3 potential pitfalls in your institution’s return-to-work policy

3 potential pitfalls in your institution’s return-to-work policy

With the fall semester underway, colleges and universities have brought back many—if not all—staff and faculty to campus at least part time.

Though many people have long anticipated this “return-to-normal,” institutions must address the possible negative impact a return to the office might bring. Here are three potential pitfalls in your institution’s return-to-work policy—and why you may want to rethink your approach.

Your return-to-work policy is not flexible enough—and might be driving away your staff

Your employees not only expect flexible options—they will leave if you do not offer them.

Andy Brantley, president and chief executive officer of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, believes that institutions with more rigid policies might “suffer” if current employees and potential candidates opt for schools or private sector companies that promise more flexibility.

An EAB survey of human resource officers and facilities leaders revealed that some schools are already losing top talent to other institutions. One respondent shared that two of their decorated professors took positions at another institution that allowed them to work from home. Overall, the survey found that universities with flexible work arrangements are actively attracting employees from other institutions with stricter in-office requirements.

Your return-to-work policy is preventing your institution from stepping into the future of higher ed

Many higher ed leaders are hesitant to keep long-term remote arrangements due to a perceived loss of campus-centric culture.

However, these fears should not prevent institutions from re-imagining what is possible for both campus life and the future of work within higher ed say Sally Amoruso, EAB’s Chief Partner Officer, and Brian Elliot, executive lead of Future Forum by Slack, in an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed. They propose that remote work doesn’t kill the campus experience but instead, contributes to the new age of campus culture.

“The single best way that presidents can reinvent their institutions is to lean into remote and flexible work, hire more remote-first staff, and celebrate staff and students who come up with new ways to keep campus culture alive in an online environment,” argue Amoruso and Elliot.

“The single best way that presidents can reinvent their institutions is to lean into remote and flexible work, hire more remote-first staff, and celebrate staff and students who come up with new ways to keep campus culture alive in an online environment.”

- Sally Amoruso and Brian Elliot

A hybrid approach will allow institutions to become more resilient during future disruptions while keeping students at the center of their mission, according to a Deloitte Insights article. The authors say, “There are compelling reasons for lasting change that the pandemic has highlighted…many changes previously considered off-limits in higher education are, in fact, quite implementable and potentially beneficial for the long term.”

Your return-to-work policy isn’t in line with your institution’s equity goals

Bringing all employees back into the office could set back some of your DEIJ goals.

In March 2021, Future Forum by Slack found that Black knowledge workers had a higher sense of belonging while working remotely than they did in the office. Black individuals who are employed as knowledge workers are more likely to oppose an office-centric model compared to their White colleagues. Of those currently working remotely, 97% of Black knowledge workers want a hybrid or full-time remote working model.

By keeping the benefits of remote work for historically underrepresented employees in mind as you plan your return-to-work, your institution has the unique opportunity to develop a more diverse faculty and staff.

Sources: Amoruso and Elliot, Inside Higher Ed, 6/2/2021, Clark, Noone, Selingo, and Wittmayer, Deloitte Insights, 1/27/2021, Ellis, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/5/2021, Subramanian, Future Forum by Slack, 3/11/2021, Varda, EAB, 6/30/2021

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