The Koffee Klatch: a virtual drink with three pumps community and two pumps professional development
Concurrent Session 9
As the virtual workforce grows, academic leaders look for ways to support and develop faculty and mentor future leaders from a distance. This session will present a remote-support-model, as well as benefits and challenges from multiple perspectives, including on-campus and remote leaders, as well as remote faculty and program directors.
Working remotely, or managing those who do, presents challenges, as well as benefits. Working from home has increased 103% since 2005 (Global-Workplace-Analytics, 2016). Faculty and administrators are uniquely positioned to secure remote positions as academic work can be accomplished from most locations (Kossek, Thompson & Lautsch, 2015). As the virtual workforce grows, academic leaders look for innovative ways to support and develop faculty and mentor future leaders from a distance. Few experimental research studies exist examining the pros and cons of working at a distance (O’Leary, Wilson, & Metiu, 2014), and even fewer report on the effectiveness of remote-support-models in higher education (Chuek Fan Ng, 2006). With chronic cuts today across university budgets, expanding the remote workforce in higher education is a way to reduce spending, while maintaining student academic and social services (Waters); however, this too comes at a cost. Program directors working remotely for the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) developed the Koffee Klatch as a way for remote leaders, faculty and staff to join together bimonthly for professional development, peer-mentoring and social support that is often lacking in the life of the geographically dispersed (Cooper & Kurland, 2002).
The Koffee Klatch (KK) began as a result of remote peers at USAHS wanting to connect more, to learn from, and with peers, and as a breeding ground for motivation. The definition of Koffee Klatch is “an informal social gathering for coffee and conversation” (Merriam-Webster, n.d). It was meant to mimic meeting “at the water cooler” or “by the coffee pot” on a traditional brick and mortar campus. The discussions that happen at the water cooler are invaluable; they may be motivating for some, the source of peer-collaborations for others, or the place to clarify important university or department policy or procedure. These interactions are important for new employees (Cawyer & Friedrich, 1998), and especially new remote employees.
The employee benefits of remote work have been well documented, and the most cited include flexibility to balance work and personal life, less interruption while on-task, greater control of their work environment and less stress (Kossek, Thompson & Lautsch, 2015). Compared to their on-site peers, remote workers felt that telework enhanced productivity, motivation, and job retention (Hill, Ferris & Martinson, 2003). An early adopter of remote-work, British Telecom, reported 16% of their workforce is remote and is 20% more productive compared to on-location peers (Lister & Hanish, 2013). However, a critique of productivity is unsubstantiated self-report data (Chuek Fan Ng, 2006), with the main confound being daily hours on-task. To that point, in a study of more than 24,000 global managers, remote employees report being able to work 58 hours per week before interfering with personal obligations, while their matched office-peer maxed out at 38 hours per week (Lister & Harnish, 2013).
Employers benefit from offering remote jobs by being able to attract, retain and motivate talent (Kossek et al., 2015). A 2014 survey of 1,777 Human Resource Directors in 13 countries found that 79% of companies allow staff to telecommute as a way to attract and retain talent (Koh, Allen & Zafar, 2014). Money savings is potentially a larger focus for big businesses; IBM reported a savings of $75 million in 2003, AT&T reported $34 million in 2004 and Nortel saved $22 million following implementation of teleworking remotely (Verbeke, Schulz, Greidanus & Hambley, 2008). Teleworking/working remotely has been strongly supported by President Obama, citing cost savings for large companies (Business Management Daily, 2010). Related benefits include less overhead costs including office space, building leases, and utilities (Kossek et al.). It has been estimated that the average business saves $11,000 annually per remote employee, remote workers save $2000-$7000 annually and the greenhouse effect is reduced (Global-Workplace-Analytics, March 2016). Both large and small companies benefit from expanding their talent pool through remote work and keeping talent when geography gets in the way (Kossek et al.)
