Hybrid Work and Education Delivery in Higher Ed

Criterion Webinars
July 1, 2022

Hybrid work in the higher education sector is becoming the norm. Colleges, universities and other higher ed institutions are adjusting their HR practices to give faculty and staff greater flexibility while still delivering positive student outcomes.

In a recent webinar, Amanda Bailey, vice president for human resources at Boston University, and Criterion’s own Colby Haverkamp, an enterprise sales executive, looked at recent changes in higher ed delivery and what that means for talent and people processes moving forward.

Succeeding in a hybrid higher ed workplace requires a new approach to talent strategy, training and development, institutional mission and technology.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Higher Ed?

The pandemic fundamentally shifted how leaders in higher ed perceive work and management. In the past, leaders have managed work by location — physically walking around and observing faculty and staff at work. Management by location required physical proximity and time on-site, but it didn’t necessarily produce the best results.

Now, higher ed institutions have shifted to managing work by intention — setting goals and objectives and supporting faculty and staff as they work to achieve them. With a management-by-intention model, it doesn’t matter where faculty and staff are located. Fully remote teams have the same resources and tools as people working on campus.

The pace of change continues to be quick, and leaders in higher ed can’t afford to return to how things were before the pandemic. “We continue to iterate, pivot and evolve to meet our workforce needs,” Bailey said. 

Faculty and staff are most concerned about losing the flexibility they’ve gained during the pandemic, Bailey said. A hybrid work model is an important structure for preserving flexible work arrangements for faculty and staff. This also matters because a positive employee experience today depends on giving people some measure of control over when, where and how they work.

Pioneering new ways of work in a hybrid environment requires HR to remain flexible, too, and be open to innovations in people management. “The next big challenge for us, as HR colleagues and leaders,” Bailey said, “is to make sure that we're offering policies and a framework as best as we can, within our communities, that still provides for the creativity … and the productivity to happen.”

How Hybrid Work Can Improve Your Higher Ed Talent Strategy 

Offering work-from-home arrangements at least part of the time can produce significant benefits for your talent strategy.

First, hybrid work culture can actually strengthen bonds between your workforce and the institution. Shifting to a hybrid workplace culture doesn’t mean sacrificing your institution’s cultural integrity. When designed intentionally, hybrid work can uphold your institutional culture and values. 

Bailey and her team at Boston University (BU) have been rediscovering the institution’s culture and values through this process. “Being able to tie hybrid and remote work evolution … for our staff to cultural norms and cultural trends has been amazing,” she said. 

Take a close look at what makes your company culture unique. Prioritize those elements as you shift to long-term hybrid work.

Shifting to a hybrid working environment gives you the chance to re-engineer your people processes to support your faculty, staff and students. Your higher ed community is unique and requires a hybrid plan customized to serve your workforce. 

“This is where I think many organizations across higher education have a tremendous opportunity,” Bailey said. “Offering what works for you across your community and your community members — given that so many of our higher education institutions are complex and unique — to serve the needs of our students locally, regionally … across the country and globally.”

Acquisition and retention can benefit from hybrid work, too. Flexible work is a feature that, for many candidates, contributes to your higher ed institute being viewed as an employer of choice. “When we're attracting applicants today,” Bailey said, “almost every single one of them is asking, ‘What is your remote work policy, and how flexible are you?’” 

Candidates want to know how you’re approaching flexible work. Is it limited to positions for fully remote workers, for example, or are you providing additional flexibility through hybrid work options? “Employees who are here and want to grow and see a career path, part of that development now includes how much value are we placing on their work-life integration,” Bailey said.

Bailey and her team at BU are building cultural and institutional knowledge into the onboarding process so that new hires have a strong foundation before shifting to a hybrid schedule.

Train Leaders to Support the Hybrid Workforce

Leadership in higher ed is evolving. Diversity, equity and inclusion in higher ed are more important than ever, and the constant change around us forces talent to evolve at a much faster rate. 

Leaders are already learning a lot, but there’s more to master. “Remote and hybrid work adds a dimension to that catalog, if you will, of learning as a new leader,” Bailey said.

One of the biggest challenges for higher ed leaders today is engaging with and managing faculty and staff without micromanaging the work or piling on meetings. 

“There has to be a way to engage the trust in conversation that doesn't require constant Zoom meetings, constant channels and emails,” Bailey said. “We've got to allow ourselves, as supervisors and leaders of others, to show our care in different ways — and to show that we're interested in getting the work done in different ways.”

Regular, meaningful check-ins help leaders understand what each team member’s pain points are so they can support them more effectively. These check-ins can also help people leaders recognize when faculty and staff are approaching burnout or experiencing poor mental health.

Leaders must also realize that hybrid work as we know it today may not be right for everyone. Check-ins can help reveal who’s thriving versus who is struggling and may need additional support.

Some faculty and staff may do better in more social contexts. Work with them to design a hybrid work arrangement that works for them.

Serve Students in a Hybrid Setting

While staff positions are more likely to be eligible for full-time remote work, Bailey and her team at BU have learned that staff should be in person at least some of the time, even if they serve in a hybrid capacity.

Staff and non-faculty employees oftentimes feel less tied to the academic mission than faculty, who educate and interact with students more consistently. But staff are important to the mission, and faculty leaders might want staff to be present to help students feel more seen and heard in their day-to-day interactions.

“Being flexible means being flexible not just for yourself as a staff member, as an employee, but being flexible to what our institutions need,” Bailey said. “Some of our institutions are serving many, many students in communities where that student in-person experience means everybody needs to be there for them to feel like they belong, for them to feel like their needs are being served.” 

Well-structured hybrid work arrangements give your staff flexibility while enabling a direct line of communication with students, including what needs they have. 

Survey students to learn what’s best for them and take the findings into account as you update policies to serve the mission. Are students spending more time on campus to achieve the higher ed experience, or are your students looking for the convenience of a hybrid education? By learning what your student body needs, you can adapt hybrid work policies so that students and staff alike have their needs met.

Embrace Agility Through Technology

HR is taking on a bigger role as a strategic partner. Higher ed HR teams are responsible for keeping the organization progressing toward its goals. “We've been seeing the real relevant value of technology and that connection,” Bailey said.

Technology, implemented at the right points, can support faculty and staff — and your HR team — in becoming more strategic. “As we develop those skills more and more and embed more technology,” Bailey said, “we will be freed up to become better consultants for colleagues, individual contributors and supervisors across our institutional communities.”

As a business partner, HR has to be accessible and in the loop to address faculty and staff concerns without losing institutional momentum. “There's no way we could do it without clear and reliable technology structures,” she continued.

Remember that achieving institutional agility takes time. Don’t rush technology implementations — use change management practices to properly implement new initiatives and deploy technology to support these efforts. 

“When you have 20 to 25 years of doing something a specific way, we have to allow time and [find] creative ways of embedding the change through focus groups, getting their feedback, piloting things for a specific period of time, taking it in phases when it's a large-scale initiative that has to be implemented,” Bailey said.

Hybrid work in education is the future. Get started today to benefit your faculty, staff and students while advancing your academic mission.

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