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Hybrid schedules as retention tools


I don’t know how serious the Omicron variant will be yet – to my ears, it sounds like an 80s Transformer cartoon – but the mere existence of another variant adds urgency to the questions around working from home. .

Full-time teachers have always had the option of working from home. Lessons can be prepared and articles can be marked just about anywhere. (I have always found the white noise from the row of dryers in the laundry room to be particularly useful for jotting down papers.) While full-time faculty certainly work full-time, they aren’t necessarily on campus 40 hours a week. . This was true long before the pandemic, and it has become even more true as classes shifted to virtual delivery.

The same was generally not the case for full-time staff and administrators. They usually had a “whichever” arrangement: either stay for the traditional 8 hours or stay until the job was finished, whichever is longer. Over time, this often led to friction between staff and faculty, with staff muttering comments like “must be nice…” when commenting on faculty schedules.

The pandemic has introduced a strong work-from-home arrangement for staff and administration, simply out of necessity. Across the industry, this semester has brought a wide range of work arrangements, ranging from full-time to largely remote. My own campus adopted a minimum 60 percent workweek on-site wait, as long as a given office or work area was fully covered. It works pretty well when people stagger their schedules.

We went to the hybrid model for several reasons. The main one was to help with social distancing. While offices are only partially staffed on a given day, the contagious impact of someone coming to work on a given day is somewhat contained. We also found out during the pandemic that earlier fears that “working from home” was largely a euphemism for “taking a day off” proved to be unfounded. The job has been done. Some tasks, especially those involving a lot of reading and / or writing, were actually easier when done at home, given fewer interruptions.

I also admit that I fear a sort of loss of institutional memory if we return to “normal” too quickly. During the pandemic, we found other ways to do a lot of things, and it seemed like a waste to just erase all of these innovations. Building an expectation of a hybrid structure into routines was a protection against amnesia.

The other benefit, however, has been on the morale side. As Kevin McClure noted last week in The Chronicle, years of austerity and understaffing at colleges across the country have taken a toll on the morale of many remaining employees. The post-pandemic surge in retirements that many colleges have faced has been a double-edged sword. It provides substantial savings when positions are left vacant, and sometimes substantial savings when a very senior employee is replaced by a rookie. (The technical term for this type of savings is “breakage.” Replace a full professor who earns $ 130,000 with a newbie who earns $ 65,000, and you get $ 65,000 back in breakages.) But that also relieves more work. on those who remain.

In this context, the flexibility of days and hours is more than just a “good to have”. It’s a way to retain employees who might otherwise work.

On a practical level, there is real value in being in control of your own time. A few weeks ago we had to bring a plumber to our house. As usual, the plumber specified “between 9 and 3”. Having the ability to work remotely that day allowed me to be here to let the plumber in without sacrificing the whole day. My job has been done, the sink has been fixed and the sky has not fallen.

Although a few colleagues from other schools have mentioned hybrid schedules, they seem to be more the exception than the rule. It’s good and bad. In terms of competition for employees, this is useful; we offer a more attractive work environment than many other places, and we do it without breaking the budget. In human terms, however, I would love to see the idea spread.

McClure is right about the demoralizing effects of chronic understaffing. All the more reason to think about sustainable ways to treat employees better. The pandemic has proven that working from home is not an oxymoron; in fact, sometimes it even works better. Teachers have known this for decades. The pandemic has been terrible, but that’s no reason to reject a silver liner. Flexibility is both desirable and affordable, if structured thoughtfully and within reasonable parameters. It is something that we can afford to give. Hope more places will understand this.