April 2024

Future of Work Task Force Unveils Recommendations

April 11, 2024    |  

In March, the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Future of Work Task Force held a series of town halls to present recommendations on how the University should support its existing workforce and plan for the future.

Spearheaded by Roger J. Ward, EdD, JD, MSL, MPA, provost and executive vice president, and Dawn Rhodes, DBA, chief business and finance officer and senior vice president, the events marked a culmination of efforts by the task force, which was established in July 2022. 

As Ward welcomed participants during the series’ final town hall March 28, he stressed the importance of meeting the needs of staff and faculty along with the University’s overarching goals. “At UMB, we have a distinctive set of core values. We have a mission we are deeply committed to. But we also want to be responsive,” he said. “It’s trying to balance individual needs with the greater needs of the University and making sure that we are, in the end, able to execute our mission.” 

The event began with a brief overview of the task force’s charge and scope — which included work flexibility, employee value proposition, and employee well-being — by one of the task force’s co-chairs, Malika Monger, MPA, PHR, chief human resources officer and associate vice president. Monger also outlined the group’s extensive research efforts, noting the task force worked with a consultant, reviewed best practices, studied similar work by other universities, held listening sessions at UMB, and conducted surveys.

The result of their work was a comprehensive report spanning over 160 pages with 14 major recommendations and 58 sub-recommendations for UMB leadership to consider. 

The co-chairs of the task force’s Work Flexibility Committee, Carin Cardella, MA, MS, public information officer for UMB’s Department of Public Safety and Office of Emergency Management, and Liz Graham, MLIS, executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, outlined the task force’s 14 major recommendations.

Those recommendations were grouped within six themes: 

  • Theme 1: Maintaining flexible work successes at UMB
  • Theme 2: Building an infrastructure to support lasting change
  • Theme 3: Strengthening employee well-being to improve the human condition
  • Theme 4: Maximizing University resources
  • Theme 5: Enhancing workplace culture
  • Theme 6: Employing innovative strategies to recruit and retain talent

All recommendations were presented to UMB leadership, including President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, and deans and vice presidents, who responded with a report indicating their response to each of the 58 sub-recommendations. Those responses included: already supporting, supports, more research needed, and do not support.

(Download the task force’s report as well as the deans and vice presidents response.) 

Beginning with Theme 1, Graham acknowledged that many employees are currently engaged in remote work and said that recommendations within that theme advised UMB to continue providing flexible work schedule options and for the University to formally evaluate all positions to identify remote work potential. 

She noted the task force identified three “buckets” of employees — those who work on-site full time due to their functional responsibilities, those who work remotely full time, and those who maintain hybrid schedules.

“The key word here — and we’ll come back to it a lot — is equitable, not equal,” Graham explained while highlighting the diversity of roles and responsibilities among staff and faculty. “We also heard that there was a lot of frustration that there were these blanket policies, and that people were being told things without adequate justification.” 

Another recommendation, which fell under Theme 2, advised the creation of a full-time position focused on evolving work trends and a President’s Council on the Future of Work. Strengthening employee well-being emerged as a cornerstone of Theme 3, with recommendations aimed at promoting a culture of care; supporting effective, equitable, and sustainable parking and transportation systems; and providing alternate services and subsidies to support fully on-site employees. 

In discussing the Theme 3 recommendations, Cardella emphasized the ongoing topic of equitable treatment of all employees. “Many of those who don’t have the opportunity to work flexibly are among the lowest-paid employees here at UMB. Those are security officers, environmental services staff, facility staff, parking staff, and more,” she said. “It’s really important to me and to our entire committee that we look at these employees and engage with them to better understand their needs and find a way to provide services and subsidies that can help to bridge the gap between fully on-site employees and those who are remote or hybrid.” 

Themes 4 and 5 focused on maximizing University resources and enhancing workplace culture, respectively, with recommendations ranging from conducting space analysis and fostering effective space allocation to supporting healthy work habits. Innovative strategies to recruit and retain talent took center stage in Theme 6, with recommendations aimed at refining hiring practices and facilitating employee transitions.

Rhodes, who discussed leadership’s responses to the recommendations during the town hall, said that decisions about flexible work options would be made at the school or unit level, and emphasized that it was essential to balance individual needs with maintaining University operations as well as a sense of community. 

“It’s important to know that there are many variables that factor into whether it’s appropriate to work remotely and how often — not just the fact that you can, but is it appropriate?” she said. “Those variables include vibrancy, a sense of community and belonging, and the operations of the units and what time of year, etc. So, deans, vice presidents, and your supervisors are charged with taking these variables into consideration when reaching decisions to permit hybrid.” 

Among Theme 1 recommendations, Rhodes said the administration supports the evaluation of positions for remote work potential but noted such work is too large in scope to be coordinated centrally. She also said that UMB is already supporting flexible schedules unless there is evidence-based harm to operations. 

Regarding recommendations within Theme 2, Rhodes said that more study is needed regarding the creation of a full-time position and the establishment of a President’s Council on the Future of Work. Another area needing more study is the Theme 3 recommendation calling for alternate support and subsidies for fully on-site employees.

After the presentation, audience members in person and online had time to ask questions about the recommendations and the administration’s response. One attendee expressed concerns about employees being told to return to the office despite the success of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns also were raised about compensating employees who take on additional responsibilities due to inadequate staffing levels. 

In closing out the town hall, Rhodes said, “I’d just like to say that this has been a very collaborative process, and I appreciate the engagement of the campus on this topic.” 

She added that more work needs to be done, saying, “We have, as a leadership team, a responsibility for developing an action plan. There are going to be many more conversations and many more actions behind this.”