J.S. Stansel and Joel Goodman discuss the relatively new higher education paradigm of working from home. This episode contains pro-tips for homebound productivity and a couple of rants about how slow higher ed has been to adopt a distributed workforce.
Jon-Stephen Stansel 0:09
Welcome to the Thought Feeder podcast. I’m Jon-Stephen Stansel.
Joel Goodman 0:12
And I’m Joel Goodman.
Many of you are working from home due to the COVID-19 outbreak and we thought we’d take some time to give you some thoughts and tips on remote work in higher ed. Joel has been working remote for around eight years now and has some really great advice to share. And we have some thoughts and tips. But first, let’s get started and kind of keep it a little light. What are you wearing now? That’s a weird question.
Yeah, that is a weird question. Right?
I mean, sweat pants or no sweat pants? Let’s put it that way.
Currently, sort of sweat pants. And that’s mostly because I am going to train with my trainer one on one. Don’t worry. He has two clients, different days. He’s very healthy. I’m very healthy. We’re not sick. Otherwise, I won’t be meeting up with him, but I’m going to work out later today, with my personal trainer and so I tend to not want to like put on real clothes if I’m only going to wear them for like a couple of hours before I go to the gym and then once I’m done working out and I get back home, I’ll shower and then put on real jeans and get back to work. Usually, most days, I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt but you know, sometimes you just got to feel comfy and I think that’s different for every person that’s working from home. If people are going to see your legs, you know, maybe like put on regular pants, but otherwise, I don’t know that it really matters.
I’m trying to find a good middle ground, right now I’ve got some travel pants that are called the Roark Revival Layover Pants – they’re made for long trips and being in an airport for a while and they’re kind of one step below jeans and one step above sweatpants. And those Yeah, it’s been working really well. And then I’ve got my American Giant hoodie, of course, and I’ve got my ironed and pressed, “important” Zoom meeting shirt ready to go.
To say look, I’m still professional working at home.
Exactly. I think you’re exactly right. It’s a little bit different for everybody but my work from home experience has been fairly limited. But when I was at the Texas Department of Transportation, we were allowed to work from home one or two days a week. And I found for me personally, the step above sweatpants is kind of the best option to feel relaxed, but also feel like I’m at work since it could signal to my brain that it’s not a super relaxing day, but it’s not so officious that I need to put on slacks.
And I think that’s actually a really important thing that anyone can do when they’re starting out working from home. So I’ve worked — like J.S. said, I’ve worked from home for about eight years. And I think it was important when I first started moving from an office environment into a home office environment to really have that hard transition to you know what, no, I am not just laying on the couch watching TV or playing guitar in my bedroom. I am going to sit down at a desk and do actual work and make money and accomplish things and so you know there is a mental transition that I think happens when you do put on you know real clothes for the day or even when you just shower in the morning because sometimes it’s real easy to just get up and like you get into your routine and drinking coffee and eating breakfast and all of that and it can become really easy to just forget to transition — you slide into, you open up your email client you slide into responding to emails, you’re looking at social media and all of a sudden you find yourself working and you haven’t even like really prepared yourself for the day and what you need to do.
And it might even be a small thing to you know, normally I don’t wear my watch on the weekends.
So when I started working from home earlier this week, I almost didn’t wear my watch and I kind of put my watch on this every morning and that’s kind of my signal to my brain of this is when I have my watch on at home, I am working. And it can be those little things here, if you read the book Power of Habit it’s that our habit stacking it’s those little signals that kind of transition you from one point and timeframe or frame of mind to the next. So with that, let’s talk about your daily schedule and routine. Do you work by any sort of set schedule? Do you keep everything in line and working like that?
