The emerging trend: HigherEd digital teams wanting to remote work permanently

As some of you may know we launched our 2020 Higher Education Digital Marketing and Web Survey Report last week. One of the key trends we saw emerge from this report was the high percentage of Higher EdDigital Marketing and Web teams that are keen to continue to work from home post-pandemic. 

With so many people now working from home successfully, it's perhaps not surprising that attitudes to remote working are changing rapidly.

This week saw the release of our 7th annual digital marketing and web survey report, covering the thinking from 427 different Higher Education professionals from 293 institutions worldwide. It's quick to download and packed with insights into the latest trends and priorities in a rapidly evolving digital role in education, and well worth a read.

Amongst the wide-ranging findings, we uncovered a marked desire amongst those working in education digital marketing and web to work more remotely, even once the pandemic no longer makes it a necessity, either as a full-time alternative to working on-site or as a blended approach.

So here, the first in a series of blog posts from the survey, we're bringing you some key takeaways on the theme of remote working, and explore the benefits available to institutions moving to a more remote working operating model, what can be learned from corporate organizations who have successfully adopted remote working and some potential issues to consider along the way.

The findings on remote working from the latest Higher Education Digital Marketing and Web Survey

First, let's take a look at what industry professionals told us about remote working in the survey.

As we anticipated, the vast majority of those working in the education sector are were working from home at the time the survey was conducted (August-October 2020) as a result of the pandemic, with 93% of respondents saying this is the case and just 5% saying they haven't experienced any change to their working environment. This has been a year of change on so many fronts, not least in the way that we get work done and operate as teams.

Graph with the breakdown between countries and how their conditions have changed.

Encouragingly, 53% of our survey respondents felt they had been more productive whilst working from home. However, the flip side was that many have felt a change in their mental health as a result, with 15% saying they now work longer hours and are feeling burnt out and 7% saying they feel lonely and miss seeing colleagues face to face. Reassuringly, many institutions have committed to supporting staff with the adjustments required, providing wellbeing support, and offering flexible working hours. The results, however, show there is still work to be done in this area with 17% of employees saying they received little or no support.

Overall, despite the scale of the adjustments that staff and employers have needed to make in a relatively short space of time, remote working has generally been viewed positively by many of those working in the education sector.

When asked about their preferred working arrangements post-pandemic, two-thirds of respondents said they would ideally spend some days working remotely and some days in the office and a further 31% said they would work from home permanently, clearly showing that the trend for a more flexible working environment is here to stay.

Recruitment and staff retention in a post covid world

A major opportunity associated with staff working remotely is that it opens up a much larger pool of potential new candidates who could fill job roles on Higher Education digital marketing, recruitment and web teams. Universities with the right infrastructure in place for effectively managing and working with teams off-campus are able to cast their nets more widely to seek the right person with the right skills for the job regardless of location.

Graph with the breakdown on how people would like to work post pandemic with the majority stating they would like a split between the office and remote working

The flipside, however, is that candidates with impressive resumes/CVs and a depth of experience might be more effective and happier working in an office or campus environment and may not necessarily perform as well in a role where they are predominantly working solo and relying heavily on video conferencing and online collaboration tools remotely. 

It's worth keeping this in mind when planning a recruitment drive as you might consider factoring these types of skills into the interview process and offering training and support as part of the role.

It's also perhaps worth keeping in mind that your employees may also have more opportunities beyond their local area in this new remote working world we find ourselves in, and therefore could be headhunted by your competitors through their wider availability. The findings in our higher education survey back this up, with staff retention being stated as an even more important factor for institutions as remote working technologies and the capabilities of an online workforce evolve.

Budget savings vs investments

Having a remote workforce has the potential to enable universities to make savings in a number of areas. It's also been well documented that workers with the flexibility to take care of sick family members or book emergency appointments without needing to take full days off are less likely to take unscheduled leave.

In addition, when a less distracting environment is available working from home, this has been proven to increase productivity in high performing employees, with them taking fewer breaks and typically working longer hours. Our research findings also back this up, with more than half of those surveyed feel that they had been more productive since working from home during the past year.

Clearly, there is a lot to consider here, and we anticipate that some institutions will invest further in their HR and operational teams to provide specific expertise and support for remote workers, backed up with software to support efficient working.

Graph showing that 53% of participants felt more productive at home

Managing a connected, motivated, and productive workforce

For employees, remote working can offer more flexibility than traditional working environments when it comes to reduced travel times, working hours, and managing work/life balance. But it is not without its limitations.

As university teams move online and away from an office working environment they may lose the opportunity for the types of informal conversations and bonding that are often a natural part of working together in person and, as our research shows, this can have an effect on mental health. It may also be more challenging to be seen and noticed by employers and valued for the work produced.

When it comes to maintaining a well connected, productive, and structured team whilst working remotely, there's a lot to learn from bigger corporate organizations, many of which have been managing globally scattered teams for many years before the pandemic brought this way of working to the fore.

Many of the bigger firms rely on sophisticated software and online tools to aid in everything from collaboration and time management to communication and team building and employee recognition. Intranets can play a part here in providing a cohesive central hub for activity, but they need the support of a carefully considered suite of software that interplays appropriately and can be relied upon for communications, collaborative working, and getting work done.

Meanwhile, the restrictions enforced as a result of the pandemic have meant that companies have had to get creative when it comes to social events and there has been a huge increase in the number of companies catering for team building experiences online.

Whilst it's likely people will still prefer to attend live events and have the chance to socialize with colleagues in person once life returns to something closer to normality, it's possible online opportunities for socializing could still play an important role for remote teams in the future and will be something for institutions to keep in mind when looking to maintain staff wellbeing.

Get your copy of the 2020 Higher Education Report

Last year saw the education sector evolving in response to the pandemic at a pace never experienced before.

At this critical time, our survey provides an in-depth snapshot from industry professionals that you can use as a tool to start a debate, to benchmark your institution, to justify investment in digital transformation, or simply to reflect upon and validate your current strategies and priorities. You can download it here.