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Research Report

Strategies to Support Remote Work Cost Savings in Higher Ed

The key lesson of our pandemic-driven experiment in virtual operations is that remote work has strategic benefits that higher ed left untapped in the past. Leaders are giving new attention to potential reductions in office space, operational savings, recruiting and retention benefits, and process improvement. In an age of brutal constraints, this is a rare opportunity to bend cost curves and to offer staff a valued new benefit.

Just the same, these benefits won’t be realized without careful planning and reasonable expectations. Institutions will need a broader, more leadership-driven vision of remote work.

Across December 2020 and early 2021 we convened business affairs, IT and facilities leaders to provide resources to cultivate a healthier, happier, more productive workforce while the pandemic forces most to continue to work from home as well as prepare for a post-pandemic workforce more interested than ever in remote work opportunities. Read the takeaways below and then get started with our tools to create an infrastructure of policies and staffing strategy to optimize and scale remote work cost savings. Read the takeaways below.

Review the Key Takeaways

Remote work is here to stay

Employers who don’t offer it post-pandemic will be at a serious disadvantage in the competition for talent. 83% of office employees prefer to be remote 1+ day per week post-pandemic. 55% of employers expect most staff to be remote 1+ day per week post-pandemic.

Remote work has great potential to lower costs by reducing office space

But only if institutions are willing to challenge cultural expectations about workstations and invest in reconfiguring existing space.

  • Hoteling: Workspaces are unassigned on a permanent basis; workers reserve a space in advance to use temporarily on days they will be in the office
  • Hot Desking: Workspaces are completely unassigned; staff occupy them on a first-come, first-served basis at the start of each workday

Expanding remote work options also offers significant non-space related benefits

Explore how remote work can enhance productivity, improve retention, and widen opportunities to recruit talent

  • Deeper applicant pool: 69% of Millennials would give up other benefits for a more flexible environment
  • Lower turnover: 25% lower turnover on average in jobs that offer employees remote work options
  • Greater competitiveness: 83% of employees would choose an employer offering more flexibility if deciding between jobs
  • Potential savings: $5,100 non-space related annual savings per employee in a 1,000-person organization that is 40% remote

Managing a remote workforce requires new management techniques

Loss of in-person interaction flattens relationships, so managers must make the informal intentional in to compensate. This pertains to performance management, team communications, and onboarding new staff, as well as to more social interactions like team bonding.

Institutions need to find cost-effective ways to address equity issues arising from large-scale remote work

Unlike some challenges unique to the pandemic, some equity barriers to remote staff success like Internet connectivity and health, will be evergreen concerns.

The post-pandemic work environment will likely be a remote/on-campus hybrid

Institutions must design remote work policies that support institutional strategy, but are also trust-based. Explore the four post-COVID policy tenets below.
  1. Approve remote work

    option at time of job posting to increase talent pool

  2. Allow flexibility

    in work hours and location whenever feasible to retain staff

  3. Transition remote work

    from a privilege to an option for most employees

  4. Eliminate time limits

    on remote work approval

Research in Action

Like many IT teams, Pepperdine University was facing pressure related to recruiting talented IT professionals and space utilization on campus. After having EAB’s expert present a private webinar to Pepperdine’s Finance and Operations leadership team on “Untethering the Administrative Workforce,” CIO Jonathan See crafted a proposal for the IT team to move to 100% remote work.

EAB’s research showed that 83% of office employees prefer to be remote at least one day per week and that a 40% remote office saves $1,900 per employee annually. The cost and space savings, along with catering to future IT employees’ preferences, pushed Jonathan to share with the Finance and Operations leadership team that he is “confident that the program will be successful and that IT will be able to free up space for institutional repurposing.” Ultimately, the proposal was approved and the team has successfully made the shift to be fully remote!

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