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Remote Work and Higher Education

Policy and Advocacy Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Public Policy Division
December 21, 2022 Carole Hughes, Ph.D. Boston College

Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, there has been public dialogue and debate about the benefits/drawbacks to working from home, across all industries.  In the spring of 2022, McKinsey conducted an American Opportunity Survey which was meant to gather data on flexible work across different types of industries. The study found that flexible work arrangements are highly valued by American workers and is a top motivator for finding a new job. Additionally, the report found that 65% of the respondents would be willing to work remotely full-time. 

Impact on Higher Education

In March of 2020, all institutions of higher education shut down, sent students home and moved instruction and administrative operations to an online format.  The impact of COVID had wide-ranging implications for all institutions including losses in tuition, losses of revenue, and expenses related to testing and contract tracing. There were staff layoffs, furloughs and early retirements.  Students reported anxiety and depression had impacted their academic performance.

As the institutions re-opened, discussions about flexible work options increased.  While the corporate sector has experimented with remote work schedules, higher education has not yet landed on a policy or set of policies that support staff/faculty remote schedules.  At some institutions, some departments have flexible scheduling, but it does not seem translate throughout the institution.

Student Affairs and Flexible Scheduling

The nature of student affairs work has primarily been in person. However, during the pandemic, we did learn we could provide student programs and support remotely. As we returned to the office after the pandemic, the conversation about how much/how often student affairs needed to be in the office began.  Almost three years later, we have a wide range of approaches to student affairs and remote work. 

In her January 2022 blog on building flexible workplaces in higher education, Octavia Drexler presents several points for higher education to consider in terms of flexible work.  These include employee mental health and well-being and talent attraction and retention challenges.  She suggests that higher education could catch up with the corporate world if we; allow more staff to work remotely, focus on employee well-being, promote campus culture and connectivity and adopt workplace technologies.

In a recent NASPA blog post, Vaughn Calhoun, Ed.D. suggests leaders of higher educational institutions need to “reimagine how to serve the needs of the current workforce along with defining productivity and allow divisions and departments to develop policies that best address the needs of the unit.” This does seem to be where many institutions have landed. 

As a profession, we may want to consider how to support and train student affairs supervisors on the development management of hybrid workforces. Additionally, it may be advantageous to assess students’ needs and desires related to services/interactions they would prefer in person or remotely. 

It seems clear that the practice of remote work is here to stay.  While there is no one standard for higher education, we offer a few examples of institutional attempts develop appropriate policies. These institutional policies offer a variety of approaches to flexible/remote work.  Additionally, we have included links to articles related to the equity and legal issues that can arise as we consider remote work.

Institutional Policy Examples

University of California, Berkley 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Fashion Institute of Technology

Legal and Equity Considerations

Employer-Sponsored Benefits in the United States: The Past, Present, and Future. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0886368720947609

Expanding Access to and Ensuring Equity in the Benefits of Remote Work Following the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://www.sciencepolicyjournal.org/uploads/5/4/3/4/5434385/orr_savage_jspg_18-4.pdf

Implications of "Work from Anywhere"—When Remote Workers Cross State Lines. https://www.adp.com/spark/articles/2022/06/implications-of-work-from-anywhere-when-remote-workers-cross-state-lines.aspx

Employment Laws for Remote Employees: 18 Important Things to Know for Compliance. https://www.thehrteam.com/blog/employment-laws-for-remote-employees-18-important-things-to-know-for-compliance/