Yeah, it depends. I mean, my day because I run my own agency is a little bit I think, looser than what someone that works for a university is going to be doing day-to-day, but I do try to maintain a schedule throughout the day where essentially I — until, you know, this week — I would normally wake up and take my wife to work. And then after she’s at work, you know, I’ll get back home. She starts around nine o’clock, she gets to work between 8:30 and nine, and I’m usually home by nine o’clock and then I sit down and really just dig into what’s going on. Usually, that’s running through emails, one of the things that I learned three or four years ago that has really helped me, at least as an entrepreneur and I think this can be helpful to anyone that is working at home because there is a little bit more freedom to get distracted at times, I try to pay myself first during the day so I’m not just jumping in and working for my clients or working you know, in the case of a lot of people that are listening working for the boss that we have or the institution that we work for instead I’ll jump in and maybe catch up on news.
This week, I don’t really like catching up on the news because it’s all depressing but I’ll jump in and figure out what’s going on news-wise, you know, see what’s going on in the tech world. Try to catch up on anything I missed between going to sleep the night before and waking up in the morning. Any, you know, any major announcements on social media, but do all the stuff that can seem a little bit more self-serving and that you may not get time to do during the day. Do that for yourself first. So you feel like you you can kind of ease yourself into work, I usually, it takes me half an hour, maybe an hour. Sometimes I get distracted and I fall down rabbit holes and I then have to make up some of the time wasted at that point. But it is very helpful for me in being able to focus and not get distracted the rest of the day, especially when I have projects that I do need to apply a lot of attention to and kind of zone out the rest of the world on.
From there. I dive into communication and I have the luxury of being able to kind of separate the communication side of what I do from the main bulk of my work. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at doing that. So like ideally, I’d really like to just do all emails in the morning and then be done and then check back at some time in the afternoon. Obviously, if you’re in the middle of crisis communication, or if you’re in a communication position, you know, even just normally, that’s not necessarily something you’re going to be able to do unless you have you know, on-demand sort of communication tools like your boss is texting you or you use Slack and you’ve got messages coming through. But for me running my own business, I try to get through the bulk of my emails in the morning if I have them and then kind of give that a break so that I can block off certain hours of time to just get work done. And I think that’s really helpful too. I definitely toss those times on a calendar. And that way I know like, you know, from 10 am to 11:30, I’ve got an hour and a half or I’m just going to be hustling on whatever the project is that I need to get done that morning and then at 11:30. If I need to extend it, it gives me a little flexibility to do that. But I can also take a breather or check back in on email or check back in on social media or whatever it is that I feel like I need to do at that point.
That’s a good point. One thing kind of to think about is separating your workspace from your home space. I once had a boss who lived right across the street from the shop he owned and he always said it was always kind of difficult because when he looked out the window, there was work. Well, if you’re working from home you’re at work all the time so… And especially in crisis communication kinda work, we’re always sort of on-call. Having a firm separation between I am working now versus I am not and having your spaces separated Do you do anything to separate your work in home space?
Yeah and I actually have since the beginning. And it’s a little bit, I don’t know, sometimes I’m not good at keeping the separation but I think even, you know, even for tax purposes — and by the way, for those of you that are working from home for this little bit of time, when it comes time to pay taxes next year, you can deduct what you’ve put into a home office, sort of space. So that’s a pro tip for you. But we have a bedroom that serves as our office and so my wife and I kind of share it. She’s got her section with a massive commercial sewing machine and a bunch of other things and then I have the other half and it’s a mix between like a workroom and hobby room, and then my desk and office are set up. So I’ve got, you know, my guitars up on the wall and storage for some books and for some other instruments and things like that. But then I’ve got my desk set up with you know, my podcasting gear, a laptop stand a second monitor my webcam, my external webcam because it’s better quality than what’s in my MacBook Pro and a nice office chair. And I can go into that room, I can shut the door if I need to, and it becomes the office. Or I can leave it open and have conversations with my wife if she’s working at home, but she’s generally busy, too. So it is nice to be able to separate that space out. And I find that I actually don’t necessarily come in here all that often when I’m not working unless I’m just grabbing a guitar and then taking it out. So there is a separation even in my mind on a normal basis between the spaces that I live in and the space that I work in at home. And that’s helpful to me. The same thing, the last place we lived was a condo that had a lofted area and so I had my desk up there and I worked up there and I didn’t really go up there otherwise. The rest of the time it was in the house. And even though everything was open, and you know, there weren’t many walls separating the rooms, I still had a space that was dedicated to the work that I needed to do.
