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The future of work is flexible. Will the higher Ed remain in the past?

 The future of work is flexible.  Will the higher Ed remain in the past?

The University of Iowa recently released its final report Future of Work @ Iowa project. The project sought to “rethink” how and where employees work after the pandemic, with a focus on “understanding the long-term potential of remote and hybrid work, flexible schedules and other types of work arrangements” – arrangements he calls “flexible”. work ”.

And where did this rethinking lead them? To the bold statement that while “flexible work is not the new norm,” some employees may take advantage of “intermittent flexibility,” such as working remotely for several days caring for an elderly relative. In other words, the “future of work” at the University of Iowa is not too different from what prevailed on college campuses before the pandemic. It’s like the one who wrote the report, jumped into DeLorean and translated the watch to 2012.

The explosion from the University of Iowa’s past decision was striking because I know other institutions are involved in talks and initiatives about the “future of work”. And I fear that many leaders will fail to realize how palpable the hunger for change among faculty and senior staff is. People are burned and demoralized. Vacancies and temporary titles abound. Search chairs work overtime to hand over applicants, and that’s unclear the top ed is the attractive workplace it once was.

I was deeply involved in these conversations, writing and talking about problems and potential ways of further development. What I have often said is that the worst result I could have imagined from all this “revision” is a return to the ordinary – a rethinking that is not very imaginative. And yet I know that the outcome, as the Iowa report shows, is quite possible. After all, institutions have a shorter memory and less attention span. Today’s point of conversation is easy to wrap under the rug of tomorrow’s crisis.

Before that happens, let me try – again – to be honest. We are in a transformational moment in higher education. 2012 was usually not good for many faculty and staff, and 2022 is less likely. Institutions that succeed in the next decade will seize this opportunity, prioritizing new approaches to working conditions and improving cultural jobs. “Intermittent flexibility” won’t help.

Does “Future” work remotely on a snowy day?

In my on-campus presentations on burnout and morale, I shared a few principles that guide decision-making. The Future of Work @ Iowa report contradicts all of them.

A note to note before jumping: I don’t have much of a commitment to the University of Iowa. In fact, writing anything even slightly critical of Hawk’s Eyes is a sacrilege in my family. My great-grandmother, grandfather, mother and father are all graduates. And a committee report is often an imperfect expression of the views of the entire committee or what even becomes politics.

However, I believe that dealing with the shortcomings of the report is instructive. First, it praises the many benefits of flexible working while limiting the flexibility that moves forward. This is an example of the fact that accepted values ​​do not coincide with committed values. The report is replete with evidence that flexible work can be beneficial to employees and beneficial to the institution:

  • Remote / hybrid staff participating in the pilot project reported more positive experiences and preferred to maintain these arrangements as a content factor
  • Leaders of remote / hybrid teams participating in the pilot study reported better service and communication quality indicators
  • Many of the counterparts and local corporations with which the university is fighting for talent are expanding flexible work
  • Online focus groups have identified “flexibility” as something that reduces stress, increases satisfaction, improves physical health and facilitates parenting

Despite these benefits, the report clearly states that most employees can expect to work on campus. Flexible work can be designed on a short-term basis, for example, in case of bad weather, provided there is a “business case”.

This is the last point taken from updated information on the work of the committee, this is one of the few cases where there is a clear acknowledgment of how hard it worked with the pandemic. When we consider possible solutions, we must witness this point. Nearly a million people died in the United States alone. Millions are sadder. And the effects of the pandemic have accumulated differently for people who are educating, immunocompromised, lonely, disconnected from the support network or poorly served by our health care system due to racial differences. The report does not indicate how flexible work may be necessary for these workers to protect themselves, care for others, be in the community and work in a non-discriminatory environment. Part of the evidence for this point is the development of workplace policies that do not combine fairness and equality. It may be necessary to adapt the options – I dare say, even flexible – so that everyone belongs and is involved.

