It’s Back to School time and while the season is filled with its typical excitement for new beginnings, this year there are certainly additional considerations when it comes to heading back to campus.

Today we welcome back Kara Monroe, who continues her excellent list of guest appearances with a focus on returning to campus and remote work. Does your campus have a remote work policy? What do your staff and faculty truly want when it comes to these policies?

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

I am intrigued by the ways in which organizations of all types are responding to the forced work from home experiment nearly all of us had to do as a result of COVID. And, more importantly, how organizations are now bringing their workforce back into the office.

In late summer, I polled my network to find out how their campuses were handling the question of remote work and what their personal experiences were with remote work before, during, and now in whatever this post-COVID world is.

The sample size for the survey is only 30 individuals so it is certainly not something that allows us to draw conclusions. However, data points like this can offer great opportunities for further study in our own environments.

Who completed the survey

While the sample size was 30, it was a fairly diverse sample. Here are a few key characteristics of the survey respondents:

  • 63% are from public 2 year institutions and 30% are from public 4 year institutions.
  • Respondents live in 7 states, with the majority being Indiana residents (my home state, so where my network is densely concentrated).
A chart with responses to whether organizations had a remote work policy prior to March 15, 2020, showing that 27% said yes, 57% said no.
  • Only 32% of respondents work at an institution that had a remote work policy before COVID – whether developed, being developed, or being piloted. 86% of institutions now have a policy being piloted, being developed, or developed.
A chart showing responses to whether organization has a remote work policy now, showing 69% said yes, 10% said no.

Governance and Remote Work

One of the most surprising data points in the survey is the overall lack of employee involvement in the development and approval of remote work policies. Remote work policies appear to be largely a privilege of leadership with little approvals from employee governance groups.

A graph about responses to the level of approval required to work remotely, showing senior admin/president is required 50% of the time.

In addition to the basic data point, many comments call out that the ability to access and use remote work is largely left up to individual supervisors. One person said, “My institution has a Remote Work policy, but our academic college is not permitted to use it/take advantage of it, as our Dean will not approve any remote work.” Comments also alluded to the stick versus carrot approach being taken in some organizations regarding new remote work policies, “My institution put together a great telework policy but the Senior Leadership started implementing rules that were not required of the policy, placing barriers and limitations that made it hard to access telework. The new campus President and Interim President both sent threatening messages at different times about their ability to take this “privilege” away when employees were concerned about the policy not being applied equitably across campus.”

Supporting Remote Work

My nephew works for a private company in New York City – which obviously has private company resources. They routinely had lunch provided at the office. When COVID hit, they received regular gift cards to replace this in office benefit at home.

The story in higher education is very different. While most employees can access a laptop if they need one for remote work, that is where the benefits end. Mobile phones and access to VoIP phones, Internet access, and office furniture are rarely provided by higher education remote work policies. One person even indicated that they were not permitted to take office supplies home from the office to do work from home. If they worked from home they were told the expectation was that they would provide everything they needed. While I realize that a sample size of one is not valid for any statistical sample, it’s important to consider the underlying attitude here and what it says to the employee about how you are treating them and the importance of the work they are doing – regardless of the location where it is done.

Even with the lack of work-related benefits, employees still see many financial and personal benefits to working from home. Many people mentioned both savings on fuel costs and commuting time (not to mention potential decreased COVID risk….). These represent two of our most precious resources – time and money – and so they may very likely overwhelm any other perceived missed benefits.

What People Want

The final part of the survey examined people’s beliefs and perceptions about their experiences working from home and what they want now.

The majority of people who responded to the survey had never been a part of a formal work at home arrangement prior to COVID and only 34.5% had worked from home/an alternative location prior to COVID.

graph with results about format work remote agreements being in place at institution. 80% indicated no.

More people now prefer solely remote work post COVID (10.3% pre-COVID to 20.7% now). An important question for study is what will happen if these folks decide to leave higher education institutions that won’t allow this and seek other employment that does since the entire world of employment opportunities is open to them as a remote worker.

The bigger issue which I think the survey points to is the professionalism attributed to employees and their ability to choose work location based on activities on their calendar that day. The percentage of employees who prefer a schedule that allows them to choose their work location from day to day did not change – it was 27.6% pre-COVID and is 27.6% after COVID. This is despite the fact that 75% of individuals who took the survey indicated that they were promoted in the period from March 2020 to now and the vast majority of individuals have less than 50% of their time spent in direct student engagement.

Notice the disparity in the two graphs showing perception of how much work must be done on campus versus how much employees are required to be on campus.

Chart showing percentage respondent's job "must be completed' on campus/work location. Highest number was around 10-25%.
Chart indicating respondent percentage of job required to be completed on campus/assigned work location, with a majority responding between 80-100%

What does this mean for organizations and for leaders?

One of the biggest challenges plaguing many organizations today is attracting and retaining qualified talent. This comment summed up what many offices have experienced over the last year, “I have an office of 10 positions. 4 people have resigned in the past year, three for fully remote positions that require less responsibility and pay more money.”

Higher education organizations did a massive experiment duringCOVID19 but how have they used the results of that experiment to make their workforce happier? Again, the sample size is small but this survey provides many questions I think leaders need to think about as they try to attract and retain talent in a hectic workforce.

Kara Monroe

President and Founder, Monarch Strategies LLC


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