EAB’s Chief Partner Officer, Sally Amoruso, is joined by Brian Elliot, the head of the Future Forum, a consortium launched by Slack to help companies reimagine work in the new digital-first world. The two discuss key takeaways from a recent virtual gathering of more than 125 university leaders EAB hosted to explore the future of work on college campuses.
They share tips on ways to offer campus workers greater flexibility, a change that will be critical to schools looking to attract and retain talent in a tight labor market. Sally and Brian also urge managers to shift away from being attendance monitors and spend more of their energy inspiring employees to stay connected, build camaraderie, and bring their best selves to work each day, regardless of whether they are working remotely or onsite.
0:00:15.1 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours With EAB. On today's episode, we revisit the topic of remote work on college campuses, our guests explore ways to achieve the balance that university leaders are looking for as they work to preserve the vitality of campus life, while at the same time extending greater flexibility to their employees. Many of whom have zero interest in returning to a daily commute to their on-campus workspace. Thank you for listening and enjoy.
0:00:50.7 Sally Amoruso: Hello, I am Sally Amoruso, I'm chief partner Officer at EAB, and welcome to office hours. We are here to explore the Future of Work and implications for higher ed, and let me start by saying that it seems that with the world of work, there's really no going back to the way things used to be, that COVID has really accelerated some of the endemic trends that were already impacting the way we work, trends like Telework, automation and AI, and engaging with a global and contingent workforce. And so now our universities are having to prepare students for a world of work that is really shifted dramatically across COVID, and quite frankly, many university faculty and staff are expecting, or at least desiring to retain some of the flexibility that they've become accustomed to across the pandemic. I've been speaking to a lot of university leaders who are in the process of trying to update or rethink their remote work policies for campuses as they are thinking about the fall, and as we think about the world of work more generally, with more than 80% of workers saying they don't wanna return full-time to the office, that context is really important to consider, but higher ed is also unique in many ways.
0:02:11.9 SA: And so I am thrilled to share that I am joined today by Brian Elliott, who is the head of future forum, a research consortium launched by Slack, and he's gonna help me to explore this sort of re-imagined world of work for universities and for preparing their students for a digital first world. So welcome, Brian, and welcome to Office Hours With EAB.
0:02:36.3 Brian Elliott: Thanks Sally, thrilled to be here.
0:02:40.6 Speaker 1: Brian, I'd love to kick our conversation off today by thinking about the event that you and I co-hosted, which was an experienced lab where we had over 125 university presidents gathered virtually to talk about the future of work. On two levels, one is the future of work, as they think of themselves as employers, but also as they need to prepare students for that world of work, and we conducted some surveys across that experience lab, and some of them perhaps were not surprising, but certainly student stark contrast to what we're seeing outside of higher ed, so more than half, 56% of the university presidents who attended said that they expect less than one-quarter of their staff will be allowed to work from home two or more days per week post-COVID and only 11% said that more than half of their staff would be permitted to work from home two days or more per week, and I wanted to ask your thoughts on that Brian, because you're looking at the world of work more broadly, and as I said, it's in pretty stark contrast to what we're seeing there, isn't it?
0:03:46.8 BE: Yeah, it is, it definitely is. The last year has really changed people's expectations about the trade-offs between work and home, between getting that work-life balance and cutting the commute benefits that they've seen, while also proving to their employers that they can be productive. That they can get the work done. Our survey instrument and many others have shown that people have actually been as productive or even more productive working from home in a number of ways, and so what we're seeing starting to happen broadly across companies in a variety of different industries is, this desire for flexibility that people are expressing is going to become a talent issue, it's gonna become an issue around... I think that's actually most important to most companies, which is how do you attract, retain and engage highly talented individuals in your enterprise, and just like compensation, flexibility is actually going to be a key component of how you make that happen.
0:04:42.3 SA: That makes complete sense. I forget what the source was, it might have been LinkedIn, but there was a study looking at search terms and attributes that new employees are looking for as they are seeking new work and flexible work is now at the top of those search terms.