You brought up, you mentioned some of the tools that you’re using. And I think that might be an interesting thing to touch on because you’ve got some really — I saw a Twitter thread with you talking about office chairs.
And spending money on an office chair versus someone like me, who most likely will only be doing this for a few weeks to maybe…
Hopefully not — as much as I do like working remotely, these conditions are not something I want to last and hopefully, it’s only a couple of weeks tops. So I don’t want to invest a whole lot of money on tools. So why don’t you address some of the long term tools that you use? And I’ll talk about some of the kind of the short term things that I found been helpful for me going into for what might be anywhere from two weeks to over a month of homebound work.
Yeah, definitely. I started out with you know, getting a good desk and a good chair because that’s where the majority of my time working is going to be. And so actually, before my wife and I moved to Austin back, you know, eightish years ago I had a home office setup anyways because I was in grad school and so I was doing a lot of work at home and I needed very similarly to you know, separate myself from the living space because I was doing my program online. So we had a kind of like a den area and so I went to IKEA I found a desk I liked and I installed that and it was great. And I actually brought that with me to Austin. I used that for the first probably three years that we lived here. And then I had a custom desk made because I wanted a standing desk and I was sitting down too much. And so I actually had a, I found a friend that that welded as a hobby and so I said, “Hey, would you build some bookcases and a desk for me if I kind of helped kind of design and sketch them out?”
He said, “Sure.”
So I got a really good deal on it because friends and hobbies and people trying to get better and it’s basically you know, something that you could get at a store like West Elm and have to pay like $6000 for and I think it was 1500 bucks for a desk and three kind of giant bookshelves and so you know it’s basically like the cost of the actual materials for the desk and the shelves, and then a little bit of time for him to make up for the time that you put into welding it and yeah.
And so that’s worked out really well and what’s nice is that all the companies that do high-end office furniture, office chairs, and things whether it’s Herman Miller doing the, you know, kind of the Eames-style stuff or their, you know, their famous Aeron chair, or I really like Steelcase chairs and I have one that’s the sort of, I think, what they call like architect height or something. But it’s basically a stool, like a tall stool chair that still has a back on it still reclines. So at my standing desk, which isn’t one that’s movable or on a motor, I can sit in the chair if I want or right now as I’m recording this podcast, I’m actually standing up at my desk and have my second monitor on kind of a swivel stand, so I can raise that if I need to have a call and really want to stand up. So it works pretty well for me without having to have spent a ton of money on a motorized desk and have to deal with the space that goes into that and all that sort of thing.
I think it’s been really helpful to me to have a second monitor. It’s been really good. It gives me a lot more space and allows me to have a lot more windows open. It helps when I’m, you know, coding things or designing things. I can have references up on one side and — everyone knows how to use a second monitor and what they’re useful for. But it’s been very helpful for me in my day-to-day work to have that monitor at home. But I think the two best purchases I have made in terms of just like outfitting an office have really been the desk, you know, having a desk that works for me, is the right size, is the right height, and buying a good quality chair. And if you don’t, I mean, I highly recommend a good quality chair. You can get used or discounted Herman Miller Aeron’s and Embody’s and things for, you know, less than the $1200 they show online. You can get them for, a lot of times, 400 bucks if you live in a city that has a tech scene, you know jump on Craigslist and look for startups that are getting rid of their furniture because a lot of times they dump a bunch of money into that furniture and then they decide to sell them off.
