Field Notes: Teleworking in higher education

August 26, 2019
  • Competencies
  • Leadership and Management
  • Professional Well-Being
  • Technological Knowledge


"Field Notes" is a regular AACRAO Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

by Kristin Albright Waters, EdD, Director, Enrollment Services, Borough of Manhattan Community College

The American workforce has had a number of major transitions throughout history when societal, economic, and technological trends transformed work, workers, and workplaces (Matos & Galinksy, 2010). In the 21st century, enhancements with technology have transformed the world of work where people no longer are required to come into an office, or come onto campus, to complete a transaction or request a service. Technology implemented has impacted how we communicate with our college students. Sure, letters and emails to students are still needed, but we now communicate to students through push notifications, alerts, texts, and chat bot… we even send them Snaps! Students can request transcripts, change their class schedule, access the library, and submit class assignments digitally, day or night.

Among colleagues, we stay connected through services like Skype, Zoom, Go To Meeting, Google Groups, and more. We store our student information in the cloud, have access to electronic files, and operate from sites that are now mobile friendly. The advancements in technology have provided administrators the opportunity to stay connected to each other and to students at any point in time, from any location.

With this “anywhere, anytime” flexibility that technology provides…why are so many administrators still schlepping all the way to campus to do work that can be done…well, anywhere? 

Introducing teleworking

Teleworking is work conducted away from the usual place of business, mostly at home, and is often supported by telecommunications, internet access, or a computer (Nilles, 1998). Teleworking can serve as an asset to any organization, but requires support of the organization and the manager, the motivation of the employee to work autonomously, clear job tasks that can be completed remotely, and support of IT and technology in order to operate effectively. In other words, teleworking isn’t right for every employee, every position, or every institution. But I encourage all administrators to explore the notion of remote working, as there are several benefits to the organization, the employee, and the environment for doing so. 

Fascinated by the notion of working from home, I spent several years researching and studying the phenomenon. Based upon my research, here are some benefits worth mentioning:

1. Reduced costs. Consistent throughout the literature, a primary benefit of teleworking is the reduction of costs to the organization. With teleworking, employers no longer need to ensure an office space for all employees. Employees can share office space (hoteling), allowing for more personnel with less office space. Less employees in the office on a daily basis also saves in electricity, water, paper usage, heating, and cooling. 

2. Increase in personnel. Teleworking provides the opportunity for organizations to remain operational regardless of personnel concerns. For employees who may not wish to get others sick during cold and flu season, teleworking provides an option for employees to stay home and complete tasks. In addition, as employees may not be required to report to work, institutions of higher education can cast a wider net when recruiting for positions, possibly increasing the application pool. Those who may struggle to commute to a campus can now be considered for key positions such as single parents, parents of young children, people with disabilities, or employees who need to remain close to home for other reasons. 

3. Staff retention. Teleworking provides employees with greater work-life balance. Staff who may need to relocate, indicate difficulty in paying for or traveling for a long commute, are caregivers for children or aging parents, or have other personal matters to address, are more likely to stay with an organization that provides the flexibility to work remotely. Therefore, institutions may experience a reduction in staff turnover, and we all know how lengthy it can be the find the right fit for a vacant position on our campus. Why not retain the talent that we already have?

4. Employee savings. In a time when merit increases and cost of living increases are scarce, yet furloughs, hiring freezes, and reduction in staff are all too familiar, teleworking is a creative way to provide employees with a financial benefit that doesn’t include money. Employees save money typically spent on commuting costs and in 2007, it was estimated that by teleworking one day a week, the average commuter saves over $2,000 in commuting costs. Employees save on daily expenses such as coffee and meals out of the office, dry cleaning, and clothing costs. These savings are known as the virtual raise (Raiborn & Butler, 2009). 

5. Employee flexibility. Employees who work from home note having more flexibility and greater work-life balance. Employees are able to complete basic house hold chores, such as laundry or making a meal, while working from home. Working close to home affords employees to run errands in less time, complete routine appointments, or even attend personal events, due to a reduction in commute time.

6. Environmental benefits. With more employees working from home, there is a reduction of gas consumption, fossil fuel emission, and wear on roadways. There are less people on crowded subways and city buses. Less cars on the road reduces the possibility of car accidents as well.  

7. Increased Productivity. On average, teleworkers are more productive than their counterparts working in the main office. Employees are less distracted and interrupted, are able to focus on their work, and feel greater autonomy over the work day. Many employees tend to work during the time that they usually spend commuting, increasing time of day for completing work. Working from home can also increase creativity and innovation, as employees are working in their home environment, where they can control temperature, lighting, noise, and don’t have a dress code to adhere to. 

Again, teleworking isn’t for everyone, however teleworking provides more pros then cons. As institutions of higher education continue to implement technology solutions in order to provide increased service delivery options to students, I challenge all administrators to further explore the possibility of implementing telework policies at your institutions.