Another problem is that the report falls victim to what I call simple answers, including the idea that flexible work is incompatible with – and even subordinate to – “what students expect on campus”. It is implied that the only way to provide an experience on a residential campus is to have the majority of staff on campus, as if students will not have a good time and study if these fluorescent office lamps do not buzz at 9 am. But we know the reality is dirtier than that. Iowa certainly educates off-campus adults and graduate students who value virtual services or extended hours. And supporting the well-being of staff so that they are not exhausted is also good for students. Students are observant. They can tell when their advisors are experiencing stress. They notice when their teachers go to work outside of high school.

I encouraged executives to do homework and collect data to make decisions about the future academic workplace. I commend Iowa for piloting and evaluating the pilot. However, there are no data in the report that would confirm exactly how they determined that “most professions of faculty and staff require work on campus.” Instead, we get vague appeals to institutional identity and what students expect. In an interview from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Iowa Chief of Staff Cheryl Reardan explained, “Here we are as an institution.” I can tell you one thing that is not right for faculty and staff is making important decisions simply because leaders can’t imagine any other way to work.

And as for the “institution” – its past, present and future depend on the work of teachers and staff. It is impossible to completely separate institutional needs from staff needs, and much of the transformational moment we are in is that faculty and staff will not give up their well-being for the sake of banality about the mission. What does it mean to set up a commission that finds clear evidence that a new approach to working conditions is beneficial to employees, but then executives say it’s not a new norm? This means that employee welfare is not taken seriously.

Working conditions cannot be the design of windows

I was interested in how other people in higher education feel about the idea that flexible working is incompatible with the experience of students in dormitories. So I asked a question to my followers on Twitter a very unscientific survey. Almost all (94 percent) of the 219 respondents thought that it was possible to offer employees flexible working conditions and provide a living experience that meets students’ expectations.

I also interviewed by email or Zoom with two Iowa staff members and four other staff members who have held positions with students whose offices continue to offer flexible work options. The consensus was that not only employees appreciated flexible work. Today’s students want virtual options for many services, and they by no means disagree with the idea of ​​people working remotely or hybrid – some may even want it in their future workplace.

Thomas Dixon, assistant vice vice chancellor for education at the University of California at Riverside, realized the essence of these interviews when he said: “Overall, I don’t feel that remote or flexible work compromises the experience of residential or suburban students at all. In most cases, flexible schedules and remote options only serve to expand access to many areas of student service. ” This does not mean that every task can be performed remotely, and sometimes smaller teams that require office coverage have fewer remote options. But they still have options. “Homework days often provide much-needed time for personal health,” he explained. “If you’re not going to work (in Southern California it can take two to three hours a day), you can sleep a little longer, enjoy a slower breakfast, or even work out before or after work.”

My point in all this is not to push every institution to accept remote / hybrid work as the only answer to the question “the future of work”. Undoubtedly, working on certain vacancies in higher education will require more time in person to build teams and serve students. I recently conducted my first full-time dissertation defense in two years, and it’s a much better experience with everyone present.

But we have a unique opportunity in the Supreme Audit not to chain ourselves to tradition. And leaders can’t afford to spend too much time messing around on the margins. As Bran Brown, organizational psychologist Scott Sunshine, said a recent episode of her podcast Dare to Lead: “If you are going to come and run your business as if it were February 2020, you will be crushed. I have no idea about that. If you think you will manage the same workforce as in February 2020, with the same mentality, the same mentality, the same desires and the same priorities, you are crazy. You have to either change or get out of the way. No way back. This is a big reset. And here live hope and opportunity. “

We know that institutions are capable of making big changes. We applied in March 2020, then again in the fall of 2020, then again in the fall of 2021. In the last two years, the institutes have achieved things that some have considered unthinkable. Teachers and staff want to see this type of willpower and creativity focused on working conditions and culture. They want a “rethinking” of the Future of Work @ Iowa report to be promised but not implemented.

And if the leaders will sit for too long, hoping it will all end? In the future there is a company that pays more and offers flexible jobs that will be happy to hire your talent.

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