Hybrid Work: The Future for Office and Higher Ed Employees
In a recently published Wall Street Journal article, Chip Cutter writes that it took months for the transition required to coordinate bosses and employees working remotely. Mr. Cutter also noted that it may be even longer before employers and employees adjust to working together again.
A few of the companies whose new policies incorporate some freedoms to continue to work from home are:
- JP Morgan Chase – Employees on some teams can schedule work-from-home days but not on Mondays or Fridays.
- Salesforce – At offices that have reopened, Thursdays are the most popular in-office day, causing them to rethink their office design.
- PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP – Concerns about workers who stay remote winding up as second-class corporate citizens led the company to track rates of advancement for office-based and remote staff to ensure no one is left behind.
Mr. Cutter notes that some companies are worried about a brain drain from their employee base. Others state that there are few knowledge workers who are willing to work from an office five days a week. A recent survey by Accenture PLC found that 83% of respondents indicated that a hybrid workplace was optimal.
Sabre Corporation, a Dallas-based travel-technology company, has pared its four-building campus down to one building and stated plans to bring 25% of office workers back to campus at least three days each week. Approximately 30% of the 7,500 workers will continue to work from home, and 45% will come into the office one or two days each week.
But determining which category workers fell into required a review of their job function as well as approval from their manager. Given the substantial reduction in on-site requirements, it’s clear that many managers approved of the new arrangement.
Meanwhile, a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article by Lindsay Ellis provided details about the decision to continue a hybrid working environment at the University of Utah.
Ms. Ellis writes that an executive order by Utah’s governor required state agencies and colleges to try to create remote jobs in order to bolster employment in rural areas. July 1 is the target date for these agencies and public colleges to evaluate all positions and determine if employees can work remotely. Ms. Ellis believes that the two-year pilot for telecommuting at Utah can serve as a guide for other colleges and universities.
Utah’s CFO recently stated that if enough people work remotely, the university won’t have to spend as much money on parking or leased office space. However, if employees want to be reimbursed for home offices, those savings would be reduced.
Utah’s Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) stated that not all positions with similar titles will be accorded the same status. An administrative assistant in physics, for instance, may not have the same approval for working remotely as an administrative assistant in the English department. Additionally, some employees who cannot work remotely may seek employment elsewhere.
Utah’s Chief Information Officer believes that a more restrictive in-person work policy could cause his team to lose key members. Because the information technology (IT) market is hot, employees who want to work from home have many options.
Issues for universities allowing employees to work from home include IT infrastructure and cybersecurity. At Utah, both areas received increased investments during the COVID-19 pandemic. He expects virtual meetings to continue, which will increase the overall demand on the campus internet when students return.
Utah’s administrative services lead states that one of his previous choke points was available parking on campus. If work from home policies remove 500 to 1,000 cars per day, that could free up more spots for the 14,000 currently available. At the same time, reducing staff parking could have an impact on parking pass revenues.
Ms. Ellis’ article provides some intriguing ideas as it relates to parking capacity, employee retention, cybersecurity, and home office spending. At the same time, it’s interesting that there is no discussion about the potential changes to faculty work style.
I think it’s reasonable to expect that some faculty will continue to prefer to teach in person. At the same time, some instructors may find that teaching can be conducted both online and in-person, reducing the number of in-person classes. Universities may be able to recruit prominent faculty if they allow them to teach online and do not require them to move or to commute to campus in order to teach 100% in-person classes.
Theoretically, offering more classes in a hybrid environment could add classroom capacity without requiring new buildings. In an environment with a shrinking pool of traditional students, few colleges and universities will likely be able to take advantage of that expansion in classroom availability through enrolling additional students.
Just as companies outside of higher education are reevaluating their in-person work policies, so are colleges and universities. In some cases, having more people work remotely will succeed. In other situations, it will fail, most likely due to poor planning, communication, and leadership.
The next few years will be interesting.