Each twist in the journey through the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up new challenges. Some of these have been substantial traumas, things to be suffered, lived through or overcome, whilst others have been disruptors that have significantly changed the way we do things. The thing about disruptors, though, is that they can sometimes point toward innovations that may actually be a change for the better. This is exemplified in the strong potential that a hybrid operating model is beginning to suggest following months of enforced working from home and furlough, and employers across all sectors are looking closely at how they can make this work to meet both staff expectations and business needs.
Alongside other sectors, higher education faces important choices regarding the potential offered by a hybrid operating model. The rapid pivot to online learning and teaching in response to COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic, with many staff working from home, was something that no one saw coming, but we did it… Yes, we did it. And now, what next? Does a more hybrid working world beckon as we begin to pivot back?
To support the HE sector to engage with the potential and the uncertainty brought about by the prospect of large-scale hybrid working, in June 2021 Advance HE launched a rapid, generative project to explore the hybrid question. The Hybrid Higher initiative brought together senior colleagues from across the sector with responsibility for planning future work and operational models. Through facilitated discussion in two webinar workshops colleagues worked to develop a picture of the challenges and opportunities involved in hybrid working, to share insights, and to consider how to achieve a purposeful hybrid balance between virtual engagement and in-person collaboration.
The workshops began with a carousel of three excellent speakers, following which there were three parallel sessions of facilitated group discussion. The focus areas for discussion were:
- Operational effectiveness,
- Leadership, team cohesion and motivation, and
- Fairness and inclusion.
Following the workshops our commitment was to rapidly produce a leadership intelligence report for Advance HE member institutions drawing upon the information, inspiration and intelligence generated. This is deliberately a ‘rapid’ rather than ‘polished’ report. Given the nature of the hybrid challenge and the rapid, generative nature of the project we wanted to get the leadership intelligence back to the sector quickly whilst it still has timely relevance and value. This full report is accompanied by a shorter Hybrid Higher Highlights pamphlet which essentially extracts and presents the ‘key principles and principle-based questions’. The pamphlet as a short digest of ideas is available to everyone.
The full Hybrid Higher leadership intelligence report, available to all Advance HE member institutions, presents a detailed account of the observations, challenges and possible solutions generated through the collaborative conversations.
Achieving a hybrid operating model in higher education, one that meets diverse needs and expectations at the same time as safeguarding the organisation by enhancing both what we do and how we do it, will involve the efforts and incredible ingenuity of colleagues at every level as we move not towards a ‘new’ normal but the ‘next’ normal, reflecting the ongoing fluidity of the world we are currently working in. We hope these publications will work as an important resource to support you in achieving this and send our thanks to all of the participants who shared their thinking and ideas so openly and inclusively during the webinar workshops. The higher education sector thrives on respectful conversations.