Erin Konkle

Erin Konkle


One thing that is evident in the world of work — and higher education is no exception — is that hybrid jobs are here to stay. What is not clear, however, is how to harness the opportunities that a hybrid model provides without getting sidetracked by its challenges. The return of on-campus work reinvigorates the feeling of vibrancy and community that is a hallmark of a residential college experience. Still, campus density also brings overcrowded office spaces that were prevalent pre-pandemic and the desire of employees to be back on campus five days a week post-pandemic. After seemingly endless hours behind our screens, there are times that many leaders wish we could turn back the clock to the pre-pandemic days when hybrid arrangements were the exception rather than the norm. 

We know that some hybrid working arrangement is likely needed to retain top talent — and even meet our own preferences. In March of 2022, CareerBuilder released data showing that remote and hybrid job listings received seven times more applications than fully in-person positions. We saw this trend firsthand, as many of our higher education clients find it challenging to retain talent and recruit new employees without a flexible working environment.

However, deriving the most productive policies around hybrid work were more complex than just deciding to let employees work fully remote or, on the other end of the spectrum, having them select a work-from-home day. New policies surfaced issues of equity, role clarity, and performance management, and knowing where to land on those key issues was a process of trial and error. As Bryan Garey, Vice President of Human Resources at Virginia Tech University, noted, “I know it’s not going to be like it is today. And it’s not like it’s going to be like in the pandemic, and it’s not to be like it was before the pandemic.” Like Virginia Tech, many institutions were — and still are — struggling with getting hybrid schedules right. While there is a great deal yet to learn about the future of work, we offer four key observations of hybrid work in higher education, and recommendations to address each area.

1. Equity Matters

Many institutions decided to allow individual departments to chart their own course as they ventured into the world of permanent hybrid work. In theory, this was a good idea that gave department leaders the flexibility they needed to meet the demands of their work. While a marketing team might be able to get their job done in a fully remote environment, their colleagues in student advising found themselves in the office nearly every day, and often with a day full of Zoom meetings. Equity issues increased across institutions, and cynicism — a key factor in burnout — among some employees began to grow. In this environment, many department-level leaders asked for additional guidance. We saw that department leaders were more successful in gathering buy-in from their teams when senior leaders provided clear boundaries of the hybrid split with enough flexibility for departments to adjust given their workflow and schedules. For example, an institutional policy that outlined what type of work could be done remotely and what needed to happen in person often garnered a better result from employees than a policy that mandated a set number of days alone.

2. Let Institutional Goals Drive the Policy

Many early hybrid policies, driven by short timelines to solidify a plan amidst an ongoing public health crisis, focused on a set number of days in which employees needed to be in the office. Frequently, this split landed at three days in-person and two days at home. One significant challenge in response to this type of policy was that it did not meet the goals institutions set to achieve in their return-to-work plans. In-person and remote days often had to be balanced among a team to allow for daily office coverage, and the effect of staggering employees in the office often hurt employee engagement. Employees came into the office only to be on Zoom for much of the day. We saw that first determining your goals and your intended outcomes for work, and then creating hybrid work arrangements that leverage on-campus and remote work led to better buy-in and support from employees. It is critical to embrace the opportunities that both in-person and remote work offer and use them accordingly to achieve your goals. For example, if you have a goal for a highly connected team, determine if rotating in-person days will get you there or if you are better served with an entire team in-person, Zoom-free day.

3. Be Flexible on the Margins

While equitable policies that apply to all will take you a long way in creating a system where your employees have clear expectations and fair treatment, determine where you can be flexible. One-size-fits-all policies that do not allow for any wiggle room often fail because your employees have different needs. The important thing is to apply flexibility fairly. If your work slows down in the summertime or between semesters, consider adding more flexibility for work location during that time, knowing that you will need your team in the office during busier times. For example, if a member of your team has a large writing project that would benefit from quiet, heads-down time away from your busy office, consider finding a way to offer that from time to time. The key is to communicate this clearly, consistently, and frequently so that your employees are looped in and clear about their options. We saw that employees were more satisfied with the processes when expectations were clear about work location options. In the absence of clear and accessible information, you may find your employees turn to rumor mills which can slow your well-planned efforts.

4. Actively Manage Performance

Some institutions attempted to preempt or manage performance concerns through their work-from-home policies. Strict policies emerged requiring employees to work from the same “at home” location. The policies were intended to ensure that all team members were actually getting work done. Policies like these drew ire from high performers who felt unfairly penalized when they had shown they could be highly productive no matter their location. When employees feel overly restricted without sound logic or reason as to why, they might begin to look for greener pastures. For example, professional development programs that empowered and equipped managers to address new performance challenges that come with hybrid work were better received than rigid policies to preemptively address performance issues. We saw that managers with learning and training opportunities during this time were better able to help spot and address performance issues, rather than create restrictive environments that did not serve the entire team.

The future of work is still in flux, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are things you can do now to position your institution and your employees for success. Pilot new initiatives, sunset programs and policies that do not meet your needs, and pay attention to communication.

What has worked well for your teams as you navigate the hybrid world? Please share with us at If you found this helpful, please share your with your networks.