Embracing Flexible Work

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a massive shift to remote and hybrid work for many organizations. Now, as we move into a post-pandemic world, forward-thinking universities are realizing the tremendous benefits of retaining flexible policies. The University of California, Davis (UC Davis) is one institution leaning into the future of work. 

I spoke with Tammy Kenber, Chief Human Resources Officer at UC Davis, about how they are approaching flexibility. Kenber outlined several key advantages flexibility provides, and shared her vision for how hybrid policies will evolve at UC Davis.

Flexibility Supports Recruitment and Retention

According to Kenber, flexibility has become a top priority for employees today. By offering options like hybrid schedules, flexible hours, and remote work, UC Davis is able to attract and retain top talent. 

As Kenber put it, “If we can’t get the talent we need it puts our mission in jeopardy.” Consequently, UC Davis is embracing flexibility not just for employee satisfaction, but to stay competitive.

This aligns with UC Davis surveys showing flexibility has become a must-have benefit. A recent survey there found 80% of employees want a hybrid remote-office mix moving forward. Organizations that refuse to adapt are likely to struggle to recruit the best candidates.

Flexibility Enables Better Collaboration

Surprisingly, flexibility hasn’t just allowed employees to work independently—it has also improved connections. Kenber shared that remote technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams actually make it easier to collaborate across the organization.

Rather than playing “telephone tag” with colleagues, employees can simply send a message to see if someone is available for a quick video call. This simplicity “improves productivity and turnaround times,” Kenber explained.

Tools like online whiteboards and screen sharing have also enabled seamless brainstorming, even when teams aren’t physically together. The right technology can facilitate teamwork rather than hinder it.

Flexibility Allows Customization

Not all employees have the same needs when it comes to remote and hybrid work. Kenber emphasized UC Davis is giving managers discretion to work with each individual on schedules that make sense. 

For example, an administrative assistant might need to be on-site daily during core business hours. But a software developer could work remotely four days a week and come into the office for meetings on Fridays. 

By taking a customizable approach, UC Davis is extending flexibility in a way that still meets business needs. Careful consideration has to be given to determine which roles truly require in-person work.

Leaders Need Management Training  

Enabling effective flexibility requires more than just giving employees remote work options. It also demands leadership training around managing hybrid teams.

Kenber and I discussed how many faculty members struggle in management positions, since they are professors first, administrators second. Kenber agreed academic chairs face unique challenges.

She also emphasized UC Davis is working diligently to identify gaps and get leaders the skills they need to oversee hybrid teams. Proper management training is essential for flexibility to work smoothly.

This is something I saw at a number of clients who I helped figure out their hybrid work schedules, such as the Institute for Information Science at the University of Southern California. Management training proved key as a way of developing an effective, high-functioning flexible work environment.

Relationships Have Improved Between Faculty and Staff

An interesting consequence of the pandemic’s shift to remote learning and work has been a democratization of sorts. Before COVID, faculty inherently had more schedule flexibility than university staff. But now, hybrid and remote options are the norm across the board.

According to Kenber, any initial friction has dissipated as all employees adjusted to the new normal. If anything, relationships have improved thanks to the ease of connecting via technology. Collaboration feels more equitable in many ways.

This alignment could have positive implications for campus cohesion going forward, as universities continue embracing flexible arrangements.

UC Davis is All-In on Flexibility  

When I asked about the future of hybrid work at UC Davis, Kenber emphasized they have no plans to backtrack on flexibility. If anything, she expects remote and hybrid policies to expand further.

Kenber views leaning into flexibility as mission critical—both to compete for talent and embody UC Davis’ values of innovation and progressivism.

In her words, “If we’re going to recruit and retain top talent, we are going to have to extend this flexibility.” The data on employee preferences certainly supports that perspective.

Key Takeaways  

The experience of UC Davis reinforces several important points about the future of work:

– Flexibility has become a must-have for attracting and retaining top talent across industries, including higher ed. Organizations need to embrace hybrid models or risk falling behind.

– With the right technology and management training, hybrid and remote work can improve collaboration and relationships rather than hinder them.

– Effective implementation requires giving managers discretion to customize based on individual needs. One size does not fit all when it comes to flexibility.

– Leadership development is crucial to help managers adapt to overseeing hybrid teams and policies.

– Faculty and staff relationships can strengthen in a flexible environment, thanks to improved connectivity via digital tools.  

The pandemic may have thrust widespread remote work upon us, but forward-thinking organizations realize this shift is here to stay. UC Davis provides a great case study of a university leaning into flexibility for the future. Their approach offers lessons for any institution looking to remain competitive in attracting talent and fostering innovation.

Image credit: Burst/Pexels

Originally published in Disaster Avoidance Experts on Jun 3, 2023