While the work of higher education has changed little coming out of Covid, how we will do that work remains in question.
We don’t know what academic work will look like in the fall for those who do that work on a screen and with a keyboard.
Could it be that the corporate world is given more thought to the future of work than is academia?
Before the pandemic, conversations about the future of higher ed revolved mainly around the future of teaching, learning, and the student experience. We spent a great deal of effort thinking about the future of physical classrooms (flat, active), degrees and courses (online and blended), and libraries (collaborative, social, and inviting).
We spent less time thinking about the future of the university as a place of work.
When we thought about the campus as a workplace, it was mostly to worry about the move towards open office spaces and to lament the lack of physical working spaces for our adjunct faculty colleagues.
There has always been some conversation at the academic margins of remote work. But there has been very little in the way of institutional strategy that centers on the university as a workplace.
The Economist video (embedded below) on How Offices are Changing provides a fascinating contrast between how the corporate and the academic world think about the future of work. In the video, the future of the corporate professional workplace (the equivalent of our campuses) is posited to change in two ways.
First is the idea that the new corporate professional workplace must be built on trust. The days when managers could evaluate the performance of their direct reports by the length of time they spent in the office are over. New measures of productivity must be found. In many professional settings, finding objective measures of performance are exceedingly complex. As hybrid work becomes the norm, employers must find ways to trust that their employee’s work is aligned with the company’s goals and needs.
Is trust between universities and the people who work at them something university leaders prioritise?
Second is the idea that the office will serve as a social destination instead of the location where most of the work gets done. Companies are redesigning their physical offices to enable various types of interaction and collaboration. Gone are cubicles and individual offices where employees did heads-down concentrated work. As hybrid work replaces coming to the office Monday through Friday, conference rooms are being redesigned to allow in-person and remote workers to collaborate seamlessly.
Are university leaders considering the campus a social place for faculty and staff to gather?
Are we spending enough time thinking about the future of higher ed work?