0:05:00.9 BE: Completely understandably. When you look at our own survey results, so we've now done this several times in a row, couple of quarters running, it's a survey of 9000 knowledge workers around the globe, and what we see in the latest results from December where it's was about 17% of people that wanna go back to five days a week, full-time in the office, there's only about 20% that wanna go to completely remote, meaning never coming into an office.
0:05:25.8 SA: Sure.
0:05:26.2 BE: The vast majority of people, the 63% that sit in the middle want flexibility, they want the ability to work from home more often. It's also a condition on what you've been doing for the past year, so if you've been one of those people that's been working remotely for the past year because of COVID conditions and lockdowns, the rest of it, that 17% that wanna come back full-time, drops to 6%. So this is becoming a key issue for people, and it's also understandable, it's not just that they're seeing the benefits, this fall in a lot of places it's still not going to be a fully normalized experience, people are concerned about variance, but there's also issues around, are school is gonna be fully re-opened? Well, children actually be vaccinated, what the situation is gonna be in particular, as we get into caregivers and particularly parents with children? It's a bigger challenge.
0:06:17.6 SA: So when I think about the last year or a year and a few months now. Certainly remote work is a big part of that, but also the stress and the conversations around mental health and burnout have been constant themes in conversations. Can you talk about what you're seeing there as well?
0:06:40.3 BE: Yeah, so in our survey, because we've done this a couple of quarters in a row, we can actually look at what's been happening over time, and so what we saw in December versus what we saw back in Q3, for example, was a marked decrease in their work-life balance. A marked decrease in their ability to manage stress working from home, and that's understandable, because if you think about the situation that many people were in, you were in a second wave of a lockdown, you were going from a summer when you can at least get outdoors more often to winter when people are often closed in, and it's just been this continued stressful environment. I think as we've gotten into the spring, when people start looking forward to being vaccinated and getting out more and the relaxation of constraints, there's this sort of big relief factor that comes along with that, but even so, if you think about the combination of the length of the pandemic, the challenge that people have been under and the stresses that we've put into managers in particular, there's an ongoing need for ensuring that we are providing tools and guidelines and support for people's mental health and well-being as much as their work productivity.
0:07:52.3 SA: So for listeners who are thinking about embracing more hybrid approach, what are some of the strategies that you've seen work in creating team cultures and alleviating some of that isolation that might come from virtual work?
0:08:06.7 BE: So some of this comes to the role of managers in helping people move from being sort of attendance-driven productivity monitors, for lack of a better term.
0:08:18.4 SA: Right.
0:08:19.2 BE: To kind of work that's always been going on in the background for the past couple of decades anyway, which is how do you build teams that engage everyone in the team, that engages them in the purpose and the mission of your institution, but also what your team is all about. So we've seen over the course of the past year is, the people who lead from purpose haven't had an easier time sort of instilling that sense of belonging in their team, but we've also seen a lot of people adopt new ways to build culture even while they're distributed, so that often comes to like, how do you use digital tools to make that happen? So connectedness, the ability for people to stay in communication with one another, to share information, and knowledge is one side of it, but it's also the digital water cooler conversation. So Slack as an example, has always had a lot of people using it not only for work and work productivity, but also for the digital water cooler conversation, and there's a cute app called Giphy, which is sending humorous gifs around that if I talk to a CIO of a company three years ago, I would have gotten a lot of questions about "Why does Giphy exist and isn't this kind of silly and not helpful to work".
0:09:27.1 BE: The same people over the course of the past year have turned around and said Thank God for the water cooler conversation in Slack and for Giphy, because they get that it actually helps teams, know and understand one another personally, to the sense of camaraderie and to build a sense of belonging, and in our research, we've seen that connectedness, that visual connectedness play out because teams that we're investing in digital tools to support one another, from Q3 to Q4 actually took a sense of belonging that was negative and turned it to a positive, which is pretty amazing when you consider the circumstances everyone's in.
0:10:02.3 SA: And I seem to recall that you had some really interesting research about diversity and diverse employees and their experience of the virtual world versus the physical workplace. Can you share some of that?
