The pandemic has forced employers to ramp up a large remote work experiment. Even employees in schools, the quintessential “brick-and-mortar” workplace, have had a taste of working from home.
And although there are many evidence in favor of the benefits of having resumed in-person learning when it was safe to do so, many employees – from teachers to non-teaching office workers – have continued to seek at least some of the flexibility they have come to expect. were used to during the pandemic.
Case in point: Just over half of the 1,203 educators who responded to an EdWeek Research Center survey conducted in November said they would be interested in a part-time or full-time remote work option. This probably comes as no surprise to workplace behavior experts.
Workplace flexibility is a well-documented pre-pandemic benefit: a 2005 report by the US Department of Labor found that nearly 4 in 5 US workers, regardless of age or income level, said they want more flexibility at work.
While the desire for workplace policy change tends to come from the employees, real policy change has to come from the top. Education Week met with superintendents who say they are open to or are currently implementing increasingly flexible work options for their employees to attract and retain top talent.
Continue remote work options
When Arizona’s Mesa Public Schools returned to in-person learning after pandemic closures, Superintendent Andi Fourlis didn’t automatically return to business as usual. She remained open to evaluating which work options would work best, both for individual employees and for the district as a whole.
“These hard and fast rules just don’t make sense,” Fourlis said. “The pandemic has taught us that we need to be much more flexible in how we respond to employee needs.”
District helpdesk employees, for example, found they were more productive from home, so they continued to work remotely.
From a practical perspective, Fourlis encouraged staff who process district payroll to work remotely when COVID remained at very high risk. By doing so, she hoped to prevent those staff members from catching or spreading the virus, which could mean the district would miss paying its employees’ pay.
Some of Mesa’s teachers are now also working flexibly, usually paired with employees in non-teaching positions, thanks to the April 2021 launch of Mesa Virtual Campus, which currently accommodates approximately 450 students from kindergarten to terminale. Students learn remotely 100% of the time, but teachers alternate teaching twice a week from a remote location of their choice and coming into the classroom three times a week, giving them the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues.
“We think it gives them a really good balance,” Fourlis said. “We had no trouble equipping the school.
Part-time positions, job sharing
Melissa Sadorf is superintendent of the Stanfield Elementary School District. The single-site rural district, an hour and a half from Phoenix, spans approximately 600 miles.
Sadorf attributes the small number of teaching vacancies in the district, as well as some mid-term teacher departures, in part to the remoteness of the district.
“Living in a rural community is very different, especially for young teachers. They may not be used to not having the social side of life that a suburban or urban environment offers,” Sadorf said.
Offering benefits such as flexible work arrangements makes working in the district more attractive to some candidates.
“We are, and have been, very comfortable offering job shares and part-time work,” Sadorf said.
The district’s part-time educators include both reading and math facilitators, each working with small groups of children to supplement their learning and skills in this subject. Additionally, the district employs a part-time teacher for English learners.
“They [part-time instructors] come 20 hours, sometimes more or less, depending on the needs of the students,” Sadorf said.
Job seekers plummeted. Can flexible work arrangements help?
Beginning about a decade ago and accelerating over the past three years, the school district in Yarmouth, Maine has seen a steep decline in job applicants, Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said. .
“For an elementary school teaching position, it wasn’t uncommon to get 100 applications seven or eight years ago,” Dolloff said. “Now we’re lucky if we get a dozen.” For even more specialized positions such as high school physical science or world language teachers, getting three qualified applicants is now something to celebrate, Dolloff said.
The challenge is even greater when recruiting for leadership roles such as assistant managers. The district used to anticipate a few dozen applications from qualified candidates, now it will only receive about five. It’s a sad reality, Dolloff said, especially since the district is considered one of the most attractive neighborhoods in the region, as it has a reputation for paying teachers well, coupled with a good climate and to cultural attractions.
Dolloff says the district “built” part-time arrangements in a few isolated cases for employees – mostly non-teaching positions such as clerical and support staff – who needed more flexibility to deal with. children or elderly parents. Now that this strategy has been used to retain valuable employees, Dolloff said he thinks the district could start offering more flexible options to non-teaching job applicants as part of a benefits package.
Although the district hasn’t implemented or announced a formal policy of flexible work options for teacher candidates, Dolloff said he wouldn’t be surprised to see it coming.
“Flexibility is something that’s going to be an attraction for some teacher candidates,” Dolloff said.
He said the district already has teacher candidates and existing staff members are requesting alternate schedules or settings.
“But it’s hard to break out of the mold we’re in,” he acknowledged.
He did, however, ponder whether — and how — such arrangements might work.
“I’ve always dreamed of creating a school more like a college model, where students come at different times of the day,” Dolloff said.
There are, however, difficult obstacles to this vision. Union contracts are one, he said, and the failure to get a critical mass of students to accept a school schedule with non-traditional class times.
“Having 20 physics students in a class at 6 p.m. just doesn’t work,” he said.
But he is not ready to bury the idea.
“It’s an idea that could have legs in the right situations,” Dolloff said. “I think everyone is intrigued by that.”