Not Everyone Should Go “Back to Work”

The last year has been unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. The world was turned upside down as people and organizations first tried to understand the pandemic – then scrambled to adapt. While COVID-19 has been devastating, a silver lining is that it has forced hard conversations and led to creative solutions to challenges – some of which should continue into the future. These include new processes and services, collaboration and communication approaches, and – of special note given the challenges of in-person contact – work models.

As schools plan for the future, it has become apparent that things won’t be going back to business as usual. There will be future events – natural disasters, public health emergencies, and other unpredictable happenings – that will require different approaches. Now is the time to proactively design a flexible, adaptable work model to enable the “new normal.”

This new model will comprise remote and hybrid work options as well as more traditional onsite positions. There can be pros and cons to remote and hybrid positions. They rely heavily on technology and infrastructure and need to be customized based on job functions and culture. However, many colleges and universities have discovered unexpected benefits, including happier employees yielding higher productivity; optimal use of space and other resources leading to reduced costs; and a resilient organization that can survive and thrive when encountering the unknown.

Supporting this “new normal” work model is a Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research study that revealed working from home is here to stay. And a 2019 Google study found that while technology has its limits and frustrations, remote workers performed just as well as their peers, and received promotions on an equal level.

Follow this step-by-step guide to evaluate how, when, and where work is done and by whom – then take the right steps to create your new work model.

Step1: Determine Onsite, Hybrid, or Remote 

Determine the location where each of your positions can accomplish its roles and responsibilities by categorizing them into work location types. Categorize objectively, without considering the individuals who currently fill the positions.

  • Onsite: Must work in-person/onsite
  • Hybrid: Can work offsite and/or in-person/onsite
  • Remote: Can work entirely offsite

Consider these questions to help categorize:

  • Does the position require use of specific equipment, a secured environment, or physical interaction with an object, person, or setting (e.g., lab research, landscaping, library services, etc.)? If yes, this is an onsite position.
  • Can the majority of the position’s responsibilities be completed offsite – however, some onsite time is required for specific activities (e.g., staff observation, practicums, onboarding, etc.)? If yes, this is a hybrid position.
  • Can all work be done without in-person interactions with co-workers or clients – and without anything in or at a physical location? If yes, this is a remote position.

Pro Tip: Don’t limit your evaluation based on your current environment. For example, consider what options might open up if you acquire new technology or equipment, or rethink policy or process.

Step 2: Evaluate If Hybrid or Remote Suits Each Individual

Once positions are categorized, evaluate the individuals in each position to determine if they are a good fit for hybrid or remote work. Start by asking each individual if they want to work in a hybrid or remote environment.

Consider these questions to assess an individual’s Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs):

  • Can the individual use required technology – and use it well with minimal ongoing assistance?
  • Does the individual have the right home environment (e.g., a conducive physical workspace)?
  • Does the individual have access to the necessary tools (e.g., high speed internet)?
  • Can the individual work effectively without physically interacting with co-workers (e.g., do they need to communicate in-person vs. Slacking someone, can they brainstorm effectively by Zoom or do they have to be in the same room to feed off of a co-worker’s energy, etc.)?
  • Can the individual produce accurate, on time output when given specific deliverables?
  • Can the individual be innovative if given a broad goal or vision?
  • Can the individual work independently – or do they require constant oversight and check ins from a manager? Note that if an individual requires constant supervision to be productive, the issue is likely not about remote or hybrid – it’s a performance issue.

If the individual isn’t interested in a remote or hybrid position – or if you can’t answer yes to most or all of these questions (and the individual isn’t coachable) – they’re not a good fit for hybrid or remote, even if the position is categorized that way. At this point, you need to consider your long-term organizational strategy in terms of finances, space, productivity, and employee satisfaction.

Pro Tip: Many positions may require onsite onboarding for the individual to learn the school’s vision and culture – but can then transition to hybrid or remote.

Step 3: Use SMART Goals to Evaluate Productivity

After categorizing the positions and evaluating the individuals, develop and use SMART Goals to evaluate productivity, regardless of where or when work happens.

Consider the following when creating SMART Goals:

  • (S)pecific – Exact details specifying what needs to be accomplished (who, what, where, why)
  • (M)easurable – Quantifiable measurements using numbers, Likert Scale, etc.
  • (A)ttainable – Conceptually achievable for the position
  • (R)easonable – Achievable goal given day-to-day realities
  • (T)imely – Start and end period for overall measurement

For every position, create four to six SMART Goals based on the position’s functions and responsibilities. Next, decide how and when you will communicate them to the individuals and schedule regular check ins to address any concerns and identify opportunities.

Pro Tip: Don’t wait for an annual review to discuss SMART Goals with an individual. Meet regularly and communicate proactively when needed.

Now Put it All Together

Once you’ve categorized positions, evaluated individuals, and established SMART Goals, implement your work model. “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” ~ Peter Drucker 

Clearly and concisely set expectations, engage in effective communication, and follow through with regular check ins to make adjustments and ensure progress.

Pro Tip: Before rolling out a new work model, determine the technology and equipment your school will fund for hybrid and remote positions and consult with your human resources and legal teams to address any additional remote and hybrid position considerations.

Up Next: Make it Happen

Want to learn more – including not only how to implement a new work model but also align your policies, processes, procedures, and technology? Reach out to schedule a free one-hour consultation.

Download the Not Everyone Should Go “Back to Work” Tool

Download the Not Everyone Should Go “Back to Work” tool to help you categorize positions into work location types (onsite, hybrid, or remote) and evaluate the individuals in each position to determine if they are a good fit for hybrid or remote work.

  • Google Sheet – Login to your Google account, click here, then choose File >> Add to My Drive
  • Excel – Click here, hover over file, then right click to download

Lynn Scarbath Berger is the Principal Consultant in Strategic Evolution. Strategic Evolution consults with private, governmental, higher education, non-profit, and union organizations in a variety of human capital areas, including organizational design and workforce planning, large project change leadership and change management, leadership coaching and development, and behavioral risk and crisis management. Lynn can be reached at

Kevin Ciotta is a Principal in JM Associates, a consulting firm in the higher education sector. JM Associates partners with colleges and universities in the United States and Canada to rethink their student and other institutional processes by engaging leaders to define desired end results and facilitating staff to create solutions that streamline and transform processes. Kevin can be reached here.