During the height of the pandemic, remote work for community college employees was mandated. Now, the opportunity to work from home (at least part-time) is an ongoing option for some college employees.
Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee offers its employees work-from-home Fridays. For the college, the change wasn’t a stretch. Even before the pandemic, Cleveland State stopped holding classes on Fridays, so there were very few students on campus.
“Once Covid hit and we all went home, that started the ball rolling,” says Sindy Reynolds, vice president for finance and operations. When staff started coming back to campus, everyone worked from home on Fridays.
“It worked really well,” Reynolds says, and, most importantly, students’ needs are still being met. The college continued with the practice.
A key to success is making sure no one feels “disconnected,” according to Reynolds, and that staff feel “that their role is just as valuable working from home as it is on campus.”
Beyond work-from-home Fridays, she says the college is open to other hybrid work arrangements on a case-by-case basis.
Keeping everyone in mind
On the other side of the state, Southwest Tennessee Community College also decided to keep a bit of flexibility for faculty, staff and students. The college remains mostly virtual on Fridays, allowing employees to work from home.
Part of the reason, at first, was to ease the impact of high gas prices. As gas prices lowered, the college considered moving back to five days a week in person, but first decided to survey the college community.
“We don’t want to make decisions in a vacuum,” says Iliana Ricelli, associate vice president of human resources.
About 75% of faculty and staff said “yes” to continuing with virtual Fridays. More than 60% of students felt the same way. Due to those survey results, the college is keeping work-from-home Fridays in place for now. IT will re-evaluate in a year, Ricelli says.
So far, the schedule is working well.
“Things still function,” Ricelli says. And some services are still available in-person on Fridays, such as library access and some student services. “At the end of the day, we need to make sure we’re serving students.”
College leadership “got creative,” too, so everyone can benefit, says Ricelli. Typically, facilities and custodial staff must be on campus five days a week. Their hours were arranged so they work longer over four days and have a three-day weekend.
“It’s gone over extremely well,” Ricelli says. “We keep them in mind. They’re usually the ones least able to pivot.”
That flexibility also can pay off when hiring.
“We’re not immune to some staffing issues,” says Ricelli, referring to current overall hiring challenges nationally. “When we’d post a job opening, we used to get 50 applicants. Now, we get a quarter of that. The flexibility has helped. They see we consider our employees.”
And can closing buildings one day a week lead to a cost savings?
“Yes, 100%,” Reynolds says. “Data hasn’t been pulled, but from a green perspective and efficiency standpoint, we expect to see a savings.”
Ricelli also notes it’s likely that, with less use of electricity and less cleaning necessary, there will be some cost savings at Southwest.
“If we save on that, we can pivot to investing more in our students,” she says.
Opting for in-person
Southwestern Community College (SCC) in North Carolina also offered work-from-home Fridays over the summer.
“Because gas prices were at all-time highs, and because we had minimal in-person classes over the summer, it was an ideal time to save our employees four round trips each month by transitioning to virtual Fridays,” says SCC Director of Public Relations Tyler Goode.
But as the summer ended and fuel costs eased, the college returned to Monday-Friday on-campus operations.
A high proportion of SCC students are enrolled in programs that require hands-on learning, Goode says.
“One reason for all the national accolades and rankings we’ve received in recent years is a culture of going above and beyond to serve our students and community,” Goode says. “While we’re extremely proud of our faculty and staff members’ efforts when we’ve gone virtual, there’s no substitute for the in-person experience.”