0:10:16.3 BE: Yeah, there are some things that showed up that were unfortunately, but really indicative of the same societal issues that we've seen playing out on the TV, so black employees in our survey instrument felt far less supported by their managers and even by their teams than their white counterparts, and that shows in our survey and our research, what was interesting is that black employees though also felt a better sense of belonging working remotely than their white counterparts, and when we dug into even issues like, what do you wanna have your work experience look like coming out of this? What percentage of people wanna be full-time in an office? It was 24% for white employees, it was 3% for black employees.
0:10:58.8 SA: Okay.
0:11:00.9 BE: So we've been working with a group called Management Leadership for Tomorrow, they work on diversity managerial training, executive support for black and Latinx employees in the United States. Between them and a set of academics we've gotten into issues like code switching, it's the cost of code switching in a continual in office 9:00 to 5:00 environment is far different than if you are coming into that office environment two or three days a week.
0:11:30.4 SA: Right.
0:11:30.9 BE: Or if you are dialed in for a set of meetings and then can dial back out and recharge your energy and your batteries. That's one side of it. The other is, and that shows up in that flexibility factor around where you work, flexibility in people's schedules is actually... And our research shows even more potential to help improve people's productivity and work-life balance. And again, it disproportionately benefits people who often are left out, it disproportionately benefits women with children in particular. So parents with children have had a really rough year altogether.
0:12:08.8 SA: And women in particular. Yes.
0:12:10.8 BE: Women with children in our survey results disproportionately versus men with children in the United States, and in the UK have been far more challenged. And if you can allow flexibility in schedules, if you can allow people to just break the confines of the 9:00 to 5:00, and importantly, if you can get out of the non-stop day full of video conference meetings, you help them deal with real at-home issues that are often going on. And so the flexibility, the digital tooling, pairs up really nicely with inclusiveness, pairs up with the ability to build not just diverse teams, but to have people feel like they are truly included and part of your team, because you're no longer bringing them into what was historically office based environment, that was often dominated by loud mouth white guys like me to people that would hold the pen at front of the room.
0:13:06.8 SA: So there may be some side benefits to considering flexible work arrangements. I think is what you're saying?
0:13:15.2 BE: Absolutely, absolutely. So yeah, the flexibility shows up in the desires of a lot of people who have been through all of this.
0:13:23.4 SA: Sure.
0:13:24.3 BE: It's just fortunately what people want, they want flexibility, not a fully remote or a fully in office environment, it's disproportionately beneficial for building inclusive teams, but it's also really important from a connectivity perspective.
0:13:38.4 SA: So when I think about higher ed, it is a unique industry in many ways. And that it is for many institutions, very place-bound and the student experience is really central, and so how would you translate some of the practices or strategies you're seeing in the private sector to leaders in higher ed who might be thinking about this issue?
0:14:09.4 BE: Yeah, it's interesting in terms of how we've actually talked with companies in a variety of different positions, Slack as a software company is... It's much easier for us to contemplate how we have a fully digital first experience that still allows people to come into offices for team building and belonging, that has a largely digital aspect because there's very little of what we do that requires you to be in a shared space with someone to fulfill your job. That's not true as we talk to companies like Levi's, so Levi's is a great example. We've gone fairly deep with them and their team, they have both people who are in retail stores that have to support the retail store, but they also have people on their team that have to be in an office to physically touch, feel, work with materials, right? It's really hard, same thing with pharmaceutical companies, you have people that have to be in from a lab experience perspective. Now, most of those folks have also found ways to bring in flexibility into those environments, so in the case of the Levi's in office handling materials or a lab technician at a pharmaceutical company, there are aspects of your work that require that, but there are also things that you are doing the analytics on the lab experiment, the write-up of the marketing campaign that don't require you to be there.
0:15:25.6 BE: So you'll often see those people are gonna get disproportionate access to shared space because they need it the most, and they're the ones that you still can allow flexibility on the portion of the week when they don't need to be physically present in order to do it. And again, this comes back to, it's not another nothing game, it's a partial type of thing. And then Levi's and others that have essentially retail demands, part of what they're trying to do is find ways to allow employees to have flexibility among themselves. You have to be there to serve the needs of your constituent, how do you allow people to have four hour time blocks instead of eight hour time blocks, how do you allow shift swapping among employees, how do you create opportunities for people to create the flexibility they need to deal with things in their lives while also serving the needs of your customer? And so there may be some benefits and some analogies there from an academic perspective.