And one way to look at it, too, is if you’re going to be working remote long term, that’s something you’re going to use every single day.
And one way I kind of frame making large purchases that I’m going to use for a long time is think about not the cost of the thing itself but cost-per-use.
If you’re going to use that chair every day, break it down to, you know, how much each day is going to cost you and look at it that way and it makes it seem a lot more reasonable.
And it is, you know, you’re going to get a lot of use out of it and use it long term. For me, working remotely right now where, you know, probably max I’ll be working remote for about a month, my setup is a little bit more modest. Our house has a built-in desk area that I’m using right now that’s a slash playroom — we’ll talk about working remote with kids here in a second — but I’m on my MacBook Pro that is my primary work computer, but I’ve got a few little odds and ends. To make Zoom calls a little bit easier, since we’re doing a lot of those these days, I use a hardwired set of earbuds and I’ve got a Blue Snowflake microphone that I bought before all this happened. I’m recording on it right now. That was about $25 on Amazon, and I’ve got a little webcam ring light that I’m using that is not really powerful, you can get them for about 12 bucks on Amazon. They’re really made for —
Selfies. I mean, it’s a selfie ring light, I think that’s actually the description. It uses a USB charger to charge it up,
Taking a lot of selfies, huh, J.S.?
All the time! But it makes a noticeable difference.
It really does
For lighting on uh… I’m turning it up and down right now. When doing those …
Oh man, so well lit, so well lit.
It brings out everything, makes me look so much more professional. [joking]
But it does make a noticeable difference and those are little things that are not a giant cost and you’ll use them when you’re not working remotely to you know, we still make conference calls we still need some of these things and it’s not an enormous investment.
I even mentioned my external USB web camera and I did that mostly because it made video conferencing a lot easier and it was something that I think I spent about 30 bucks on. But you know, like a MacBook Pro today, even the best ones don’t output high def video and so I can get 1080p out of this little camera and I think my MacBook Pro still does 480p or something and it’s you know, it’s new! It’s a year old, or year and a half old, and they haven’t fixed that. I think the last high-def FaceTime camera, whatever they put into, what was it? Was it iChat Camera? I can’t remember what they called it back in the day. In the computers, the last high def ones that I think they’ve ever produced have been in iMacs and I don’t have my iMac anymore. So it makes a lot of sense to spend money on just those little things because they do make…
One, you’ll feel better about yourself because you look better when you actually see yourself in a video chat. It’s a weird psychological thing that happens and I think, you know, getting a nicer microphone is good, I actually, I’m okay with the microphone on my MacBook Pro. I think it sounds pretty good. Not for, not for trying to do professional recording or anything and I, you know, actually have a little bit of a background in studio recording. So I have like lots of other professional mics that I could use but using the MacBook Pro mic, in general, is pretty good. And I remember at one point I had [laughs] this is ridiculous. I had bought a softbox kit for doing some photography, actually, I think I bought it for a conference. Bravery Media had sponsored a conference and I was like, “Okay, what do we do for the booth?” And I bought this softbox light kit for like 100 bucks on Amazon, a real cheap one, and I had that set up behind my desk. And so when I get on calls, I’d flip on the softbox, like full studio lighting. It was dumb. So I don’t do that anymore.
But those little incremental upgrades do make a big difference and if you’re going to be working remotely for more than a week I would suggest looking into it you know maybe spend about $50 tops on some stuff. For the splurge though, I cannot live without my Bose wireless noise-canceling headphones. Even when I’m not working remote I’ve got those.
And I really like my Sony’s. So either one.
I’ve heard good things about the Sony’s.
The Sony’s are so comfortable. I use them when I fly primarily, or, I did. I bought them for when I was flying a lot and now especially with you know, with a spouse that’s working in the house too and a little bit more noise, its helpful to be able to just put those on and tune everything out and I can wear them for hours and hours and hours and hours and they still feel super comfortable.
