01 May 2020

HBS Operations Rotates Through The Crisis


by Hensley Carrasco

Throughout the Harvard Business School campus, most teams have shifted their presence online. The HBS Operations team, which includes more than 10 departments, finds themselves among the very few who are working on a rotating structure—online and on campus.

The March 13 email from the Office of the Dean announcing options for remote work and rotating schedules meant that the adept Operations Team had to balance the safety of staff and the community with the ability to deliver necessary services to those remaining on campus.

The shift to a rotation-based schedule wasn’t easy and entailed juggling about 100—out of a rotating 500—daily frontline staff on campus. One of the biggest challenges is also their top priority; ensuring the personal safety of those on campus. Early on, Operations initiated wellness checks for all Restaurant Associates (RA) staff members, which include temperature checks, social distancing protocols, and personal protective equipment.

“Each area of Operations has approached their staffing levels and rotations differently depending on their specific work and staff availability,” said Director of Operations Andy O’Brien. “We derived a rotation schedule to ensure the greatest level of safety for staff and community members, while providing continuity of critical services such as dining, cleaning, and security.”

Here’s what that looks like for all the different Operations teams:

Senior Directors: Rotating schedules with two or more present each weekday.

Campus & Event Services: All remote.

Dining: Three Operations managers rotate to ensure one is present each day—that usually means each is on campus two days a week. RA managers and staff also rotate daily so that each is on campus two to three days a week, sometimes for multiple shifts. This important partnership between Operations managers and RA managers and staff allows for continuity across the operation.

Administrative Services (AS) : Six HBS managers rotate and partner with contracted managers to cover all the below service areas daily:

    AS Custodial: 50 percent of the regular workforce is on campus.

    AS Security: Resources have been consolidated to the main campus and staff are conducting patrols of our offsite locations.

    AS Fitness services: Entirely remote, offering engaging content online.

    AS Operational Support Services: All services continue with staff splitting into two teams working every other day. Mail continues to be delivered on campus or forwarded to other locations as directed by the community; loading dock staff remain active with deliveries for more than 300 residents on campus.

    AS Service Counter and Housing: Remote, with a manager onsite for dorm checks and resident support.

    AS Ancillary services (vending, pest control, laundry services, and more) : Continues on an as-needed basis.

Finance and Operations: Largely remote; two managers come in periodically to check the mail for invoices.

Facilities: A rotation allowing for coverage in all core trade disciplines (electrical, mechanical HVAC, plumbing, carpentry, and fire/life safety), but with fewer on campus at a single time. Facilities continues to provide 24/7 coverage by running three shifts per day. The Facilities management team is mostly remote but rotates time on campus for an onsite presence each weekday.

Capital Programs and Design: Largely remote, occasional campus visits for specific project needs. Vendors are no longer visiting campus.

This “all hands on deck” dedication has allowed Operations to meet community standards, said Bob Breslow, senior director of administrative services. “We are extremely thankful for the support and commitment from the frontline staff across all services,” said Breslow.

Being unable to walk to someone’s desk with a question has affected everyone, and like many, Operations has leveraged Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and the old reliable phone call to stay connected. Their subgroups have been checking in at least once a week. As they get more comfortable with the various platforms, they find themselves talking more. Chris Ramsay, senior director of campus and event services, finds the team morale to be high with the combination of digital communication and the surreal experience of on-campus life.

“Being on campus provides a small sense of normalcy,” said Ramsay. “When you do have the opportunity to interact with a colleague in person, it is a welcome experience. One of the oddities is that smiles are behind a mask, so there's a lot more inflection in our conversations and body language.”

In the April 28 email to the HBS Community, the Office of the Dean cited Governor Charlie Baker’s extension of the stay-at-home order to May 18.

“As we enter week seven, we are mindful that even as we all grow more accustomed to our new normal, we become more dismayed by it, too,” the Dean’s Office wrote. “We are hopeful for answers while uncertainty remains. Short-term inconveniences are becoming longer-term challenges to manage. It's hard. And it's why we love the flashes of humor, of coping, and of community we learn about each week.”

The Operations team is hopeful that the extension of the stay-at-home order will allow everyone to return sooner rather than later.

“We all hope to return to some sense of normalcy soon, even with one slow step at a time,” said Breslow.

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