HR on the Move

August 22, 2003

Nick Marinello
Phone: (504) 865-5714

What once was an outlet for wooden toy trains, expensive stuffed animals and other amenities of childhood is quickly being converted into the home for perquisites of another variety: health benefits and retirement funds, flexible spending accounts and worker-effectiveness training.

inside0801_hrBy early fall the Office of Human Resources will be leaving its uptown offices in the Collins C. Diboll Complex and downtown digs on the fourth floor of Elk Place to consolidate at Uptown Square, in the former space of the Magic Box toy store.

It's a move that is being expedited by the relocation of the Office of Student Affairs to the Diboll Complex as a result of the coming University Center renovation.

But it's also a move that will improve the way human resources serves the Tulane community, say department administrators.

"We're taking advantage of this opportunity to consolidate the offices and provide more efficient service. We see it as a very positive endeavor," says Cheryl Avera, director of employment, compensation and records. From Avera's point of view, the move will greatly improve Tulane's hiring process. "Uptown Square will provide a convenient, accessible location with free parking for applicants," she says.

The consolidation of uptown and downtown offices also will help to more efficiently organize personnel files. "Right now, our files are divided between the uptown and downtown offices," says Avera. "Many employees are physically located in one location but their files are in another. After the move we will have immediate access to all files."

For Sandy West, director of benefits, who currently supervises staff located in the Diboll Complex, Richardson Building and Elk Place, the consolidation into one office is "absolutely a good thing."

"Just to have everyone together. To have the ability to discuss issues with everyone face-to-face. We can all come together as one group," says West. "I think it's great that we can come together as a unit and cross-utilize talents."

Avera agrees, noting that having all human resources staff in one location will allow more cross-training and "provide the luxury of having backups in each area. The provision of service will never be interrupted." The physical moves are not the only changes occurring in human resources. More processes are being automated, freeing up time for human resources staff to respond to people rather than paper. For example, benefits-plan sponsors all have useful Web sites where employees can view eligibility, check the status of their accounts and execute changes.

Frank Currie, director of staff development and training, likes to think of many of the services of human resources operating in a kind of "virtual office." Currie directs the Center for Workforce Effectiveness, which is soon offering classes online and is exploring more e-learning opportunities. But even with more information, documentation and forms available on the Web, "We are keeping the personal touch," says Currie.

Human resources staff will continue to make in-person visits and be available on any campus at any time. Barbara Brauner, director of employee relations and health sciences center operations, says, "We will be where needs arise." Human resources will retain the training and conference room on the fifth floor of Elk Place on the downtown campus.

The boost in the university's contribution to eight percent of staff salaries for staff-retirement savings, which was effective July 1, is one example of new and greater benefits accruing to Tulane employees, which the human resources staff is pleased to facilitate. In addition, online tuition-waiver forms will soon be available.

Also, human resources is piloting a performance- management system that will include behavioral objectives as part of the job duties. All these changes will lead to more effective customer service for the entire Tulane community, says Andy Heck, vice president for human resources.

Nick Marinello can be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000