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The era of flexible work in Higher Education
The future of remote and flexible work, covered in this week’s edition of Education Marketer:
Boston University and Virginia Tech have been compared in a thought-piece about remote work. There’s nothing particularly new here – Boston thinks employees being in three days a week creates a great culture, whereas Virginia Tech sounds more like a place I’d like to work. What I find fascinating is that the debate doesn’t really matter, at least in the long run. The majority of the workforce is now made up of millennials and Gen-Z i.e people who are happy with their face-to-face being a video call. It doesn’t take a futurist to see where the chips will finally fall – if your employer is saying “back to campus,” they’ll likely pivot in the next year when it becomes nigh impossible to recruit. Talent isn’t competing in a local market anymore. Check out the article now
Hello, and welcome back to Most Clicked. Now we’re trying something a little bit different now, we are going to try doing these episodes every week, Monday at 9am. So as you know, Most Clicked is all about what is the hottest topic in higher education, digital marketing. And hopefully, now Mondays at 9am, it’ll be able to set you up for the week. So I’m joined as ever with good friends, Kyle, and Matt. If you do like this content, please remember to subscribe and like this video. And yeah, over to you, Kyle. What is our hot topic for the week?
Hey! Our hot topic was all about, funnily enough, flexible working and remote work, which I think your clients, Nath, will be certainly speaking about at the moment. It was an article I read in Inside Higher Ed, which is a US publication for the HE sector over there. And they’re responding to the return to campus quite differently to the UK. I think the default mode there, is getting people back in, which is fair enough. But the piece sets up the contrast in view between Boston University and Virginia Tech.
And Boston, probably as you would expect, the little bit like culture is quite important. You should probably be back on campus three days a week. Whereas Virginia Tech’s like, yeah, we’ve been thinking about remote work since before the pandemic. And we’ve got a bit more of a flexible policy in place. But it’s really interesting to talk about this in the context of what’s happening with UK Higher ED. I don’t know about you guys, but I haven’t spoken to someone who’s given me the same answer about what’s happening. So I don’t know about you Nath, what’s the default view from the universities you work with? Are they going more flexible? Or are they heading back to campus?
I think I have been on record this week as saying if hybrid doesn’t turn out to be the Oxford dictionary word of the year, I will eat my hat. Everyone’s talking about hybrid working at the moment, I do think there’s a general consensus, most universities that I speak to seem to be kind of, “we need to be in the office more than we’re not in the office” sort of thing. So a lot of three days are expected. But there’s also a lot of umming and ahhing about that and seeing if that needs to be the case, I guess.
Yeah, I mean, for me, I just feel like this, this genie is out of the bottle now. And I don’t think it’s fair to say that people haven’t worked really effectively when probably 80% of them were remote. And I don’t feel we should push that away. And we can’t ignore, like, the great sort of advantages it’s given a lot of people especially like family commitments, and you know, enjoying their life a little bit more, then perhaps they would have if they were commuting two hours a day or whatever it is. And I just feel like going forward as well, we’ve spoken about this on other shows. But we have a changing nature of a workforce like we’ve got Gen Z starting in the workforce, we’ve got Millennials becoming a huge part of it now. They’re making up the majority of the workforce. And these generations are much more comfortable working in this sort of digital sort of focus way, aren’t they? I don’t know about you, but I just feel that this change, even if you’re pushing it back and trying to get that return to everyone on campus again, it’s not going to stick for long because we’re starting to lose talent and people start bouncing off too.
Yeah, for me, it breaks down boundaries now and we’ve gone, as an agency, we’ve gone completely remote now. And if you’d asked me three years ago, was that on the cards? It definitely wasn’t, we’re kind of adamant that no, we needed an office we needed to have everybody in the same room. And it’s amazing what happens when your hand is forced and you’re pushed into this change and we quickly realised that actually, it can work. People continue to do what they’re they were doing in the office. And the big change for me is it’s about fitting work around life rather than the other way round.
