Not all education jobs are suited to remote work, but offering options for flexible work arrangements whenever possible is an important strategy to compete with other industries for talent.
As pandemic restrictions ease, businesses across varying industries are experiencing a new normal where flexible work arrangements are more commonplace. Many employers underwent a shift in how and where work was done and have adapted by continuing remote or hybrid work arrangements that were in place during the height of the pandemic.
Flexible work arrangements emerging in the workplace include the following:
- Flexible schedules that change from week to week to meet personal needs
- Compressed workweek (e.g., 10 hours days four days per week)
- Regular remote work on a daily basis
- Hybrid—splitting time between the office and home
- Occasional remote work on a project or task to eliminate disruptions or improve concentration
Remote Work in Education
Compared to education, the private sector is more inclined to continue to offer flexible work arrangements. Education leaders often view remote work with an all or nothing mentality—if it’s not available for all positions, it’s not an option for anyone. As the world of work shifts, this attitude will impede schools’ ability to attract and retain employees in many positions.
Some education jobs just can’t be performed remotely. These include teachers, child nutrition workers, custodians, and bus drivers. For other positions, it’s important to assess the nature of the work and an employee’s ability to be productive. These can be determined using the Alternative Work Arrangement Request Form in the HR Library (member login required). We also developed sample job responsibilities for positions other than teacher to help employers set expectations for future remote work arrangements. These responsibilities can be found in the HR Library topic Remote Work Criteria.
One of the first challenges is addressing resistance to change at all levels of management. Making an inequitable decision is not new to the education industry. There are many employment decisions where treatment is not equal (e.g., nonexempt vs. exempt employees, professional vs. paraprofessional employees, 10-month vs. 12-month employees). Providing flexible work arrangements may be a paradigm shift but can be justified in relation to the nature of the work for each position, not to mention the recruitment and retention benefits it provides.
Human resources (HR) will need to work with supervisors to meet the challenges of managing workers who are not on-site or working a different schedule. Supervisors should be coached to focus on results, not hours worked or “seat/computer” time. For remote workers it’s important to clearly explain desired outcomes, project deadlines and milestones, and ensure workers know how to meet these expectations. Other challenges supervisors will encounter include:
- Maintaining communication and flow of information
- Addressing distractions in the remote work environment (children, pets, other household members)
- Monitoring and managing work schedules and time management (e.g., ensuring employees are not overworking or, in the case of nonexempt workers, are adhering to hours in the workweek to manage overtime liability)
Providing flexible work options is important across all industries in the current employment arena where employees are leaving jobs for better pay, new opportunities, or exiting the workforce completely. According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), many U.S. workers now consider work/life balance and flexibility to be the most important factor in considering job offers. A 2020 survey by FlexJobs reports 81 percent of employees said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.
Flexible work can increase the number of candidates from various socioeconomic levels, geographic locations, and cultural backgrounds. It also allows rural employers to expand the applicant pool to workers outside the immediate area who may otherwise find the school a geographically undesirable employer.
April Mabry oversees HR Services training services, member library products, and the HRX newsletter. She has provided HR training and guidance to Texas public schools since 1991. Mabry was a classroom teacher for 11 years in Texas and Michigan.
Mabry has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Michigan and certification as a professional in human resources (PHR) and is a SHRM-CP.
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