Most of the language we hear about the fall semester of 2021 is about “returning to normal” calls.
For colleges and universities that mainly provide residential education, “normal” is considered to mean (among other things) students, faculty and staff returning to campus.
Could it be that our campus leaders have the strongest desire to return to “campus/face-to-face normality”, which is a bit different from some academic staff they lead?
For people with a strong extrovert tendency, face-to-face interactive experience can bring great energy.
However, we should take into account that many of our colleagues tend to work in a more introverted, quiet and reflective way. For those colleagues, frequent face-to-face communication is abnormal-they are very tired.
Can we consider whether, for some highly educated people, whether the privacy of working from home and the reduction of distraction will help increase productivity and job satisfaction?
Both our colleges and universities reflect and reinforce the assumptions and inequalities inherent in our larger society. These prejudices are reflected in the organizational design and cultural orientation of our institution.
The prejudice against intensive personal interaction has been incorporated into the structure and workplace rules and expectations that govern academic employment.
For workers who find themselves exhausted by constant face-to-face contact, overcoming pre-pandemic academic biases against face-to-face work can be very challenging.
This is why the past 18 months have been so eye-opening for some academic staff, and why so many people want to know if they want to return to campus full-time.
The pandemic has provided many employees with the first opportunity to work from home. For some people in higher education, remote work feels “normal.” Entering the campus office every day—especially if the office is an open-plan office—it feels “abnormal.”
Academic leaders — vice presidents, directors, and deans — have every reason to want their employees to return to campus. Some jobs need to be done face to face, even in higher education.
What needs to change is the language surrounding work.
Let us all try to remember that things that feel “normal” to many people (especially many leaders) are especially challenging for some people.
Let us not belittle the life experience of colleagues who are more efficient and happier when working from home.
Recognizing that “normal” means different things to different people, let us try to listen to many of our colleagues telling us where and how they want to work.