Work has to find its flexibility
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Flexible woman with laptop

It’s not me. It’s you. (Or why work has to find its flexibility.)

from  November 16, 2021 | 3 min read

How do you know if your institutions staff are happy or about to leave? While they might not be telling you directly, you might be signalling that things arent likely to change, and thats not good enough. What then? And is there any way to prevent a talent flight before its too late?

Culture over cost

The pandemic has transformed how many people perceive work.” For many, its brought into focus that the way we work isn’t the only way to get things done. Maybe everyone isn’t benefitting equally from the 9-5, the commuting and all the practicalities of what we used to call daily life.

The most obvious example, namely the flexibility people discovered when working through the pandemic, especially in Higher Education, will be hard to roll back. But really, why would we?

The argument usually centers around cost in some form or other. Whether its:

  • the expensive campuses institutions are still running
  • the belief that the cost of upgrading tools and solutions to be more flexible will be prohibitive,
  • the inability to see how a different model could work effectively,
  • or for a few, a lack of trust in staff to let them work remotely or flexibly.

Of course, these arguments focus on cost or fear at the expense of culture and engagement.

Naturally, institutions have to keep a close eye on finances today, but all of these objections have proven wrong during the pandemic. Campus spaces and how you deliver education have already been reimagined. In fact, Forbes, Deloitte, and Bloomberg have all reported rises in productivity since the start of the pandemic, all due to a rise in flexibility. With Bloomberg recording a 5% rise in productivity in the US alone [1].

So wheres the problem?

Expectation vs. Expectation

The biggest problem is the inevitable clash over the return to normality” and what that means. Because for many institutions out there, theres a lack of alignment between what they and their people expect.

Organizations that expect employees to return to work in the office the same way they had pre-pandemic are likely to face an exodus of talent who value flexibility. [2]

The fact is the pandemic has shown people that you can do work differently – from home or on a hybrid schedule, with increased focus on iterative planning based on current realities, and by automating more repetitive processes. However, its a lesson that some institutions still have to learn. And this difference in expectation will form the basis of a much larger problem if not tackled head-on, and fast.

Bring the culture shift into focus.

The good news for the higher education sector is, despite some resistance from less forward-thinking institutions, many organizations have seen the shift in expectation and got to work to help their people continue working.

Among CIOs whose institutions have made a decision about work arrangements after the pandemic, only 4% reported that their institution will not continue to allow remote work. [3]

For the institutions taking the initiative and looking to act fast, this is a resounding confirmation that theyve realized the benefits flexible working” offers both them and their people. And in pursuit of these benefits, they will also keep and attract the best talent out there. This flexibility in work locations and schedules will certainly also be mirrored by expectations for the tools and flexibility people have in how they do their work.

The downside is, while 96% sounds like a slam dunk for innovative thinking in higher education, the key to the other part of this story is those who havent yet taken action. For whatever reason, many institutions are still yet to put plans in place. This doesn’t necessarily mean they wont embrace more flexible cultures but suggests they may not have fully realized the potential of this new way of working. And are possibly still trying to return to some old normal.

How to become a more flexible institution and enable talent.

The key to becoming a more flexible institution for your people is democratizing innovation, but what does this mean?

In simple terms, its accepting the never normal – and empowering innovation from business users in ways that benefit everyone. So new systems shouldn’t simply be faster or larger. Instead, they should be more usable and engaging. Todays world should give people more access wherever they are and allow them to collaborate in more intuitive and natural ways, automating administrative drudgery as much as possible. 

And the same goes for culture. Better culture doesn’t simply mean offering more benefits while in the office or even supporting flexible working. Its thinking innovatively about creating an environment where people feel valued and enabled to take responsibility for doing their jobs better and innovating institutional processes.

This is what democratic innovation should look like. To uncover more about the challenges facing higher education today and how democratizing innovation helps institutions retain and attract the best people out there while creating better cultures that stem the brain drain on the horizon, download our latest white paper today. We look at the causes of the talent crises and how to think differently and universally about planning and building better futures.


[2] Gartner, Talent Strategies to Address Skills Gap in a Recovering Economy, by HR Practitioner Research Team, June 8, 2021

[3] EDUCAUSE, QuickPoll Results: Post PandemicPlans for Remote Work, January 29, 2021

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