At some colleges, remote work might be here to stay
For months, colleges weighed the risks and benefits of bringing students back to campuses disrupted by Covid-19. Now they are thinking about what to do with their employees.
Committees at colleges and universities across the country are weighing the future of work, wondering to what extent staff and some faculty could remain virtual and what that would mean for life on campus and elsewhere. There are broad implications, for example, for recruitment and campus density.
Before the pandemic, many colleges had remote work policies, with arrangements often negotiated for individual employees. Colleges that closed during the pandemic not only had to put all of their students online, but also train many employees to use the technology remotely. Meetings have moved to Zoom, and desktop conversations have moved to Microsoft Teams. In-person welcome receptions have become virtual gatherings.
Now, some campuses are polling employees on what they want once the risk of Covid-19 goes down, and the results are crisp and clear. Almost three-quarters of professors and staff at Duke University, for example, said they wanted to work remotely three to five days a week, citing the lack of commutes and higher productivity as the main benefits.
Some campus leaders now believe flexible work-from-home policies will make or break their future recruiting and retention efforts, especially in competitive fields like technology. Campuses that do not adhere to these policies can “suffer” and lose their talents to other campuses and the private sector, said Andy Brantley, president and CEO of the Professional Association of Colleges Human Resources and universities.
“If we are to continue to attract and retain the best talent,” remote working “cannot be this exceptional anymore,” said Helena Rodrigues, vice president and director of human resources at the University of Arizona. . There is more competition from the private sector on employee benefits, she said. “It has to be part of our standard, of course.”
Arizona had flexible working arrangements for employees before Covid-19, said ChantÃ© C. Martin, assistant vice president of human resources at the university. But after more than a year of working remotely, more campus staff can recognize the benefits of working from home, and she said she expects more employees to consider it. It will be up to supervisors to decide on the appropriate working arrangements for their employees.
A one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t make sense, Rodrigues said. While some campus jobs – think student positions, for example – require an in-person component, other teams may have different needs or cultures, which can tip the scales toward working on campus. or remotely.
But the case-by-case basis of those decisions raises questions about unfairness, Martin said. Consultants from Arizona’s human resources division will discuss remote work decisions with campus supervisors, she said. In a meeting this week, she added, supervisors will talk about remote working and what scenarios they might face.
At Duke, it will be impossible to take a one-size-fits-all approach, said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of administration. âWe are a collection of dozens if not hundreds of different cultures,â he said. âWhat works for one of our schools may not apply to another.â
Keeping part of the workforce at a distance could reduce the costs of an institution. If parking needs are expected to flatten or decrease, Duke may not need to build an expensive garage, Cavanaugh said. In Arizona, Rodrigues said, the university has decided to let real estate leases expire because fewer on-site employees need office space. When they come to campus, she says, they can work in common spaces.
“ Old-school thinking ”
As they reflect on what working on campuses will look like in the future, colleges will have to grapple with questions of equity. Are those who are allowed for remote jobs more likely to be white? Who has the space and technology to work effectively from home? Can expansion to where people are allowed to work expand access to employment opportunities?
At a town hall on April 14, leaders at the University of California at Los Angeles discussed the possibility of filling certain jobs remotely with people living out of state or even in another country. This could expand recruitment, said Lubbe Levin, associate vice chancellor for human resources, noting the high house prices in Los Angeles. (Levin, co-chair of the Re-Inventing UCLA Workplace of the Future task force, was not available for an interview, a spokesperson said. The Chronicle.)
Such practices raise questions about taxes and employment law, and human resources managers should be prepared to address these issues, said Allison Vaillancourt, vice president and senior consultant at Segal. The Chronicle. Employee leave laws, for example, vary from state to state. There is also the question of whether staff members should be paid at the market rate of their campus or where they live. (The UCLA spokesperson said the university is committed to complying with all income tax withholding and reporting requirements, and that employees must update their addresses. if they leave the state.)
Boston University released a survey this week that asked staff and some faculty members how productive they felt working remotely and how well communication had been during the pandemic. A committee aims to define new policies on remote working and flexible hours.
âEven before the pandemic, more and more job applicants asked themselves during interviews, ‘Do you have a flexible working policy? Said Natalie McKnight, dean of the college of general studies and co-chair of the committee leading this review. Expecting people to be in traffic for two hours a day just to walk into an office and check their email on a computer, she added, is âold schoolâ.
Such discussions have forced colleges to question their culture and the extent to which face-to-face operations are critical to them. Colleges are also making decisions slowly and deliberately. These aren’t tech companies, several of which have presented plans for long-term remote working options this spring.
Senior officials at Georgetown University have told staff this upcoming academic year will be “transitional,” with employees expected to work close to their desks. But after the 2021-2022 academic year, HR will add a ‘way of working’ to job descriptions, ‘based on what we learn about the most efficient ways to do our jobs,’ the administrators wrote. university last week.
Some departments may offer their own flexibility. Think about the registrar’s office. Lewis & Clark College graduate students – some of whom work during the day – may prefer to meet with a registrar or counselor virtually and in the evening, said Scott Fletcher, dean of the Oregon College Graduate School of Education and Counseling. and chair of a task. force on post-Covid work.
Maybe, then, one in three people in that office could work remotely and at alternate hours, he said. “From the outside, this office will look the same.”
Whatever form the job takes in the future, employee expectations must be weighed alongside the identity of the institution and the desires of the students, said Lisa Brommer, associate vice president of human resources at the ‘Wesleyan University, Connecticut. “We are first and foremost a residential campus.”
âIt’s always the tension, for every employer on the planet – the needs of the institution and the needs, wants and expectations of employees,â she said. âIt’s not new just because of the pandemic; it’s still there. This conversation about remote working has really been high for employers due to the pandemic. “