Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is the concept of remote work (also referred to as working from home, telecommuting, etc.). It can be something someone does full-time or part-time for their job, and is becoming increasingly common (with the exception of some recent high profile retractions from companies like IBM and Yahoo in the past few years). When remote work policies are done right, you're maximizing the potential of your team who have the flexibility to work in whatever way is best for them. I read a great book recently on this topic about Wordpress and their entirely remote global team. That book really set me off on this path of being an avid supporter of these sorts of policies.
My theory is that if higher ed supported more flexible work structures, we could move towards better student support and access as well as improved employee wellbeing.
Here are the main lessons I'd advise higher ed professionals takeaway from remote work best practices:
Presence Doesn't Equal Productivity
So the first and biggest barrier to remote work is typically the perception that it will reduce productivity. This is not the case, and there is pretty definitive studies to support that stance, this being one of them. It definitely requires supervision and support, but so does in person work. As long as you're providing the right tools (like using Slack, Google Hangouts, and the like to keep everyone connected) and guidance, as well as consequences if someone isn't meeting expectations, then remote work can be successful.
The fallacy people keep falling back to is the belief that being in an office with other people automatically makes us more productive, or that we will miss out on things if we aren't physically present. Someone can be just as productive (if not more so) working remotely. I know for me personally, I need to move around to different locations to keep being continuously productive throughout the day. So if I'm working on personal projects, I'll sometimes start at home, then go to a coffee shop, then at times I've gone to co-working spaces. All we need to do to address the other concerns is make sure we work deliberately to help everyone feel included and involved no matter where they're working from. We can't treat remote workers as if they're working onsite. Similar advice can be helpful, but it is a different setting, so it needs to be treated as such.
Whether you're implementing policies like this or not, your takeaway should be the same; employees need proper guidance, consistent communication, adequate resources, and fair consequences to be best positioned for success.
Make Sure Your Whole Team Feels Included
Great remote teams really necessitate that the manager make everyone socially involved and feel comfortable contributing to the team dynamic. In-person teams obviously benefit from this as well but managers tend to let it happen naturally (which can be hit or miss). Intentionally fostering positive team interactions can be simple and quick, but have a big impact over time.
Generally, you need to abide by some ground rules to set the stage for everyone to feel included if you have people working in the office and remotely. The big thing here is making sure everyone is on equal footing versus some people in a conference room together and others calling in. This never works well with someone always getting lost in the conversation. Also, make sure you're emailing/chatting out important info, versus just popping in to let people know. Lastly, invite everyone to gatherings, whether they're in the office or not. They'll appreciate the thought even if they can't make it.
Also, team building activities are important since especially with remote teams, it can be hard for the small talk and bonding to happen that might be easier in person. There are some you can do with any team, whether they're together or not. This will help greatly with everyone feeling comfortable communicating and collaborating.
The lesson here for higher ed folks, is that people need different things to feel included and to let their voice be heard. Make sure you're creating space, respect, and camaraderie to allow for your team's dynamic to flourish.
We Need to Support Employees' Whole Life
This is really the emotional core of this idea. We all lead complex, busy lives. We need to be able to take care of things during the day during the week. This can help tremendously with letting some of the pressure and stress off ourselves since it can be hard to find the time otherwise. Being flexible with working hours and location can be a huge load off of your employees shoulders. They can be home for repairs or deliveries, to look after a sick family member, or to have an important appointment. This way, they are feeling better, don't have to deal with a commute, and are able to focus and be more productive.
In education, our work can be physically and emotionally tiring. Allowing for some flexibility, especially after a tough time, can be highly beneficial. You can make sure someone is physically present in the office if you expect walk-ins, but otherwise, you can still get most of our administrative work done virtually nowadays. Plus, you could make digital platforms available to connect with students on if you really wanted it, which could be helpful for people to be remote more often and maybe work varied hours.
Modern work life has evolved greatly to allow for more possibilities in how we each are able to contribute to our teams. You'll miss out on great talent if you limit how people can work. If you open your mind to new ideas and ways to get work done, you can take your efforts to new heights and maximize each of your employees' potential. Which in the end, is going to help your students too.
Want even more advice on remote work? Check out this great guide from Trello!