August 3, 2022

10 inconsistent ways to think about the future of college work

Ten inconsistent ways of approaching academic work:

1 – I want everyone on campus for informal chats and unscheduled break-ins, but I work flexibly from home, sometimes without a set schedule.

2 – When colleagues are on campus, I want to be able to come into their offices for unscheduled conversations. At the same time, much of my time on campus is spent with my door closed and on Zoom meetings.

3 – At the end of each day, I find myself exhausted from Zoom meetings and I miss the energy you get from being with smart people in a room. And yet, most of the appointments I schedule are on Zoom.

4 – I strongly believe that talent is widely distributed geographically and that we can bring the best people to work in our institutions if we are in favor of remote working. At the same time, I don’t know what a critical mass of remote colleagues does to the culture of our residential campuses, and I worry about the full onboarding and retention of remote academic staff.

5 – If my life circumstances were to change and I had to move away from the daily commuting distance to my campus, I believe I could continue to contribute productively as a remote employee. At the same time that I want flexibility for myself, I continue to wonder about the costs to institutional culture and innovation of the growing proportion of essential academic staff now working primarily remotely.

6 – I am convinced that it is possible to create quality relational education in completely online programs and that these online programs can coexist (and even add value) to residential programs. At the same time, I don’t understand how campus culture can be optimized for a mix of in-person, hybrid, and remote university workers.

seven – The future of residential education appears to be very hybrid, as standards evolve to allow students to maintain educational resilience even when traveling for sports or if they fall ill. And yet, I find the hyflex model of academic staff meetings (xMeetings) in which some people are together and others on Zoom is almost always unproductive.

8 – Around the world, the new reality of work is hybrid, and higher education must compete to attract talent across all sectors. The best will go elsewhere if we don’t offer job flexibility. How might we reconcile this new reality of work with the sense that part of what makes academic work so fulfilling is the density of face-to-face interactions?

9 – We have a unique opportunity to rethink almost everything about the university as a workplace. We are finally free to determine what will work best for the people who make up our higher education institutions. We can create new ways of working based on what we know about productivity and inclusion, and community, all facilitated by ubiquitous communication and collaboration platforms. But despite this opportunity, a big part of me yearns for things to get back to campus days from now.

ten – I am convinced that the opportunity for flexible, hybrid and even remote working is optimal for people (including myself) who work in higher education. At the same time, I am less and less convinced that flexible, hybrid and remote work is good for our colleges and universities.

The way forward is likely to be recognizing the gap between beliefs and feelings about the new academic workplace. We need to create safe and inclusive places to share what we think and feel about how academic work is changing.

These conversations should include remote and hybrid colleagues, as well as those who come to campus most or all of the time. This discussion about the future of academic work must start from a place of trust and openness.

What do you think and what do you think of the future of academic work?