Thursday, June 10, 2021

The University of Iowa’s Future of Work at Iowa committee has shared its final report as campus prepares to resume in-person, face-to-face instruction in the fall 2021 semester.

Colleges and central service units are working on plans to resume in-person, normal business hours beginning July 1, after the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, lifted the emergency order for public universities. The guidelines set a July 1 “return to campus” date for faculty and staff while providing flexibility for alternative work arrangements as part of the Future of Work initiative.

The committee’s final observations and recommendations come after seven months of re-imagining and re-envisioning how employees work, where they work, and how they engage, innovate, and serve. The final guidelines focus on work arrangements—how, when, and where employees do their work—after experiencing remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Future of Work initiative focuses primarily on professional and scientific and merit staff. Faculty will follow recommendations for faculty with regard to teaching, research, and meetings issued by the Office of the Provost.

“The university competes with other employers locally, regionally, and nationally. More flexible work arrangements are becoming the norm in fields like IT, where recruitment and retention are already challenging,” says Cheryl Reardon, associate vice president and chief human resources officer. “Strategic, mission-driven adoption of hybrid work locations are good for the state of Iowa. This competitiveness may attract additional high-quality staff and world-class teachers and researchers. In addition, flexibility could allow some university employees to remain in their Iowa hometowns rather than moving for work.”

Some final observations and recommendations include:

  • Greater adoption of remote/hybrid work may yield space-management and cost-saving benefits by reducing demand for on-site space (whether university owned or leased).
  • Many university jobs require on-campus work. Teaching and health care, in particular, depend on in-person interaction.
  • Work arrangements must put university mission needs and service expectations first. They need to be implemented intentionally and equitably, backed by mission/service rationales and subject to review.
  • Developing reasonable, realistic options for work arrangements—primarily at the college/division level—will help the university compete for talent and satisfy employee calls for more options.

In addition, the report offers final recommendations for remote work effectiveness, environments, and equipment.

A pilot phase for alternative work arrangements will take place Aug. 2 to Dec. 31. Approved work arrangements can be changed at any time during the pilot if the business needs of a college or unit are not being adequately met. During the pilot phase, data will be collected on space needs, employee retention, and employee engagement, among others.

The final recommendations were informed by the recent experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the Future of Work@Iowa committee conducted focus groups with about 1,400 professional and scientific and merit staff. The most common observations from the focus groups included these positive outcomes of working remotely or hybrid:

  • Communication, connectivity, collaboration, cohesion, trust, and inclusion
  • Enhanced knowledge of technology (and sense there’s more we can learn/do)
  • Transitioning to paperless business and similar practices that cut costs and boost efficiency
  • Flexibility resulting in lower stress, increased job satisfaction, improved well-being, improved physical health and fitness

“As the university works to create its Strategic Plan 2022–27 and focuses on becoming a destination university, attracting and retaining faculty and staff will require us to rethink how and where people perform their work. The pandemic provided us with a unique opportunity to do that,” Reardon says. “Ultimately, this will positively affect the learning opportunities and experiences provided to our students.”

In November 2020, the university established the Employee Experience Committee—renamed the Future of Work@Iowa committee—led by University Human Resources and the Office of the Provost. The committee was tasked with re-imagining how UI employees work and where they work, and its members continue to engage, innovate, and serve.

More information can be found on the Future of Work@Iowa web page.