0:16:19.1 SA: That's helpful.
0:16:21.2 BE: So Sally, I'd love to ask you a question relative to that, you work much more closely with college presidents than I do, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what's driving that hesitation that we saw in the survey results?
0:16:31.7 SA: Sure, thank you for that question, Brian. Higher Ed is not monolithic. And so I will say there is a spectrum of attitudes here, I just spoke to one institutional President who is absolutely committed to continuing a high flex environment for his students and allowing his employees and even as faculty to have a lot more flexibility. And then there are others, as we heard at the Experience Lab, who are really trying to navigate this along a couple of dimensions, one is what I just alluded to before, which is the primacy of place for many campuses, and students really made it clear for many institutions across this last year, that they very much value that in-person experience, and so part of what Presidents are trying to do there is to understand what elements of the in-person experience they value, it's probably not the large lecture hall where the student is one of 200 students, and sitting in the fifth row and can barely see the professor, but it may be those moments of interaction that really creates a deeper learning experience.
0:17:45.9 SA: And certainly, you can think about some majors and programs where it's sort of required, whether that is a clinically-oriented program or programs with lab work or the performing arts. The other dimension that Presidents are trying to navigate here is equity, so allowing some employees and some faculty members to have flexibility without allowing others to have that same flexibility is sort of a cultural anathema to higher ed, which is really a culture that tries to be as equitable as possible, and yet roles and activities require different levels upon campus presence, to your point earlier, so they're trying to just sort of parse that out and to see whether there are equitable remote work policies that can be brought to bear. And then I would say, finally, there is a level of parsing all of these questions that requires us to go even further, whether it's in the modality of education and thinking not just remote online versus in-person, but synchronous versus asynchronous, high flex is a really aspirational vision which is you have on-ramps and off-ramps, and you can take both or either online or in-person as you wish. So there are lots of different flavors across that spectrum that you need to sort of parse out and understand as to your student population and your faculty and your staff. What makes sense for you?
0:19:27.2 BE: There's some fantastic analogies in that to things that we've seen happening across other companies and even within our own. So if you think about that student experience and what people are looking for in the flip classroom at side of things, the in-company equivalent is the status meetings, the in-person, one of the key challenges, but a lot of middle managers have faced this year is, how do we keep on top of the work of my team when everybody's distributed? And often what they fall into is, we'll just add another status meeting, and so you add status meeting to the calendar and everybody's in the meeting where there're 40 of you, and it's a race to say that my project is on track, [chuckle] which is a really bad use of time that adds to the Zoom fatigue and the challenges that people have been seeing, and it's absolutely the kind of thing that you can do asynchronously. And so thinking about, how do you arm people with the tools and the processes to asynchronously share status and information? And another example is even just communications within your own company, so we've taken using others doing this too, to having the asynchronous all hands or the asynchronous team meeting, so we'll record the content of the all hands.
0:20:46.5 BE: It'll literally be blocked on people's calendars, if they wanna watch it all at the same time at 9 o'clock in the morning, pacific time, the all hands is gonna run, you can also go back and watch it any time later after that, and what it gives people is especially when you think about people who are more geographically distributed, but also people whose days are busy, it gives them the chance to consume that content on their own schedule. The fact that you can play it back at 1.5 times speed may also be a benefit of times, but people can also then comment on that all hands, they can ask questions about it in the Slack channel or they could do the same thing, potentially an email, but it's just good ways to take things that you don't really need to consume information from someone synchronously, I would say everyone to show up at the same time to consume information is not necessary. What you need is, you need synchronous time to come together and problem-solve and to build a sense of belonging. And so whether it's, I think, education, higher ed, whether it's in high tech finance, retail, the ability to figure out, How do we blend synchronous time together and make it more meaningful with asynchronous capabilities to do your own individual work and to share knowledge and information transparently? I think it's gonna be really key to making this work and we're all gonna have to discover it for ourselves.
