This month, I hired an enrollment marketing technology director who works two time zones away from campus. Then I did it again, hiring a second person who will never have a permanent cubicle in my office.
More institutions need to follow suit, and fast.
The Great Resignation is causing workforce issues on our campuses as teammates leave higher ed — often in favor of fully remote roles that allow them to work for organizations across the country from the comfort of their own homes. Higher education administrators have two ways to look at remote work: a problem or an opportunity. I argue that it is an opportunity — especially for campuses in far-flung rural areas or less-appealing areas of the country. And it’s an opportunity that savvy administrators will grasp with both hands.
I understand the resistance to doing so: Without a doubt, the past two years have been challenging times. Abnormal has become normal and the ways of the past sometimes seem like hazy memories. As problems surround us, it can be easy to slip into seeing everything that is unexpected or difficult as a challenge. Leaders resisting remote and hybrid work are concerned about employee engagement, monitoring productivity, and changing the overall culture of campus.
But in some cases, we’d be better served to heed the words of Albert Einstein: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Let’s look at the challenge first as a problem, then as an opportunity.
The problem: Companies offering remote work are attracting experienced professionals out of the field, causing serious workforce issues across our campuses. Remote work requires change—and change is hard for organizations as complex as universities.
The opportunity: Remote work gives universities the opportunity to recruit talent for critical positions from the best and brightest in the country—not just those willing and/or able to relocate near our campuses. Likewise, hybrid and remote work gives universities the opportunity to retain employees who believe in the mission of higher education but want the opportunity to achieve better work-life balance.
When we frame the problem as an opportunity, it’s easy to see what higher education stands to gain.
By seeing this as an opportunity, I was able to attract multiple highly qualified candidates for two fully remote roles that require specialized skill sets. The second hire, for a web developer, was a position that had been vacant for two years; by making it fully remote, I was able to attract someone who believed in our mission but didn’t want to uproot their children and move to Oxford. Ultimately, I hired two people who, while I may not see them in person more than a couple of times a year, are doing work that will dramatically decrease our dependence on vendors and help transform how we market to students. These two join two other fully remote roles on my team.
Of course, not all jobs are suitable for fully remote work. It goes without saying that campuses that provide a traditional residential experience must have on-the-ground staff available to interact with students face-to-face. But many jobs that are part of the business of running a university are ripe for fully remote work. These include most information technology roles, many communications and marketing roles, and some administrative functions; most of these roles require little – if any – face-to-face interactions with students.
There are consequences for not being forward-thinking.
As more and more businesses and nonprofits begin to adopt hybrid and remote work policies, we must flex, or risk a significant talent drain — something very few universities can afford.