Author's Note: This article was written pre-COVID. Obviously, the pandemic has completely transformed education's approach toward remote work. Whereas before COVID very few school staff experienced remote work, now a large majority of employees have completed work outside the brick and mortal school.
Despite these changes, many of the details explained below remain relevant. If anything, this article may be more relevant now than it was before COVID transformed the remote work landscape in schools.
In 2012 I asked my supervisor for permission to work "remotely" for a day. School was out for the summer, and as an assistant principal my duty was to build our high school's master schedule.
To my surprise, I was granted permission to work at home instead of reporting to my office. Although this arrangement was only approved for one day, my whole demeanor toward work for that day changed. As opposed to just another normal day, I was suddenly motivated by the novelty of professional freedom.
I began picturing all the "fun" places work could be done. The dining room table? The living room couch? A booth at the local Village Inn? My options were endless! My final decision was a local coffee shop called Cup of Joe. Located on Main Street in a college town, this was a popular stop for many locals.
That day was one of the most productive days I ever had. There was something about the smell of coffee, putting on headphones, and having my own private table that got me in the productivity “zone.” I probably completed more work during those eight hours than I did during one week stuck in the office. Simply having a change of scenery as opposed to working in my lifeless office did wonders for my mindset.
The following summer, I again asked for permission to work remotely for a day. This time, permission was not granted. Not that I wasn’t trusted, but there were concerns about other employees not being given the same opportunities and my supervisor did not want to get in trouble with her supervisor for allowing me this flexibility.
For non-educators, this is comical.
For educators, this is life.
Prior to COVID more than two-thirds of professionals around the world worked remotely at least one day every week. After COVID those numbers have skyrocketed.
As was talked about a recent blog post, employees crave autonomy. Studies have found employees who are given more control over schedule and workflow are more engaged at work, loyal to the district, and experience better mental health.
However, the field of education has been slow as molasses to respond to the remote work movement. Even with the rising acceptance of virtual learning as a viable mode of instruction, many educators are forced to report to their classroom or office for work.
I’m not suggesting traditional brick and mortar schools with regular classrooms be eliminated. I am suggesting educational leaders start looking for opportunities to provide staff with flexibility for completing work.
One place to start is summer work. Most administrators, secretaries, and some support staff work summer hours. Once kids are no longer in buildings, the argument against remote work weakens. Another option to consider is professional learning. Professional development presents excellent opportunities to give faculty latitude for work completion.
While not every summer day or all professional learning can be remote, educational leaders should capitalize when the occasion arises.
As you consider remote work in your setting, questions will emerge. Some of the most common concerns about remote work are addressed below:
Will they do work if they aren't in the office? If professionals can't be trusted to work at high levels regardless of physical location, then why are they still working in your organization? Leaders must develop a mindset where all educators are trusted, while dealing with those individuals who abuse freedom.
But someone needs to be in the building! Some communities expect their buildings to be open at all times. But what if four people work summer hours - do they all need to be available to answer phones and greet visitors? As long as office hours and protocols are clearly communicated, this should not be an issue.
We don't have the equipment to do remote work. Although COVID has addressed part of this issue, many office staff still don't have access to laptops which limits mobility. Districts would be wise to replace desktop computers with laptops to increase remote work possibilities for secretarial and office staff.
But it's not fair to other employees who can't leave. There are pros and cons to each school job, meaning some staff (custodians, cooks, bus drivers) won’t have the option of working at home. However, just because a few people may be upset doesn't mean schools should stop doing what is best for the larger majority.
But what if we don't want to work remotely? No one is forced to do remote work. Some employees may prefer to come to work to avoid household distractions. Remote work is not for everyone, and staff should be given a chance to work wherever they work best.
Anyone who has worked in a school realizes working with students for 180 days can create high levels of stress and anxiety. To combat these burdens, school leaders must explore opportunities to keep staff members relaxed and refreshed so they can perform their jobs at high levels when kids are around.
Therefore, consider adopting the following mentality when it comes to work:
As long as employees accomplish the goals for which they are responsible, how they get there should not matter.