Challenges & Supports
The challenges from a remote employee perspective include time management, social isolation, tech support, facilitating communication, performance planning, and creating teamship with on-location peers (Kossek et al., 2015). Time management, or overworking stems from the idea that remote employees always have to be available, leading to workaholism (Raiborn & Butler, 2009). Additionally, if a remote-worker is not available during normal operating hours, they might be considered absent and slacking on job duties (Kossek et al.; Schulte, 2015). Another commonly cited hindrance of remote employment is feeling isolated from leaders and peers. A study on the psychological impact of remote work suggests a negative mental and physical impact of the setting; so much so, that companies are suggesting remote employees balance their work with a “rich social life” (Laureate My Learn, May 2016). Research found that remote workers experience more loneliness, irritability, worry and guilt, and that they report more stress as compared to their on-location peers (Mann & Holdsworth, 2003); remote workers reported a higher incidence of physical health symptoms. Remote employees also lack visibility (McCloskey & Igbaria, 1998), perceive a limited opportunity for advancement (Cooper & Kurland, 2002), and perceive a lack of professional development opportunities including networking, informal learning and mentoring (Cooper & Kurland).
The challenges from a leader perspective include placing the right hire in a remote position, providing support once placed and evaluating performance relative to on-location peers. Knowing at hire, if an individual is going to be effective in a remote setting is a challenge. The literature suggests the following characteristics frame an ideal remote employee: self-motivated, independent, effective and proactive communicator, and technology savvy (Schulte, 2015). To add another layer, Gen Y workers are more difficult to recruit and retain, however they are attracted to flexible-work arrangements (Lister & Harnish, 2013). Additional challenges include balancing/tracking productivity and awarding merit in comparison with on-campus peers; leaders must make the shift from monitoring visibility to monitoring productivity of remote faculty. With remote employees, some leaders worry about a loss of control, potential for data security issues, balancing morale issues with on-location peers, and budgeting for home-office expenses (Raiborn & Butler, 2009).
New remote employees need to be connected with support structures as part of the on-boarding process; they need to be provided with the same information as if on-campus. Existing research on manager support of virtual employees found the provision of technical and emotional support was significantly correlated with remote job satisfaction and productivity (Hartman, Stoner & Arora, 1991). Remote employees, especially first timers, desire informal communication with their leader (Cawyer & Friedrich, 1998). Regular communication provides the opportunity to define job-related behavioral goals and to receive feedback on job performance. Related, the recent 2015-Faculty-Engagement-Survey-Results from the University of St. Augustine reported high levels of satisfaction from those in remote roles. Another leader challenge cited in the literature is facilitating group communication and work, teamship, between remote and on-location peers (Kossek et al.) Regular mixing of both F-2-F and remote employees in committee meetings, for professional development activities and group-work may open lines of communication and support that sustain beyond the scheduled activity.
The initiators of the KK were two remote program directors, recently hired by USAHS to direct online programs. The KK expanded to include those with whom the remote directors worked, on a weekly, if not daily basis to create and deliver high quality online student experiences. These remote peers included program directors, instructional designers, the Dean of Educational Effectiveness and faculty, as well as contributing faculty (i.e., adjunct faculty). Making these connections allowed work to take place on a virtual team (Zey et al., 2012).
The KK began as a way to connect socially, to limit the negative effects of isolation (Kossek et al., 2015). Involving telecommuters in social celebrations that occur on campus (e.g., birthdays), as well as requiring campus attendance at annual meetings, retreats, or social events, stands to reduce the feeling of isolation (Pinsonneault & Boisvert, 1996). As a group, we motivate each other, we sign up for webinars together, we collaborate on research and conference submissions and we gather virtually using GoToMeeting to sing happy birthday to remote peers. Additionally, we came to realize that the KK was a place to seek information or clarification; newer remote hires had questions that the group could answer. Directly, and often indirectly, we mentor each other regarding the role and conduct of remote employees, establishing and maintaining a record of productivity and successes, and being visible and available through technology and time management. While higher education has been advancing the online student experience with technologies, the KK is an effort to do the same for remote faculty and administrators.
This session will present challenges, benefits and solutions from multiple perspectives, including on-campus and remote leaders, as well as remote faculty and program directors.
1) Improved understanding of the benefits of a virtual workforce from the employer and employee perspective
2) Make connections between challenges of working remotely and proposed solutions/supports
3) Apply effective practice guidelines for leading remote employees and/or functioning remotely
4) Provide practical ideas for enhancing remote employee engagement