The Future of Remote Work in Higher Education

Higher education has been grappling for years with the logistics of making more courses remote to address slowing enrollment and address rising costs. With the recent pandemic, however, even more is at stake.

According to recent news, a number of colleges are examining fall plans, continuing the trend of making not just classes but entire departments remote. Let’s take a look at what this might mean for the future of remote work in higher education spaces.

Issues With Remote Work

Higher education human resources departments are grappling with the logistics of making long term remote work possible in addition to recruiting and onboarding employees virtually. In the past, most organizations didn’t have options for remote work for nonexempt employees due to rampant fear of system abuse.

Moving professors to remote work is less risky because many of them are on salaried compensation plans. A mixture of student reviews, course audits, and other measurable factors make it possible for human resources to measure the overall labor of professors — even when entirely remote for long periods.

Support staff is a different story. Hourly employees are harder to manage using traditional performance metrics. HR struggles with knowing how many hours employees have worked and whether responsibilities match the expected required hours of labor.

Previous solutions trended largely towards eliminating remote work altogether or creating a flex system giving employees more control over the “when” but not the “how many.” Employees could make decisions about when to come into work (with boundaries), but the work was still completed at home.

Solutions For Nonexempt Work

The pandemic has changed those terms. Higher education is made up of a wide variety of employee types, departments, and sections, giving higher education human resources a more difficult task managing and coordinating work, not to mention hiring and onboarding.

As a result, a different mindset is emerging as higher ed rebuilds remote work in the face of continued and future disruption.

  • Reexamination of performance — Even when your employees are on campus, managers and other leadership don’t stand over employees the entire time. Instead, higher education human resources is redirecting leadership to examine performance metrics differently than simple “hours worked” models.
  • New software for human resources — Accessing systems, including time tracking, is a critical component of remote work. HR departments are adopting more robust human resources technology to help track hours and manage performance, giving employees greater access to the systems they have while on campus.
  • Robust guidance for hours worked” policies — Higher education human resources is now providing detailed outlines of what hours worked means, giving employees more explicit parameters while they’re at home. It defines schedules, including breaks and mealtimes, and identifies starting and ending hours.
  • Stricter overtime controls — Teaching may involve off the clock hours, but nonexempt staff support shouldn’t. HR is developing stricter controls for overtime, defining parameters to reduce abuse and misunderstandings. Many times, these policies are designed with the targeted staff.

The Idea of Campus Is Changing

Higher education campus is undergoing a reinvention as well. Colleges and their higher education human resources departments are redefining the concept of campus.

Technology is evolving, and human resources technology is allowing campuses to see their employees, really, even when they’re performing long term remote work. Organizations need to revisit the use of technology to understand their work.

  1. Develop cost/benefit analysis based on research and understand how technology can strengthen remote workforces within higher education culture.
  2. If technology is already in place, understand how to leverage that technology to its biggest advantage.
  3. If these legacy systems aren’t keeping up with campus’s current needs, higher education must reevaluate the use of software for human resources and offer changes that allow accurate tracking of hours and access to the remote systems higher education needs.
  4. Set benchmarks in place to measure human resources technology that manages remote employees. Regular metrics allow human resources to see if the technology is reducing administrative burden while ensuring employee productivity within the organization’s parameters.

Organizations that follow these steps could help reinvent remote work in the higher ed sector and provide leadership for other organizations.

Reinventing Remote Work in Higher Education

This is an unprecedented time for higher education. As we move towards more remote work, reinventing the concept of campus and maintaining university culture even with workers spread out, it’s time for higher education human resources to begin writing a new handbook for this type of work.

We can spend time imagining what parts of this new type of work will stick around. Instead of speculating on that question, higher education should be using this time to create newer, disruption proof systems that give their workforce freedom to manage work/life balance while remaining in compliance with labor laws.

Education will move forward, but adopting new policies and new software for working remotely is the key to surviving and thriving in this new future of work. Higher education can create a logical migration of jobs to the remote sector and provide systems that balance worker needs with company policies.

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