0:22:04.5 SA: Those are terrific points. And actually, it reminds me of this phrase that John Mitchell from Stanford shared at the Experience Lab, and he was there with us co-presenting as these ideas beyond being there. So when COVID first hit and higher ed had to bring all of the classes online, it was very much emergency remote instruction, so there was a lot of lecturing by Zoom, but as we iterated and as we improved our pedagogy across COVID, you see much more of what you're talking about, which is, How do we actually use this virtual environment in new and better ways, how do we create that experiential learning element in the Zoom world? And the didactic portion of it is probably the least relevant from a synchronous standpoint, and there may actually be benefits to students to having it recorded and consumed beforehand or after and being able to refer to it. You can think of students with different learning styles, students where English is not their first language, or students who perhaps just are great note takers who can go back and replay lectures and really be able to absorb much more meaning from those recordings than they ever would have been in a synchronous environment.
0:23:24.3 BE: It's a fantastic bridge back to the topic you mentioned last time too, which is the equitable access, and the topic of equity itself, right? So, in companies that are wrestling with this hybrid future that most companies are headed towards, the biggest guidelines that we've got are start off with your principles, start off as an institution, what's most important to you, and there's some work that we'll be really seeing in about a month or so around some of this, but principals are often things like equitable access, inclusiveness, how do I build an environment that allows for people to feel like they've got equal access while also providing flexibility, because we know flexibility disproportionately benefits different groups, you have to think about that equity access with a somewhat different lens. It's much more about, how do I make sure that my introverts and my extroverts are both able to contribute ideas in a brainstorming session as an example, that's different from even just like How and where do people get the work done?
0:24:30.7 SA: I think the digital capabilities, it's almost a double-edge sword in some ways, because the flexibility that the digital environment provides is most meaningful to students who probably have other responsibilities or maybe have to work or live far from campus, and yet the digital divide that we saw across this last year goes to the fact that many of those same students don't have the digital infrastructure or the quiet place at home or the High Speed bandwidth to actually engage online, so there is certainly an infrastructure need that we need to fill if we're gonna really realize the potential at the more hybrid environment.
0:25:16.7 BE: Absolutely, both in select parts of urban environments, unfortunately, as well as obviously rural environments, we did some work with a group called Europe Year Up, that focuses on helping people post high school bridge the opportunity to find. And one of their key issues was funding MiFi devices, funding wireless access devices for people who would have had in an office internship, then I found themselves attempting to do that from their apartment that didn't have broadband in order to be able to do the work. And so we're gonna have to find a way to close those gaps as well.
0:25:51.5 SA: And you all do work with higher ed institutions who have been perhaps more at the forefront of really embracing this more hybrid environment, any takeaways from your work there that you would wanna share more broadly with higher ed leaders?
0:26:08.2 BE: Absolutely. Slack itself has done a lot of work with Arizona State University in terms of how do they instrument, not only the sort of internal workflows of how things can be gathered, but also student faculty interactions. Dartmouth did the same thing. Dartmouth CIO spoke at the conference that you and I went to together and talked about the fact that it was really critical, especially over the course of this past year, to have tools that were easy to use for everybody across the institution, but they also helped people to bring together, conversations that bridge different communities and different groups. And Slack has played a key role for people in things like not only, how do we do the back office and infrastructure work of the university, but how do we allow for faculty student interaction that's both, appropriate and necessary around things as simple as How do I have a conversation with somebody when we're distributed off-campus to scheduling office hours and finding out where they are?
0:27:16.4 SA: That's really helpful, and it also reminds me that there were also some silver linings, if you will, from COVID and from our exploration of digital capabilities that I've been hearing about quite a bit, but there are some things that we found we could do even better virtually, particularly around frequency and reach, advising, virtual advising is being able to reach students for a 15-minute check-in versus having to have them come in and schedule a formal appointment or fundraising, or even virtual visits to campus, which many schools are not going to do away with, now that students can come to campus in person, because from an equity lens, as you were pointing out, the ability to experience that virtually can actually reach students who maybe can't afford to visit campuses. So I do think there are some silver linings that we can take away from this as well.
