How higher education leaders view a flexible workplace

Academic, HR, real estate and facilities leaders are asking about workplace change but must collaborate to find the answers

As colleges and universities welcome more staff back to campus, higher education leaders are considering how hybrid work policies can give employees the flexibility they’ve come to appreciate while keeping student needs front and center.

Unlike the abrupt move to remote work that began in 2020, the next shift in flexible working can be proactive and intentional. But in the intricate web of campus employment, a hybrid approach must serve a broad spectrum of stakeholders with wide-ranging workplace needs.

To plan and manage a workplace that supports the right amount of flexibility, leaders need to know what’s on the minds of their colleagues when it comes to hybrid work. Leaders across three distinct categories of higher education administration—academic, human resources (HR), and real estate and facilities—have unique concerns and priorities, all of which must be addressed for hybrid work to succeed.

Following are some questions higher education leaders should be asking as they navigate the new world of work.

Academic leaders: How do we serve students with a hybrid work model?

Academic leaders are often wary of how their departments can support students without employees in the office full time. Still, there can be advantages to some hybrid work within academic teams.

As department heads evaluate flexible working, the following questions are top-of-mind:

  • Who can feasibly work remotely without impacting service delivery? Employees who regularly interact with students may need to put in more face time, while those who mostly work independently may benefit from increased focus time off-campus.
  • Can more virtual interaction improve the student experience? With younger generations more accustomed to digital communication, some students may appreciate virtual office hours or academic advisory sessions.
  • How are we shaping the future of learning? Many higher education leaders are also considering whether academic programming should become more hybrid in the future. If so, how does the administrative workplace play into the evolving learning and teaching experience?

HR leaders: How do we get hybrid work policies “just right?”

Across campuses of all sizes, HR leaders know the value of supporting a strong work-life balance for staff. They’re already seeing how flexibility can support recruitment and retention—yet they also know how much can go wrong without a thoughtful plan. Too much flexibility, for instance, may lead to a sense of disconnect in the campus community.

For HR teams, arriving at the right balance of flexibility involves the following considerations:

  • How are broader shifts to hybrid work impacting the university’s ability to attract and retain talent? As organizations across all industries increasingly adopt more flexible work policies, HR teams recognize the need to stay competitive in the war for talent. They are a key force in advocating for the flexibility employees increasingly demand—and in turn, ensuring the school remains an attractive place to work.
  • How do we shape a clear, balanced and equitable policy? Answering this question involves identifying who is eligible to work remotely and what that means. From there, questions get more granular, ranging from how many days specific employee groups must be on campus to what kind of space they need.
  • How do we support campus culture and the employee experience? Hybrid work introduces many complexities in managing people and building community. HR teams play a key role in ensuring employees get the support they need and have a positive experience, wherever they may sit.

Real estate and facilities leaders: How do we need to adapt campus facilities?

Many campus real estate and facilities teams support the case for going hybrid. After all, a smart plan provides opportunities to optimize campus space—an important consideration considering 30–60% of space on an average campus is under-utilized.

These leaders are asking questions about how to derive the most value from strategic workplace change, such as the following:

  • How much office space do we need? If some administrative employees are working remotely, at least part of the time, less square footage will be needed for office space. But figuring out the right number involves many factors, such as the percentage of the workforce that will work remotely on every given day and which departments will need a larger on-campus presence.
  • What do we do with office space we no longer need? As the need for administrative space shrinks, many real estate leaders are currently determining how to get out of leases as well as repurpose owned spaces for non-administrative use.
  • How should our workspaces change to support hybrid work? Many facilities teams are considering whether to convert some private offices into unassigned workstations or collaborative areas. They’re also evaluating technology needs to enable hybrid work, such as outfitting conference rooms with better cameras to enhance virtual meetings. Since these types of changes require investment, many are piloting smaller projects before rolling out major initiatives.

Is your campus ready for a hybrid workplace?

On the whole, most higher education campuses are not set up for hybrid work—but they can be. With diligence and a collaborative spirit, campus leaders can achieve a hybrid workplace that empowers all staff and rallies them around shared values.

The campus of the future is here, and it’s creating more connective experiences than ever—on the physical campus and beyond. Learn more about how colleges and universities are reimagining campus portfolios.