One thing though, sideburns will wear the pads down, I found, so you can buy replacement pads for the Bose ones. I’ve done that many times.
So that said, let’s address a little bit about working remote with kids. A lot of us now during the COVID-19 outbreak are at home. We’ve got little ones who are out of school and working remote with those kids does provide a bit of a challenge. Fortunately for me, we’ve got a three year old boy and he stays with his grandparents who live in the same neighborhood as us. So that’s quite a bit of a luxury that not a lot of people are afforded. He’s with us in the mornings, generally, for a couple of hours into the workday before we drop him off. So it does provide a little bit of a challenge but also one of the plus sides for us has been, it gives us a clear line of when to stop work. His “Nainai,” as he refers to her, is done at 4:30 which is our quitting time at the University of Central Arkansas.
So that gives us a hard stop at the end of the day, so we’re not tempted to keep on working into our off hours. With Crisis Comms, I do have to stop and say, “Okay, Winston, let’s give daddy some time to work now,” but we haven’t had too much of an issue with it. But that’s not… We’re in a position of privilege with that. Not everybody has grandparents just down the street.
So, you know, as a parent, I think it’s important to forgive yourself a little bit when you have to work. We want to engage our children all the time and be sure that everything that they’re doing is, that they’re constantly being enriched. And we do need, we need to do that. It’s very important. They’re out of school, they need educational activities, but be forgiving of yourself when you have to do some really focused work. That’s what iPads are for, and don’t feel guilty about it. There’s a lot of… Personally, my view on screen time is there’s a lot of parenting out there that just thinks screen time is the devil, where I feel it’s more, what are they doing with those screens? Is he doing something that is enriching that he’s learning something from? Because he’s gonna spend his life looking at screens and being able to use those in a healthy way is important. Or is he just playing games? And sometimes there is value in that! So be willing to forgive yourself, if you’re not reachable all the time, I think you’ll be — both you and your child will be a lot happier in that area.
And another thing, too, is I know I’m very much an introvert and I’m an only child and I am incredibly happy being alone in my house, working away not talking to anyone other than then on Twitter and Slack and Zoom chats, but that is not everyone. Some people need that social contact and that socialization. I’m not a fan of water cooler talk, which makes remote work work very well for me, but some people are and they really value that.
I’ve actually seen, on Twitter, people requesting that… or maybe it was bosses or something. But there were people that were working in companies that went remote and they’re like, I really miss just water cooler chat. And so they’ve set up actual times during the day where people can just drop into a Zoom call or whatever to just have a normal, you know, whatever-kind of chat-in-passing sort of thing. And that I think that is important people.
I think there’s a lot of value in that.
Yeah, yeah. You gotta catch up on whatever the TV was last night.
There was a Zoom chat that was set up for some, for higher ed, social media managers around the country where we just all jumped into a giant Zoom chat. There was maybe I think, at one point 18 of us and it was all, for the most part, a very social chat.
It was very therapeutic too because we’re all going through a lot of issues with crisis comms and the stresses that are involved there. And it was really nice to just spend 30 minutes with social media professionals from around the country, all kind of talking about the experiences that they’re going through right now, what they’re doing working remote, and it was very valuable to be able to do that. So if you’re an extrovert or an introvert, it’s important to kind of keep up some of that socialization, we all need it a little bit. So find ways to do that if you can remotely.
And yesterday I just opened up a Google Hangouts and said, “Hey, I’m gonna have open office hours if you want to stop by and say, hey, and have a chat, totally do it,” and I just put the link on Twitter and on Facebook in a group that I’m in, and it was, it was fun! I think I talked to four or five people that on a daily basis, I would talk to maybe, you know, on Twitter as a reply or something, but we had some cool conversations about how everyone’s doing and yeah. I mean, for me, I’m like right on the edge of introvert and extrovert and I can do either one. And so like on a normal day, I’ll usually probably work until about four o’clock and then I’m like, Okay, I gotta get out of the house. And you know, I can go like two or three days where I’m not out of the house and then I need to like go to the brewery and have a drink and say hey, to my bartender friends or you know, meet up with someone and just have a one-on-one conversation about a project we’re working on or something like that.