We’ve got staff now who live up in Edinburgh and they can go back to their home countries for two weeks/three weeks in the summer and carry on working, not take all of that as annual leave. It just offers so much more flexibility.
I think there’s a disconnect, though between typically, not saying everywhere, typically there does seem to be a disconnect between management and staff. I think a lot of staff are basically going why? They’re kind of questioning it, why have I got to go back? And management never seem to really have a solid answer for that.
Yeah, I mean, it’s hard, isn’t it? I mean, there’s obviously like, there’s, especially for operational level, you’re not, shielded is the wrong word, but a good manager will sort of protecting you from all that stuff that is coming down. And sometimes it is those decisions that you aren’t quite party to. But it’s really interesting. I mean, the variety of responses, some universities and colleagues, I know, they’re still working predominantly remote, and there doesn’t seem to be any change from that. These are large universities I’m talking about too, and I won’t name them, because it’s all kind of all over the sector, a different response to different things. But I know major universities, huge universities, really complex structures with massive portfolios that lean into this remote work, and it’s working for them. So it can be done. It’s not like it’s just a university specialising in tech or something that doesn’t necessarily require people to be on campus, these are massive portfolios variety of degrees.
I think it’s just it’s surprising that it’s the minority, or at least, it seems to me that that’s the minority. And I kind of thought that at least for things like professional services, you know, people like us in kind of marketing, digital, all that sort of stuff. I thought that wouldn’t be the minority really. And I watched this thing the other day about it, and it was talking about the framing of it. So how managers are framing the argument, if you like, of coming back to the office. And I think the backlash comes from how it’s framed and at the moment, I see a lot of framing, which staff look at it and go, all the benefits are for the employer, they’re for management in me coming back into the office, there’s no benefit to me. And I think that’s really to kind of look at this argument.
Does the framing need to be how does it benefit the staff? How does it benefit people that are actually doing the work here? And then I think if it’s framed in that way, people might be more open to having that discussion. But given that, at the moment, all the benefits seem to be heavily loaded towards management, and basically, you know, having people on-site for their reasons, that doesn’t feel compelling to the workforce I don’t think.
No, and it’s difficult. I mean, I think anything that has to be put in place, usually has to be done at like a director or team level, like for marketers, you know, I know some universities are doing like, for one day a week, everyone in teams back in and people are okay with that. Because everyone’s there, you know, you’re not having meetings, and you know, you’re doing on Zoom anyway because two people can’t attend. And, you know, you have that benefit then of everyone in the same time, and you can talk to people and you can have that sort of semi-social experience of doing all that, you know, collaborative time, that’s easier face to face, but the rest of the time you can sort of crack on in taking all the stuff you’ve got from that day, and then focus when you work from home. And it’s different for different sort of marketing roles, but no, in certainly my background in terms of content creation, it’s useful to come together for a set time per week, and then go off and focus on what you need to create to do your marketing.
Well, let’s, let’s maybe take one more point on this before we wrap up for the week. Matt? Hybrid meetings. We’ve tried them. Have you got any thoughts on hybrid meetings?
I mean, I think Kyle’s point there makes a lot of sense. I agree that face to face contact is useful. We do it in our team. You know, we met just the other week, all together. The hybrid approach to meetings is just a little strange. We’ve done it with a few clients where, you know, 90% of people have been in the room with the other 10% on Zoom calls, and you just end up with a TV with someone’s face on it and you almost forget that they’re even involved. So for me, it doesn’t feel as natural and I think it would perhaps be better to have that set time where you do come together and as Kyle says then you go away and focus on your own time.
Well, that is the hot topic, I think and I don’t think is the hot topic of the week. I do think it’s going to be the hot topic of the year. So it’d be really interesting. I mean, if any of our audience does have an opinion we’d love to hear it. Maybe we can revisit this later in the year. Who knows? But yeah, don’t forget to subscribe, follow and leave a comment if you’ve got something to say on the topic. But for now, we will see you next week, Monday. 9am See you soon.