The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Returning to the Workplace: Employee Expectations

Teleworking arrangements necessitated by COVID-19 were an entirely new experience for many higher ed employees. While some may have initially struggled to adjust to a virtual workspace, shelter-in-place directives have given workers time to settle into this new way of work — just in time to shake things up again.

Now, institutions are thinking about transitioning employees back to the office. One way Houston Community College is guiding employees through this transition is with the help of a new toolkit for its leaders, managers and supervisors. The toolkit offers guidance for establishing work expectations, employee engagement and protective measures. It also highlights employee work expectations that may carry over from home to the office after months of relaxed standards.

  • More Flexibility

Telework has long been considered a highly desirable benefit for employees. The ability to work remotely, even in a part-time capacity, offers support for individuals who need flexibility in their schedules and can help reduce the risk of burnout. Whereas before COVID-19 the opportunity to telework was scarce, the pandemic has shown us that many jobs can function as work-from-home jobs, if not indefinitely, then at least for a significant amount of time.

As a result, employers can expect to see a rise in requests for flexible schedules and telework arrangements. Institutions should be prepared to engage in honest and open discussions by proactively evaluating which positions can realistically support continued remote work and which cannot. Like most everything else in the world at this time, policies and procedures may need to be updated to arrive at and reflect a new normal that benefits both employee and employer.

  • Less Formality

If COVID-19 has given us anything, it’s the opportunity to see our co-workers in a different, less formal light. Between messy houses, family interruptions, excitable pets and less-than-ideal home office setups, there’s something about seeing our peers in their natural habitat that breaks down the professional persona most of us carry during working hours. Some organizations, such as Austin Peay State University, have even actively encouraged the breaking down of these barriers to help foster a greater sense of community, comradery and connection amidst all the uncertainty. Now more than ever, such measures have helped us to see each other not just as co-workers inhabiting the same office for eight hours a day, but as people with interests and commitments outside of work.

Best of Both Worlds?

So, what might these new social dynamics look like outside of the virtual realm? How can we preserve the sense of community built throughout these work-at-home weeks without wearing pajamas to work or sneaking a pet or two into the building? Will readjusting to the office feel like culture shock? What physical restrictions will employers need to put in place?

Overall, we’ll come out of this pandemic as a changed society, but change management is a task HR is well equipped to handle. Staying connected to employees and seeking their feedback during these transitions can help to build a workplace that is the best of both worlds, creating an environment that keeps everyone safe, healthy and productive.

Related resources:

Return-to-Campus Planning (CUPA-HR COVID-19 Resources)

CUPA-HR’s Workforce Planning Tool (CUPA-HR members-only resource)

Checking in With Ira Shepard: Employee Health and Safety on Return to Campus


The CUPA-HR office will be closed Fridays through August 20.