And so it’s been — it’s not that big of an issue for me like I’m learning how to deal with not going out, but even — you know my wife and I have just been taking walks in the evening as soon as she’s done with work. Going outside, you know I said this in Episode One of this pod, and it’s just, go outside [laughs] and it helps. And even if you’re feeling cooped up and you’re feeling isolated and you need to have you know, some sort of you know, extroverted feelings, just let them out. Go outside and walk around or scream or you probably have neighbors sitting on their porch or you’ll pass someone on the street and you don’t even have to say hi to them, but at least you know, there are other humans out there.
You know, one thing I have been doing this week is going outside of my back porch and setting a timer on my phone of five to 10 minutes and putting the phone away and just sitting outside. And that way, that timer kind of keeps me in line of this is a break time. Don’t look at the phone until then. I, I do cheat. I allow myself to cheat but it also gets me away from the work screen and get some fresh air. And it helps me work better.
Yeah, I mean my wife’s been doing this. She tossed this up on her Instagram story yesterday as we were kind of talking through… They transitioned from her normal in-office, you know, on-site kind of work at the beginning of this week and they didn’t know if they’re going to keep it going and you know her leadership at her offices, was fairly resistant to letting everyone go work remote anyway, so they felt like their hand was kind of forced with this.
But she, yesterday, decided that she was going to set up 15-minute breaks where the only rule was she couldn’t be in front of her work computer and she was actually going to take a lunch. And lunch being, move away from the kitchen where she’s been working and go out on our back deck. And you know, she might have worked on something else, but she wasn’t… you know, she was eating something, and she kind of moved locations.
I think one thing that I’ve learned in the years that I’ve done this is that a change of scenery is really, really helpful in keeping yourself focused. Like it’s difficult — you’ll find for a week that you’re okay working in one spot, but it’s really helpful to have a change of scenery. And normally like I would go work in a coffee shop or go work in a brewery and hopefully, I will be able to do that again someday because it’s very therapeutic and is nice, but even now, you know, I’ll take my laptop off of my desk, you know, detach my second monitor and go sit on the couch and work there. And you know, maybe turn on some music or turn on NPR or something and have some noise around me and just have a different spot to work in. Or sometimes I’ll go out and work on the deck if it’s not stupid, humid outside, which Central Texas whatever.
I think that’s good advice, even when you’re not working remotely.
In higher ed, I like to and I don’t do this as much as I would like to. But sometimes I’ll take my laptop and go work from the Student Center or the library and remind myself that I work at a university and not just an office,
That there are actually students and there’s life and things happening. Unfortunately, we’re not in a position to do that right now. But the change of scenery is very refreshing and kind of gives you a different perspective.
So let’s shift and talk a little bit about remote work in higher ed, specifically, because this is pretty new, as higher ed has, for the most part, been very hesitant and almost antagonistic towards the idea of working remotely. And for a lot of us in higher ed, this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to do it. So I think one positive in the situation is it’s giving us all an opportunity to prove that remote work is possible in higher ed.
Yeah, it’s not only possible, it actually has a lot of benefits to universities. And I, as I’ve been thinking through the paradigm shift that’s happening within the industry because of the pandemic and because of all the different changes with courses needing to go online, with people needing to work remote, with just the realities that admissions officers aren’t going to be able to go out and meet people in person at admission fairs and recruitment events, that they’re not gonna be able to bring people to campus anymore to show them.
