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Faculty Viewpoint: Thoughts on New Campus Guidelines for Remote Work

by Ethan Simmons, The News-Gazette / Dec 1, 2022

Remote worker sitting at desk

Recently, the University of Illinois issued guidance to “normalize workplace flexibility” for many of its civil-service workers and academic professionals, allowing them to adopt hybrid or remote schedules in the near future. Education Policy, Organization and Leadership professor Jessica Li, an expert in human resource development, weighs in. 

“Hybrid or remote working options, tools and practices that were seen in rare cases and for a very narrow range of jobs are now as much a part of our operational vocabulary as in-person work,” said Shari Mickey-Boggs, senior associate chancellor for human resources at UIUC.

“This guidance doesn’t really bring major changes to our hybrid and remote work environment as much as it formalizes many of the processes and practices we developed during the pandemic,” she said. “They will also allow us to establish some clearer definitions in an employment environment that was reshaped by COVID-19.”

EPOL Professor Jessica Li“In a way, this provides supervisors with some tools to have a determination in terms of how to manage remote work at a higher level,” said Jessica Li, associate dean for research in the College of Education and director of the Bureau of Educational Research. “The university should provide training to the supervisors on how you should work with your remote employees, and how often you should have wellness checks.”

Li, whose own research focuses on human resource development, is one of two authors of an article published in Human Resource Development International of a study investigating the psychological effects of working from home for over 1,300 employees at Talent Co., a multinational training academy.

Her case study found that employees who expected to work from home coped far better with the shift than those who didn’t plan to make the shift or were forced to do so for self-quarantine or lockdown.

Some of the material benefits are straightforward: saving time on commutes, potentially avoiding workplace distractions and politics, and in some cases, more time to help around the house or with family. Some reported that working from home helped them build resiliency and increase their self-motivation.

But employees seeking a remote-work arrangement will want to consider the potential disadvantages before making the switch, Li said.

“You’re out of sight and out of mind; you will be missing some of the relationship building and promotional opportunities,” Li said. “There are opportunity costs associated with working from home because you are not present.”

Li’s recommendations for employees opting for an alternative work arrangement: Clarify how often you and your supervisor will communicate, and determine what performance evaluation will look like while working from home.

“We take great pride in our university’s adoption of workplace flexibility. We recognize our ability to provide that flexibility is important to our ability to recruit and to retain the best, brightest and most diverse staff possible,” Mickey-Boggs wrote. “At the same time, our decisions about working modes must always be based on prioritizing face-to-face engagement with our students and support for our faculty.

“We believe these guidelines will provide the most flexibility while still delivering the services necessary to uphold our academic, scholarly and engagement missions.”

Excerpted from full story; read the story in its entirety from the News-Gazette...