Tech Transfer eNews Blog
University-Industry Engagement Advisor

TTOs continue to adapt to shifting realities of the pandemic


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: October 20th, 2021

Editor’s note: As COVID vaccines became available in early 2021, optimism grew. But, as the Delta variant took hold in the summer of 2021 and now extends into the fall, we wondered how technology transfer offices were handling the resurgence of the virus, how their operations were adjusting, and what they expect in the coming months. We asked 12 TTOs across the country how they were doing. The full article appears in the October issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

As the Delta variant of the COVID virus surged, it became clear that most TTOs would be using some version of a hybrid staffing model for this fall.

In the Office of Research and Economic Development at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the staff returned to campus on August 16 with a six-month trial period for hybrid alternative work sites. “We have a range from 100% in the office to down to 40%, but we only have one person that’s 40%. Most everybody is out of the office on Tuesday and Thursday,” reports Brad Roth, PhD, executive director of NUtech Ventures and associate vice chancellor, technology development in the Office of Research and Economic Development. He adds that three people out of 14 are 100% back in the office. “We have a lot of people with young families and a lot of children who aren’t vaccinated. So, people are still cautious about where they’re going and what they’re doing.”

Kelly B. Sexton, PhD, associate vice president for research, technology transfer, and innovation partnerships at the University of Michigan, reports that her staff returned to the office on a hybrid schedule on September 7. “At some point, you need the ability to refresh your office culture and start to rebuild it,” she says. “I felt like we were losing some of our collaborative muscle memory…. I felt like it was important for us to have the ability to come in in person.”

Her team members are in the office anywhere between two and five days a week. “We’re already starting to do events in person and have meetings, and it’s been lovely to get to start to rebuild things.” But, she admits, “the way we’re working right now in the office isn’t the way I had hoped we would be working in those wonderful few months of [early summer]. Before the Delta variant was the subject of daily discourse, there was a brief period where it felt very safe to be indoors with colleagues without masks. So, it’s impacting a bit the way we’re working. We’re wearing masks for our office.”

The staff in the Office of Technology Management (OTM) at Washington University in St. Louis returned with a hybrid model just after Labor Day. The patent team comes in one day, the licensing team on another day, and the contracts team on another day. Nichole Mercier, PhD, assistant vice chancellor & managing director, allows employees to rotate their schedules or to come in more often if they want to.

“Most people are coming in one day a week,” Mercier reports. “We’ll see how it goes. We plan to come back more. So maybe two or three days a week. This schedule was just a way to ease into it. With Delta being high … there’s general nervousness still.”

The University of Delaware’s Office of Economic Innovation & Partnerships is the only office of the 12 surveyed that will remain in 100% remote operation this fall. However, the reason for that has more to do with budget decisions than with the Delta surge, says Joy Goswami, assistant director of technology transfer & corporate partnerships.

His office faced significant budget cuts when the pandemic hit, he explains. To avoid having to terminate any employees, Goswami canceled their office lease. Meanwhile, all the staff agreed to work from home until they could move into a new office that is under construction. “For the long term,” Goswami notes, “we are trying to see if we can do a hybrid where my team comes to work, maybe two or three days a week and then a couple of other days they can work from home, doing something where we can use common office space.”

Laurie Actman, chief marketing, communications & program officer at the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that the current wave of COVID-19 has caused the re-implementation of many public health measures, such as indoor masking and vaccination and testing requirements. Still, the return to campus has proceeded as planned for her office.

“Our operations are functional, within the public health rules that are in place. There are recruiting challenges that it seems our peers are experiencing as well, but other than that, our plans are on track,” she says. The PCI staff is back in the office at least three days a week through the end of 2021. At that time, the university and PCI will reassess global and local conditions and determine if the pilot phase of on-campus work will continue or expand.

Bridget Stull, director of administration & systems at the University of Kansas Center for Technology Commercialization, says her team will also operate on a hybrid schedule this fall. She noted, though, that the considerations are less operational and more about physical space.

“As we remain in a hybrid work model, campus leadership is taking a look at the office space that was once occupied full-time and considering how best to place staff going forward,” she says. “For the TTO that may mean locating licensing associates in their dedicated areas of focus, such as engineering, life science, etc., one or more days a week, while employing financial and operations staff in the main TTO office to serve as a nucleus for the unit. Our overall focus is maintaining availability to serve our faculty, staff, and students via a physical presence on campus in light of changing or reduced physical space.”

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Online meet and greet with Tech Transfer Central’s Director of Distance Learning Debi Melillo

Join Tech Transfer Central’s Director of Distance Learning, Debi Melillo, for a free online meet and greet on October 28, starting at 2:00 pm ET.

Debi will demonstrate the benefits and content available through Tech Transfer Central’s All-Access Pass and answer all of your questions. She’ll outline how the All-Access Pass works, and how your university can save thousands of dollars in staff training costs while dramatically expanding professional development opportunities for your entire office and faculty.

The session will be informal and brief, and Debi will stay online to answer any questions and schedule demos. Plus, just for attending this free session we are offering an exclusive first-year discount good for $500 off on your first-year subscription.

The meet and greet is free, but registration is required. Please click here to register and qualify for this exclusive $500 savings. We look forward to meeting you online. If you can’t attend the meet and greet but wish to schedule a demo, contact Debi directly at dmelillo@techtransfercentral.com.

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