And you know all the stats that say once people come to campus, they’re going to love it and that’s when we’re really going to get them. And yeah, that’s true. But you know, like, what are you gonna do now? Like if you can’t bring them to campus for six to eight months, how do you recoup the number of potential prospects that you would have had from that thing? And you know, there are a lot of questions that are just gonna be up in the air on the recruitment side of things, I think, in a lot of different ways. And on the retention side of things, can you actually teach well online, enough to keep a student engaged and not go looking at better online programs somewhere else? Because they’re gonna have to be online either way.
It’s kind of sad to me that it took a global health crisis to change and force this issue within higher education because it’s something that I think higher ed could have been leading on for a decade. And there are plenty of institutions that have done online courses and online programs for years and years and years and years. And we think about the last recession when I was coming out of school and then when I had my first jobs in higher ed, we were addressing the same things. We were addressing how do we, you know, adapt to this online thing? And there were schools that shut down because they couldn’t keep up with the online stuff. So, the remote paradigm is not something new. It’s just something that has kind of been ignored by higher ed or that higher ed has tried to kind of hide as not being a real issue for quite a while.
Well, and I think there are certain areas that promote a challenge for where there are positions that do need to be on campus for certain things. There’s a challenge in learning how to teach remotely.
Like you said, admissions counselors and advisors who, face-to-face interaction is very much valued, the shift to remote is going to be difficult, but there are also several positions on university campuses whose jobs could be remote overnight very easily. You have, for example, a social media manager or a graphic designer or web designer. A lot of these jobs are remote in the business sphere. But in higher ed, they still have to show up and sit at a desk from nine to five.
And I think this is a good example of showing that it can be done to higher ed. But also we need to look at the fact that we’re losing good people because of our refusal to allow remote work. I know so many amazing designers, and web folks who have looked at jobs outside of higher ed and said, “Hey, I can not only make more money working for that company, I can also work remotely.”
“So I’ll see you later higher ed.” And if we want to retain top talent — granted, higher ed’s not gonna pay more, low pay is part of it, but we love the mission and want to be a part of it — allowing remote work is one thing that we can easily do to retain and attract top talent. And sometimes for schools like us here in Conway, Arkansas top talent’s hard to find, it’s hard to get people to move to some of these more remote areas, whereas it’s an excellent point. We could have an amazing graphic designer who lives in Austin, Texas or lives somewhere else in the world and can work for us and do just as good of a job, if not better because we have a broader talent pool to pull from.
The cost of maintaining office space. You know, until recently, all the concerns with a lot of campuses not having enough space for residential students for you know, not have enough classroom space as they were growing and doing better. These are all things that can be fixed by having, you know, maybe selective remote positions be the de facto standard there. And you know, someone doesn’t have to be on campus every single day to stay in touch with the pulse of what’s going on. I mean, everyone, every university hires an agency and those agencies generally are not working in your offices every day to do the work for you. It’s the exact same thing. Let your experts that you have hired be the experts and if you can rely on flexibility — thinking about your university, J.S., if you could hire a great graphic designer in Austin Texas and just say, “Hey we need you to be in Conway once a month you know come on campus have an all-hands meeting with us once a month,” even that, even paying to fly someone to Conway, Arkansas is going to be cheaper than having to pay for all of the office expenses and can be shifted to other places within the university. And I think there’s there’s just a, it’s been a short-sightedness, I think for a long time. You’ll get better quality people doing better quality work, especially for those institutions that are in more rural areas and can’t get someone to…
I mean, I think about the first institution I worked at. I didn’t want to keep living in Greenville, Illinois. I mean, sure, I was only 45 minutes from St. Louis. But I still was living in the middle of cornfields in Southern Illinois, and there wasn’t anything to do you know, outside of work. There was nothing to do and I wasn’t getting paid enough to do anything [laughs] otherwise. So I just, I felt trapped. And I was able to do good work, but you know, I was constantly thinking where can I go next, that’s going to let me do better work? And let me actually have a life that I enjoy and am comfortable with. And I think you see this in, in all kinds of industries that have moved to remote work, they’re able to get really high-quality talent that live anywhere. Look at, I mean, you look at major companies like Automattic, who owns WordPress, they’re entirely remote. All of their staff are distributed. They have a co-working space in New York City for people that live there that want that actually want to go work at a co-working space. And then they rent a boardroom in San Francisco for board meetings alone. And that’s it. The rest of it, everyone’s decentralized and they, what, they run, it’s probably close to 40% of the web at this point?