0:28:12.9 BE: Completely agree, and I think to some degree, it is getting into some of the things that we've been talking about around, what's the best of both worlds, best of both worlds that we could approach. So, What's your top piece of advice from a... If you were talking with any given university president and a university leader that's struggling with this, what next steps would you advise?
0:28:36.4 SA: Well, let me take the best of both worlds approach and to present a slight variation, which I would say take the best of each world and really think about what we learned across this last year as to what each world allowed us to do, perhaps not just better, but uniquely. So we touched on some of these, but what did we find worked in the virtual environment that we just couldn't replicate in person, whether that was reaching students or providing flexibility, radical flexibility in ways that accommodated their life that we couldn't do in person? And then likewise on the in-person side, what are the things that really contribute to learning and to the student experience that we can't replicate because they are really endemic of the in-person experience and bringing that together in a different vision for the higher ed experience, if you will? And again, I think each school needs to do this on its own because their student populations are different, and so you need to take that and put that at the center as well. The second is to keep in mind that students are digital natives, I'm a parent as you are of college age students, and we know that they don't live on digital and off digital, they are actually existing in both worlds at the same time.
0:30:11.9 SA: I've also heard from presidents and provosts and faculty members that students across this last year, even in environments where they have been able to go to class in person, have often been in the residence hall choosing to take some classes online, and so recognizing that they are digital natives, and that they exist in both worlds and being able to meet them where they are. And then thirdly, I would say keeping in mind that the world of work is already ahead of us on this, and we need to prepare students and give them the experiences during college that prepare them to lead, to collaborate, to manage and problem solve in a hybrid work world. So those are the top three that I would have. But Brian, given your perspective, which I think is the other side of the coin, What would you provide is advice or how would you direct folks to think about opportunities as they look to build this next envisioned future for higher ed?
0:31:15.9 BE: So, I got three things as well. From a broad perspective, every large institution is dealing with all of the same questions that we're addressing here, so start off with What are your principles? From our standpoint, our research's standpoint, flexibility, providing people flexibility, building inclusiveness, using that flexibility to build a more inclusive environment and figuring out what connection means to you, and especially how you use digital tools to close those divides between all these different modalities of how people communicate and how they come together is really critical. So from a principal perspective, making sure you're thinking through and talking through those specific issues. Second is, most of this is not gonna be solved top-down, that at the top alignment on principles is important, but you're gonna need to find pilot programs within your institution, you're gonna need to find teams that exist in different parts of any given organization, whether that is the faculty student interaction, whether it is campus services, whether it is financial aid and back office parts of it, find teams with volunteers that will test out new ways of working, of doing things like simple guideline, we've given to people one dials in all dial in for meetings, to not have this in the room versus remote divide, those pilots can be really valuable.
0:32:41.4 BE: Third is a little different, third is, there's this massive opportunity because we are undergoing the sea change and the sort of acceleration of the need for people to develop new skills and new capabilities in the private sector, and there is a massive opportunity from a collaboration perspective, I believe between higher education and the private sector, and how do we train people with the skills they're going to need to have that a lot of your current students coming out of college and university are going to have? Or I'm being digitally native, but also re-skilling to specific skills and capabilities as well on a much broader basis? And so, a lot of companies are starting to wrestle with this just out and finding ways to blend a private partnership with a public purpose. I think it's gonna be a massive opportunity from a higher ed perspective over the course of the next decade.
0:33:30.4 SA: Those great pieces of advice, and I think, as you implied, it's important to keep in mind that these pilots are gonna lead to an iterative process, and so a year or two years from now, we may have a very different view of what is possible and what is positive for our students and our employees and our faculty, so thank you. I really appreciate your insight and your advice, Brian, thank you so much for joining us at Office Hours With EAB.
0:34:00.9 BE: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
0:34:09.8 S1: Thanks for listening. Be sure to join us again next week when we're joined by Dr. Angela Clark-Taylor, Director of the flora stone Mather Center for Women at Case Western Reserve University. And Kate Volzer, the CEO and co-founder of Wiser, a student engagement technology company that recently became a part of EAB. The two will talk about their own career journeys and offer strategies for women who are looking to push through barriers and reach their own career goals in higher education. Until then, thanks for listening.
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