A new report from the University of Iowa offers a look at the future of the higher education workplace — namely, that flexible work may not be as prominent as some predicted in the post-pandemic era.
Based on a nearly two-year pilot program involving 1,800 employees, Iowa’s final “Future of Work” report released this month outlines recommendations for how the university should implement a remote work policy. Iowa’s plan leaves room for some flexibility, but it’s not for everyone, not all of the time.
“Flexible working is not the new normal,” the report said. “Most faculty and staff roles require working on-campus to provide the residential campus experience that students expect.”
Many universities have created Future of Work plans, issued guidelines for remote and hybrid work, and launched pilot projects. Some stressed the importance of retaining in-person work, while others considered possible permanent changes to campus workplaces in the Covid era. But the Iowa report stands out for its clear position statement on post-pandemic college work arrangements.
That’s not to say flexible work lacks advantages, such as saving space and money, expanding some services, supporting employee well-being, and improving an agency’s standing in a competitive job market, says Cheryl Reardon, vice president and chief human resources officer in Iowa State , said in a press release. Some jobs, such as information technology, finance and research management jobs, can be “effectively performed” remotely or on other schedules.
But overall, Iowa faculty shouldn’t expect a future dominated by remote work.That’s because the institution focuses on the student experience, Reardon told chronicle“That’s who we are as an institution,” she said. “We don’t want to lose it at all.”
“Fundamentally, work agreements need to be in the best interests of the university while balancing the interests and needs of staff,” she added.
So where is the middle ground? The Iowa report uses the term “intermittent flexibility” to describe situations such as “temporary remote work or short-term flexible schedules during weather-related closures.” Reardon doesn’t think these ad hoc arrangements will last more than a week — for example, to give employees a few days of flexibility while caring for elderly relatives.
“We don’t want to do this every day and have people fill out these work schedules,” Reardon said. “It does require a steady state schedule that we’re working on.”
While it’s unlikely employees’ work schedules will change from week to week, they may adjust seasonally with “the ebb and flow of college,” such as near graduation, Reardon said. If a department or unit is particularly busy on Mondays and Fridays, employees may be working on campus on those days — what the report calls “campus priority days.”
The goal, Reardon said, is to “insert intermittent flexibility where it makes sense, but without compromising our ability to run the university.”
In the pilot program in Iowa, about 75 percent of the 1,800 participants were on a hybrid program and 25 percent were entirely remote, Reardon said. A university survey found that hybrid and remote employees reported a more positive work experience than those who worked on campus, and they preferred flexible arrangements.
The report notes that flexible working can take many forms, including flexible arrangements that allow employees to work outside of the normal 9-to-5 workday, hybrid arrangements that allow employees to work off-campus two to three days a week, and fully remote work from love Inside and outside of Iowa.
A recent national report suggests that student affairs professionals expect greater flexibility at work. In a survey by Naspa: Higher Education Student Affairs Administrators, 61 percent of respondents said they believed their institutions would provide greater flexibility for remote work over the next five years, the report said. But only 12 percent said their institution was “very sensitive” to changes in student affairs staff.
It’s “hard to say” whether Iowa will lose employees — or potential employees — because of its emphasis on in-person work, Reardon said. “People know we’re looking at the best interests of our students,” she said. “Having said that, we’re in an extremely tight labor market.” If employees prioritize working remotely and can make more money elsewhere, they may choose to leave college, she said.
Students in Iowa prefer to deliver certain services virtually, the report said. Liberal Arts students who opted for an online counseling session were more likely to show up, and the online visit reduced the Iowa Student Health Services no-show rate from 5.1% to 3.2%. To meet that interest, Iowa is more likely to “redeploy” workers than hire new ones, Reardon said.
Here are some other things from the Iowa report:
- Hybrid and remote employees should not be assigned workstations on campus. Instead, the state of Iowa recommends a technique known in the corporate world as “desk rotation,” in which employees enter an office on a specific day to take a seat in a common space. Iowa opened “CoWork Commons” last year, offering individual and group work spaces, conference rooms, computer monitors, whiteboards and other equipment.
- Decisions about flexible working should be based on “business reasons”. Iowa colleges and units will be required to demonstrate how flexible working supports the university’s mission — for example, “how specific arrangements enhance the student experience, expand services, redirect resources, or support employee recruitment and/or retention.”
- Regardless of the format, workplace culture should be emphasized. Such a culture “must support individuals and units with a focus on engagement, inclusion and well-being,” the report said.
- Work arrangements should be a topic of ongoing consideration. All flexible working arrangements will be reviewed annually, the report said.