But you know, some real talk. Don’t dump the money into redoing your office spaces. Dump the money into improving your student facilities
And it’s way cheaper than moving into open office space and more productive than open office spaces. And one thing everybody says about open office spaces is that it’s cheaper and letting people work remote is
Excellent. And I think we’re running a little long here. So I want to end on one soapbox. And as remote work pertains to COVID-19 and social distancing. A lot of universities I’m seeing are still hesitant at this point to letting all of their employees who can work remotely and I think that needs to change as soon as possible. It’s a matter of national health that we all social distance ourselves, and who knows, at some point we may be required to. So if you’re still being asked to come into the office, I would push as much as you can to be able to work remote. I’ve seen a lot of people who are saying, Well, I’m “essential faculty,” everybody is essential.
Dump the money into improving the student experience that you have. Because that’s where you’re letting yourselves down. If you can retain students and give them a good experience on campus, we won’t be in this position of oh geez, how do we recruit more because we’re gonna you know, it’s a weird little bubble where we think all the money needs to go to the front-end of marketing and the people that are supporting the front-end of marketing, and this very real population of students that are here now at the university or college, don’t get much of that funding anyways to improve the experience that they have.
And if you earn a higher-level position, you’re in a position. If you are technically “essential,” you’re essential enough that you don’t need to get sick.
Go on call!
Yeah, exactly. Go on call. There was a great thread on Reddit, from an anonymous Social Media Manager in higher ed and they basically said, “Look, I need to stay home. I can either take vacation time and not work, or I can work remotely and work from home. Either way, I’m going to be working, I’m going either way. I’m going to be at home, I can be working or I can not be working. It’s your call.”
I think that was a very profound way to look at it and make it happen. On top of that, if you are in a leadership position at the university, there is no honor or martyrdom into going into the office every day when you don’t need to. I would love, love, love to see university presidents working remotely and sharing their experience, both their successes and failures doing that. If you’re a leader, lead by example and tell people it’s okay to work remote and don’t make people feel guilty about doing it during a time of crisis.
I’m sorry, the fire and passion in me is coming up on this. This is an important thing. So if you can stay remote, and for the benefit of the people who can’t do it, we have UPD (University Police Department), we have health workers on our campuses, we have our custodial and physical plant staff who do have to be on campus during this time to maintain our buildings and keep our students safe. And by going into the office when you could very well be working remote instead, we’re putting those people in danger.
So stay home, stay home, wash your hands, take care of yourself.
Take a look around and see how many people you’re actually meeting with in person on your campus right now and make a note of that because it’s and I mean, think about how many people you meet in person with on campus anyway. Those meetings can be emails, those meetings can be phone calls, those meetings can be video chats. Don’t be dangerous.
Stay at home and stay safe.
Well, I think we’re going to end it there. And we hope that you’ve enjoyed listening to our second episode. If you have any questions for us, you can tweet at us @ThoughtFeedPod on Twitter.
Yeah, send us photos of your home office space…
Oh, yeah, that’d be awesome.
…on Twitter. Let’s see what you’re doing. We’ll share ours.
And if you have questions specific for us, I’m @joelgoodman and J.S. is @jsstansel on Twitter as well. We’d love a follow from you or just questions and we’re happy to have conversations about any of this and you know, make sure to visit thoughtfeederpod.com to subscribe to the podcast and leave any comments there as you’d like. But we’re happy that we can talk about this stuff and have a little bit of experience through the weird, crazy changes that are happening in this world and appreciate you listening to this.
Thanks for listening