UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke to provide more flexibility for staff returning to office

Posted July 19, 2021 7:54 p.m. EDT

— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill welcomed employees back to campus Monday after more than a year of remote work during the pandemic.

"People have been really excited," said Ari Ball, special events and projects manager for the university. "It makes everything feel a little more back to normal when you are back physically to the office instead of seeing people by Zoom."

But the normal workday at UNC-Chapel Hill and at Duke University will likely not be the same as it was before the pandemic.

"We have heard consistently a strong desire, a strong interest on the part of our staff, to have some greater degree of flexibility – the ability to work remotely, the ability to work from home, the ability to have a schedule that fits with commuting patterns and traffic and child care," said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs.

Duke is letting each of its schools and operating units decide whether staffers need to be in the office and how much each week, Schoenfeld said.

"If what you do has to be done on campus and around others, then obviously, there will be more activity on campus," he said. "There is not a single one-size-fits-all solution for such a complex place."

UNC-Chapel Hill is testing a hybrid schedule for staff in 27 divisions, schools and departments through the end of the year, officials said. Data collected from that pilot project will then help administrators determine what the plan is moving forward.

Similarly, North Carolina State University will offer workers some remote and hybrid options and will assess the impact.

"I think there will be some long-term – again, I hesitate to say permanent – but I believe there will be some long-term changes," Schoenfeld said, noting that Duke officials will track how many employees switch to a hybrid schedule or stay completely remote and will look at how the university allocates office space on campus and in downtown Durham.

As the largest employers in Orange and Durham counties, respectively, UNC-Chapel Hill's and Duke's actions could forge a path for other area businesses to follow.

"There will be over time some very substantial changes in the way we look at how we work, where we work [and] what form that work takes," he said. "It’s also going to be essential from a competitive standpoint. We’re competing with other employers, not just in the Triangle, but really nationally and around the world. We’re competing for talent in a very significant way."

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