Update on transitioning back to the workplace

Dear Harvard Chan School Community,

As this extraordinary spring semester draws to a close, we were all hoping that by now we would have a more definitive sense of how and when we can move back to some approximation of normal operations. While there is still so much uncertainty in the direction of this pandemic both locally and globally, we are reaching out today to let you know that we have been undertaking a planning process for what we expect will be a gradual reopening and transition back to the workplace.

Various working groups at the School are convening regularly to develop processes for a safe, equitable, and efficient return to work for the labs, to prepare our fall education offerings, and to plan for the eventual return of the rest of the community to our campus. Members of these internal working groups have also been participating in cross-School and University-level planning teams, and meeting regularly with University counterparts to share ideas and ensure consistency in principles and processes.

Here are some key principles that are guiding our planning:

  • Our number one concern is the health and safety of the Harvard Chan community. That means that plans for opening up campus will include proper physical distancing, appropriate PPE guidelines, and all other relevant safety guidance informed by evidence and input from our own infectious disease and environmental health experts.
  • Although we are uncertain about the timing and conditions of returning to work, we expect it will be a phased approach, with priority for returning sooner given to those people who cannot do their work remotely.
  • We will be paying close attention to the ongoing challenges of home-schooling for children and care coordination for dependents, public transportation concerns, and health risks among our more vulnerable community members.
  • All decisions will abide by applicable government and University guidelines.


Ramping up laboratory research is a top priority. Lab department chairs, administrators, and lab managers have started working with Operations, Environmental Health and Safety, and the Office of Regulatory Affairs and Research Compliance in Longwood, as well as at the University, on a coordinated approach to resuming lab activities under stringent safety measures, such as PPE requirements and density and distance guidelines. Lab groups will be considering alternative layouts of lab stations and different shift schedules to meet these requirements. All other research activities that can take place remotely will continue to do so until further notice.


Education planning for the fall semester is also a top priority. Although we don’t yet know exactly the format of education for the fall, we do know that we will need to be able to deliver courses online in order to serve students who cannot be on campus. We have begun to work with departments and programs to understand what it will take to deliver our courses and programs remotely in the fall at the quality we all desire for our students, including some in-person educational activities, if such options were to be possible. We expect that courses that are large and required by many students will demand a different set of considerations and changes than those that are small and elective. Practicum, field, and case-based courses might require other changes to pedagogies and creative solutions.

Our education planning committee has been gathering key data, meeting with peers across the University and colleagues within the School, and developing guidelines and templates to help with this planning. We will be informing the community as soon as we possibly can with decisions about the fall.

Administrative Staff

For the foreseeable future, we expect administrative staff, and others who do not need to perform their work on campus, to continue to work remotely. Across the University, the expectation is that administrative staff will be among the last groups to return to campus. We are currently working with the University to consider modifications to Harvard’s remote work policies to reflect the needs of people who may be working from home for longer periods of time.

Financial Implications

Like all colleges and universities, businesses, and other organizations, the Harvard Chan School is experiencing the negative financial consequences of COVID-19. Our preliminary analysis of the current fiscal year (FY20) shows a $2M negative impact on our non-sponsored financial results compared to our pre-COVID projections. That $2M deterioration consists of a $4.7M reduction in revenue, primarily from Indirect Cost Recovery and the cancellation of Executive Education programs, partially offset by a $2.7M decrease in non-compensation expenses, such as travel, supplies, and services, due to remote work.

Because of the large number of unknowns, we cannot currently predict what the exact financial impact of COVID-19 will be in FY21. Key variables include the number of students who will ultimately decide to enroll in the fall, the timing and speed with which research can ramp up again, and the performance of the stock market, which will affect both the University’s distribution of endowment income and philanthropy. We expect to be able to tell you more by mid-June, when the School will submit a revised FY21 budget to the University.

Thank you as always for your flexibility and patience during this difficult time. While we understand—and share—the feelings of restlessness and anxiety that the many persistent unknowns are creating, please know that our planning teams, in concert with the University, are working thoughtfully and deliberately on developing our return-to-campus plans. Additional messages, with more specific details, will follow in the coming days and weeks. Most importantly, we will remain vigilant in following public health guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our community. Through our own practice, we can continue to serve as a model for public health through this crisis.


Michelle, Jane and Katie

Michelle A. Williams
Dean of the Faculty
Angelopoulos Professor in Public Health and International Development

Jane J. Kim
Dean for Academic Affairs
Professor of Health Decision Science

Katherine A. Hope
Executive Dean for Administration