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e-LIS leads national study on remote work arrangements

Wed Nov 17, 2021 at 02:46 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic could not have come at a better time. That is, it couldn’t have come at a better time for Shaun Moore, director of e-Learning and Instructional Support (e-LIS), and Dan Arnold, manager of Support Service in e-LIS. Prior to the pandemic, they started a multi-year research study on the perceptions of remote work for instructional designers for the national organization University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). Now, after more than a year of employees nation-wide working remotely, they have been able to continue the research looking at how perceptions have changed. 

“Shaun and I have been working with UPCEA for a few years, specifically with the eDesign Collaborative, with the key goal of exploring what kind of perceptions there were from the directors and the instructional designers regarding remote work,” said Arnold. 

The main question they sought to answer was “What is the state of remote work in higher education instructional design/course production?”

After focus groups and surveys, Moore and Arnold presented their research at the UPCEA SOLA+R conference in New Orleans in February 2020--just weeks before the pandemic hit the United States forcing many institutions to shut down. 

Moore and Arnold said they began their research in 2017 and intended to be done with the research after presenting it in 2020, but once the pandemic changed work environments, they decided to continue the research and see how the original perceptions could have changed. 

Digging into data

Instructional designers are employed by educational institutions around the country, helping to design online curriculums, working with faculty and creating rich learning experiences in an online format. Both Moore and Arnold have an instructional design background. 

“Deep down, we were interested in seeing what the apprehension was in letting instructional designers work remotely,” said Arnold. 

The original research focused on whether or not the instructional designers worked from home, how many days a week they were able to work remotely and the perceptions of those who work from home. Moore and Arnold gathered data from instructional designers around the world. 

“Some of the designers never worked from home and some of them were entirely remote workers. Part of our research was talking to them and learning about how that was perceived,” said Moore. 

They found there were misconceptions about productivity for those that worked from home. 

“It seemed that those in administration felt that the remote workers couldn’t be productive or be a meaningful productive member of the team if they weren’t in the office,” said Arnold. 

However, they found all of that changed after the pandemic. 

“When we came to the second version of the research, we were looking at what has changed from March 2020 to January 2021. We found at that point, nearly 98 percent of the IDs had the option to work from home every day,” said Arnold. 

Presenting findings

“The first presentation was very well received at the UPCEA SOLA+R conference in February 2020. It was geared toward online learning and people who have some type of influence in their institution to impact policy,” said Arnold. 

With the success of the presentation, Moore and Arnold were hoping to continue the research, but they had no idea how relevant it would become.

“During that time, even before this pandemic hit, a follow up study seemed like a possibility. Once the pandemic hit, it seemed like the natural thing to do. We wanted to follow up and see how things changed,” said Moore. 

The two did more surveying and focus groups during the pandemic to gain information on how universities were handling the remote work. They presented that information at the 2021 UPCEA SOLA+R conference, which was held remotely. Now, they are looking at the perceptions of remote work as universities return to in-person learning. They are in the process of finalizing an executive summary of the Year 2 survey findings and planning on releasing the Year 3 survey later this year. Moore and Arnold intend to present the findings at the UPCEA SOLA+R conference in April.

During the research on remote learning during the pandemic, they found many opinions on how remote work perceptions have changed. One response indicated that an institution had allowed employees to work remotely one day a week pre-pandemic and after the original shut-down, the university has gone to 100 percent remote work for instructional designers. Another said the work structure has changed entirely, with everyone remote since mid-March 2020. These changed situations come with both benefits and challenges. 

“Remote work has been extremely beneficial for me personally and I believe my team as a whole. We have each proven to ourselves and the University that instructional services, which are at a premium, can be done remotely - and at a higher quality and demand than normal,” said one respondent. 

However, survey responses did outline some challenges, such as home office ergonomics, creating team cohesion at a distance and keeping a work-life balance.

Applying the research to OU

“One of the things that we’ve recently done at OU was to present this research to the AP Assembly,” said Moore. 

Arnold said the presentation to the AP Assembly was a different one than they gave to the UPCEA audience, and it also was not in an OU context, but in a general remote-work context. 

On a national level, Arnold said it has been found that remote work options lead to great worker retention as workers leave jobs with less flexibility for those with more flexibility. He said female employees are leaving for more flexibility at higher rates than men. 

“We wanted to be able to show the challenges and benefits related to remote work,” said Moore. “Through our research, we’ve seen a lot of benefits and we wanted to bring that information to Oakland University.”

To learn more about the study conducted by Moore and Arnold, read the first executive summary.