One Model of Hybrid Work
While the pandemic has offered disruption, it has also offered new possibilities in rethinking work structures and organizational opportunities. UCLA is piloting one model that others could follow for a hybrid workforce.
With the opening of economies and universities, the reintegration of staff back into offices remains a challenging proposition for research administration across the nation. While the risks of the pandemic remain an existential threat to those vaccinated, anxiety remains high during this restoration period of in-person work life. Many are hungry to return to onsite work while others appreciate this new telecommuting model. The question of how to balance the work needs and personal wants of work location remains one of the most difficult challenges of the post-pandemic work world.
While clearly the future model need not be either/or, many organizations are experimenting with a hybrid model of work, wherein work is balanced between onsite and offsite locations. Telecommuting among research administrators, unlike other functional positions, can be accomplished with great success, as the last year has demonstrated. Unlike, say, a student affairs coordinator who needs to meet with and counsel students directly, or a patient services representative who needs to deal face-to-face with patients in a clinical setting, much of research administration can be done on an individual basis, through e-mail, business communication programs (Slack, Teams), or via phone. While this does not maximize the “personal connection” that enhances the link between administrators and principal investigators, it does meet the needs of the profession.
The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA is conducting a pilot which could serve as a model for a hybrid workforce of the future. While this pilot was begun during the pandemic, thus far it has proven flexible and effective. Each administrative employee in the business office has been provided a standardized laptop (Dell with core I5), docking station, and business cell phone (Apple SE). Appropriate access to the school network, shared drives, and programs are provided. In this way, each employee is given the tools to work onsite, offsite, or a combination. Currently, pre-pandemic desk assignments remain in the core onsite offices, though the intent is to migrate away from assigned desks into more shared/hoteling cubicles for consolidated utilization when employees are onsite. Onsite scheduling of space will initially be offered during morning hours (8 am – noon) only for optional office coverage purposes. With this model, the employee is provided the flexibility of hybrid work, while allowing for exclusive onsite/offsite functionality. Given we are a state institution, compensation for offsite utilities is not provided (under the assumption that onsite workers still need to pay an equivalent amount for parking). Thus far, this model has proven successful with a minimal upfront investment.
While this model will not suffice for every department, need, or employee situation, it does allow for maximum flexibility depending on departmental configuration. With the elimination of standalone computers and landline phone instruments, the next phase of this pilot will be to determine whether this is a sustainable model. The intended benefits include administrative space consolidation, improved employee satisfaction, and a more nimble workforce which could ultimately provide more flexible services to customers (such as cross-departmental coverage, increased shared services, or further remote possibilities).
While the pandemic has offered disruption, it has also offered new possibilities in rethinking work structures and organizational opportunities. What UCLA is piloting is only one model that others could follow for a hybrid workforce.
Authored by Mark Lucas, Chief Administrative Officer
UCLA Departments of Neurobiology & Computational Medicine