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Thursday, May 6, 2021

CLA's future of work goals

I know many in our CLA community are anxious to understand what the future of work will look like when the University’s work-from-home restriction expires in August. As a college community, we don’t yet have all the answers, but I’d like to summarize the feedback we’re receiving from faculty and staff and share the interests and concerns at the heart of Future of Work discussions underway in the college. This message also indicates how you can contribute to these conversations. 

Thinking through these issues is a work in progress. August 2 will be a start, but only a start. Almost certainly there’ll be a need to revise, assess, and adjust as we move along. That’s okay. I also note that the discussion below focuses largely on the supervisor and staff experience that has been predominantly discussed in the Future of Work group. Nonetheless, units thinking through issues of faculty work may also find this discussion of assistance.

I begin with a foundational proposition: a successful CLA work environment will need to balance the needs of our students and each other, the responsibilities of our positions, the wellbeing of our staff and faculty, and the priorities of our teams. Toward those ends, four emerging themes will shape our plans in the near term for fall, and in the longer term more generally for the future of our work: quality of service; flexibility; opportunity and growth; and equity. 


Quality of Service

CLA is a residential college. Students come here for that experience, and thus the needs of our undergraduate and graduate students must factor heavily into our decisions. Determining when work should be done in person for the best service quality level for students and for staff and faculty is crucial. Likewise, a unit might decide that people need to be onsite for a sense of workplace community and the improved service and creative thinking that a strong sense of in-person community might provide. 

Flexibility

During the pandemic, supervisors, faculty, and staff have emphasized flexibility, and we’ve seen that there are real benefits to offering employees more discretion over how, when, and where they do their best work. 

The future of our work will be more flexible, with more use of online and remote options, and less likely to follow traditional business hours. That doesn’t mean being “always on” but rather that for a variety of reasons someone may find that their best time to make progress on a work project falls outside the traditional workday hours. Certain services, however, will either need to be provided on campus, provided at specific times, or both. Where we work cannot be only a matter of convenience for ourselves individually, but must also take into account the needs and convenience of others. 

In the coming weeks, we will offer tools to faculty, staff, and supervisors to think through the responsibilities of our positions, which services are best provided to each other and to students on campus, and which can continue to be accomplished remotely. 

Opportunity and Growth

This past year provided us with a great deal of experience in the all-remote environment, and before that we had a great deal of experience in the all-onsite environment. What’s new going forward will be the more plentiful use of mixed and hybrid arrangements. 

The future of work holds promise for both supervisors and employees. On the management side, supervisors will receive training to lead teams successfully in flexible or hybrid work environments. Describing a team’s purpose, setting clear goals, defining roles, and holding teammates accountable for key outcomes are the ingredients of successful teams. 

For employees, new opportunities will open with greater autonomy over how and where to carry out work. Research shows that having more control over when, where, and how one works reduces stress, improves health, and enhances the quality of work life and personal life. It will be important for supervisors to communicate clearly with staff on their performance, goals, and priorities to prevent inadvertent disparities in such feedback across employees based on their work location, whether remote or on campus. 

Equity

Increased flexibility also introduces important questions about equity. Supervisors and employees in CLA will need to manage flexible work schedules carefully and fairly, based on the service and work product expectations of an employee’s position. Our goal is to ensure that every employee, given the needs and expectations of their position, has what they need to be successful and to achieve the desired outcomes of their position. What is seen as necessary to perform that work at a high level of quality may well shift over time. 

The lessons of the past year show that decisions about where and when we work affect different groups of people differently. As a college, we’ll need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to shaping work plans for our staff, and we’ll need to guard against disadvantaging employees engaged in a particular work modality when we have determined that work can be done effectively in multiple modalities. Similarly, supervisors will need to guard against inequity in workload distribution resulting from whether one happens to be working remotely or on campus. 

Inviting your feedback and thinking

Members of CLA’s Future of Work group are thinking through the considerations described above and will continue to share tools and resources through the Future of Work website. Under “Join the conversation,” you’ll find a link to a confidential survey where you can give feedback about the future of work, advise on what questions we should be asking ourselves, and suggest what we should keep in mind as we move forward. I welcome your feedback and suggestions on issues of remote and on-campus work for both staff and faculty. 

Later this month, the Future of Work group will hold online forums to discuss these themes and opportunities and clarify next steps for shaping fall work plans. The current plan is to hold forums for chairs and administrators, staff, supervisors, and governance groups. Additional sessions may be added based on interest from the community. Watch for more information and a formal invitation soon. 

The CLA Roadmap aspires for CLA to be a destination college, and that includes being a destination for talented faculty and staff. It is important that we all think about the shifting work environment and what aspects of that environment will promote a high quality of professional life and high-quality work and service. I invite you to join the conversation through the survey and forums noted above and help shape the future of work in CLA.