumstances allow for physically-distanced work activity. Essential staff will continue to work on campus. Library operations will expand to the curbside pickup of reserved materials for faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and Library staff will digitize materials to support fall term reserves, and expanded research access. 

Phase Three: Selective Expansion (August 2020 to November 2020)

In this phase, the work environment for research faculty, staff, and research graduate students as well as clinical research with human participants (as provincial guidelines permit) will be in full swing. Academic faculty, instructors and staff may be able to return to campus as circumstances allow for physically-distanced work activity, and the majority of research activities on campus currently hindered by remote access will likely be operational. Faculty department and Administrative Support Units will be able to rely on University health and safety guidelines to determine the composition of their working environments. Essential staff will continue to work on campus. In this phase, undergraduate students will also return to campus for specific in-person scheduled classes and make use of some campus facilities.

Phase Four: The Next Normal (November 2020 and ongoing)

The vision for this fourth phase involves a work environment that will evolve again to meet the needs of our mission in teaching, learning and research, but will continue to be governed by public health guidance and the overall state of affairs in Waterloo Region, Ontario, and Canada.

Health and Safety Guidelines, Training and Future Updates

Employees are to continue working remotely until their supervisors and department heads communicate with them that their role must be carried out on campus, or if their work group is included in the next phase of the gradual return. We know that working remotely is the most effective method for eliminating the spread of COVID-19, but that this condition is not universally appropriate for all employees. There will be adjustments to the physical layouts of many campus workplaces as well as adjustments to work processes around hygiene, the changing of work hours and shifts, and where necessary the use of General Protective Equipment (GPE) by employees to reduce the potential for exposure to the virus.

These guiding principles are captured in the University’s Health and Safety Guidelines for COVID-19:

  • Health and safety considerations come first
  • Approach will be government-informed and evidence-based
  • Responsible approach to reduce risk 
  • Recognition of equity issues 
  • Responsive and proactive to changing environment
  • Open, transparent, and collaborative
  • Effectively resourced 

Throughout every phase, we will make training and resources available to help employees return safely. Visit the Returning to Campus Safely During COVID-19 (SO2036) training page for information on how to register for return-to-campus training.

Visit the University’s COVID-19 Information website for the latest updates and news.