Purdue and employees alike find success, long-term benefits in new remote work arrangements

4,700 of 7,000 employees working full or partially remote this fall

Malissa Ayala, director of the Student Success Programs’ Span Plan, appreciates the support she has received from Purdue during the global pandemic in working remotely from her Lafayette home since March. She comes to campus occasionally for key meetings but is among the 4,700 Purdue employees working fully or partially remote. (Purdue photo/Mark Simons)

The remote strategy, spelled out in the comprehensive Protect Purdue Plan, is accelerating efforts by the University to gauge the long-term benefits of some staff permanently working remotely and of recruiting talented employees who may be unable to relocate to West Lafayette.

On any given day, more than 4,700 of 7,000 employees are fully remote or in a combined, hybrid remote status, while another  2,200 come to campus to perform their duties. The overall goal: to protect the health and safety of the Purdue community through campuswide de-densification to protect the most vulnerable to serious consequences of COVID-19.

“Since mid-March, the majority of our Purdue workforce has clearly demonstrated an ability to keep this institution — which is larger than many Indiana cities — operating smoothly and effectively in a remote or hybrid status,” says Bill Bell, Purdue vice president for human resources.

“While ‘crisis-induced’ at the onset, our staff has handled the transition extremely well — which is a true testament to their adaptability,” he adds. “Our focus now is on fully optimizing the remote working experience so that everyone can perform their best, day in and day out, regardless of physical work location.”

The 4,700 remote or hybrid employees are demonstrating flexibility during this new normal while remaining accountable, efficient, productive and effective — from home offices and spare bedrooms or dining and kitchen tables, porches or backyard decks.

“Because of our aggressive campuswide de-densification plan, many of our employees are staying healthy and safe working from home during this pandemic,” Bell says. “In addition, many employees who have medical vulnerabilities or are more susceptible to serious outcomes of COVID-19 are staying healthy by working from their homes.”

The pandemic forced Purdue to shutter campus operations on March 16. Within two weeks, Purdue had moved all instruction online and asked those employees who could work remotely to continue in that status until further notice. With the global pandemic continuing into autumn, many employees are preparing to work remotely through the spring 2021 semester and possibly longer.

“Like the rest of society, we are learning a lot about which jobs are most amenable to remote work and about new and better ways to do such work,” Bell says. “At the same time, we see employee recruitment benefits of this strategy. This clearly can help broaden our talent pool as we aren’t limited to those candidates who live in Greater Lafayette or are able to relocate to our community.”

In addition to the health and safety benefits, many Purdue employees are finding other pluses to working remotely, such as the time and expenses of not having to commute, avoiding office distractions, the stronger standards for large-group meetings, among others. Employees also have been creative in their problem solving while adapting to a new remote work environment.

Malissa Ayala, director of the Student Success Programs’ Span Plan, said working remotely the past six months has been an adjustment, mainly since her role centers on building relationships and community through personal interaction, which had to move online.

“There were successes and challenges and most of all opportunities for me to personally grow through that move to online student programming and content,” says Ayala, a member of the Management and Professional Staff Advisory Committee on De-Densify Campus/Remote Work Best Practices. “The campus community was very understanding and patient with each other — willing to share what they learned, to support each other through ups and downs, and to find ways to laugh and adapt. I am grateful Purdue is supportive of this initiative to keep us employed safely.”  

Detailed in the Protect Purdue Plan, the University established a bold target to significantly de-densify workspaces, reducing the number of staff working on campus daily by at least one-third to better protect their health and safety through the encouragement and enabling of remote work considerations. Purdue also de-densified other campus spaces, reducing learning-space occupancies by 50% and limiting occupancy for large classrooms to no more than 150 students.

The goal is to separate students, who are generally at lower risk for complications from COVID-19, from those who are at greater risk. The roughly 20% of the Purdue community who are over age 35 contains a number of employees with diabetes, asthma, hypertension and other ailments that comprise a high percentage of the fatal and most severe COVID-19 cases. 

Time will tell, but Bell says it’s likely that a number of Purdue positions could move to 100% remote work on a permanent basis, a scenario that will become clearer once the pandemic lifts and there’s a return to full-time residential learning. “We’ll be able to fully assess what roles, specifically student-facing, need to be done on campus on a full-time basis,” Bell says. 

Media Contact: Tim Doty, doty2@purdue.edu

Sources: Bill Bell, williamb@purdue.edu, 765-494-7395

Malissa Ayala, ayala15@purdue.edu, 765-494-5860