Universities grant administrators’ post-Covid home-working wish

Surveys reveal widespread support among professional staff for working remotely at least some of the time

May 26, 2021
Motocross rider in mid-air illustrating university staff choosing to homeworking off campus
Source: Getty

Many universities plan to allow professional staff to work from home at least some of the time post-pandemic, as surveys reveal widespread support for the move.

In the UK, leading institutions such as Durham, Edinburgh and Liverpool universities said that they planned to offer administrators hybrid working in the next academic year, meaning that they would work part of the time on campus and part remotely.

The responses – echoed on campuses around the world – suggest that the rapid switch to home-working during Covid-19 will have a long-lasting impact.

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Durham said that it would trial hybrid working during 2021-22 and Edinburgh said that it was continuing to get staff input on its plans. Liverpool said that “while we intend to strongly encourage this way of working, it will not be mandatory”.

The results of a survey of nearly 5,000 higher education professionals in the UK, seen by Times Higher Education, reveal that 71 per cent of respondents would prefer a blended approach to working in future. Only 11 per cent wanted to be exclusively campus based, while 15 per cent wanted to work at home all the time.

Richard Watermeyer, professor of education at the University of Bristol and part of the team conducting the study, said preliminary results showed that professionals felt that they had been more productive when home-working. But the study – to be published at a later date – also flagged concerns about the toll that working exclusively from home takes on mental and physical well-being.

Separately, an internal survey conducted by Cardiff University found that 85 per cent of professional staff wanted to work from home for a significant part of the week.

A university spokesperson said departments had been asked to consider their “business needs and the needs of their teams, to develop an approach to blended working that combines elements of on- and off-campus working”.

The University of Southampton said staff surveys showed a preference for hybrid working and “[we] expect this to become our normal way of working ahead”. The University of Warwick said it was developing approaches to “flexible and sustainable” ways of working.

Overseas, Liz Clark, vice-president for research and policy at the US’ National Association of College and University Business Officers, said many institutions would likely allow more “telework” for staff whose roles were not predominantly student facing. The National University of Singapore recently said administrative staff could work from home, and that campus-based staff could have flexible hours.

Ruth Levin, senior national education officer at Unison, the trade union that represents UK universities’ professional staff, said that it was important that employers engaged with staff on how to introduce more flexible working.

“For many years disabled workers or those with caring responsibilities have asked for more flexibility, and we’ve now seen that it can work well,” she said. “But there is also a complex picture about equality and making sure that staff have got the right support in place, not just with hardware and software but [also] around mental health.

“There isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all option.”

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the University and Colleges Employers Association, said many of its members “hope to examine the opportunities for flexibility in working arrangements and the delivery of services, subject to business needs”. The organisation is developing proposals for talks with unions on this topic.

“The discussion would aim to understand what staff value most from the opportunity to work more flexibly and remotely, as well the flexibility in service delivery for students and beyond,” Mr Jethwa said.


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