CAN TELECOMMUTING WORK IN A TRADITIONAL UNIVERSITY ENVIRONMENT? EXPLORING PERSPECTIVES OF DEANS AND SENIOR ACADEMIC ADMINISTRATORS
University of Ontario Institute of Technology (CANADA)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2011 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Conference name: 5th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-9 March, 2011
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:Traditional universities are currently faced with physical space shortages and the pressing need to increase flexibility and improve work-life balance for both faculty and students. Telecommuting offers virtual communications between faculty and students while optimizing on-campus space utilization. In 2010, a qualitative study was carried out at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) located in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. The objective was to solicit feedback from all deans and selected senior academic administrators on a "Working from Home" pilot project targeting all core faculty. The pilot was launched in 2008 primarily in response to a critical shortage of both teaching and administrative space on the UOIT campus. Specifically, researchers examined the impact of the pilot on the core mission of the university (i.e., teaching, research, community services); key facilitators and barriers; and recommendations regarding next steps. Purposeful sampling was used to identify respondents, including the nature of their involvement in the pilot. In-depth interviews (n=10), each approximately 1-hour in duration, were carried out by experienced interviewers using a semi-structured interview guide. The interviews were digitally recorded and professional transcripts prepared. Data were analyzed by employing an inductive thematic approach and this work involved the use of qualitative data analysis software. Five main themes are reported: barriers to building an academic community; challenges associated with shared office space on-campus; home office requirements including access to timely technological support; implications for tenure and promotion; and impact on administrative support staff. To examine the wide range of perspectives gleaned through the study, researchers utilized a "traffic light" analogy. Overall, respondents clustered into three main groups on the basis of their experiences with the telecommuting pilot: the pilot should not continue (red light); additional research was necessary prior to either terminating the pilot or advancing to the next stage (yellow light); and the pilot should continue with additional resources and the support of senior management (green light). The majority of respondents expressed concern over non-tenured core faculty telecommuting and suggested that should the pilot continue, tenured faculty should be the target audience. Conclusions showed that telecommuting should not be instituted as a formal academic policy at UOIT. Rather, faculty recruitment and approval re: the "Working from Home" pilot should be managed by deans on a case-by-case basis. Information sessions should be offered to deans and eligible core faculty to increase awareness of telecommuting options with special emphasis on critical success factors. Future research should examine the home office technological requirements, including budgetary implications, to support core faculty in telecommuting.
Keywords: Faculty, telecommuting, pilot, higher education.