Ryerson transitioning to permanent hybrid workforce

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By Omar Taleb

Hybrid classes may not be Ryerson students’ preferred learning method, but that doesn’t mean remote work is ending anytime soon. While the university still maintains its planning for a full return to in-person activities on campus by January 2022, Ryerson has announced that it’ll be adopting a permanent hybrid workforce post-pandemic. 

As early as May 2020, the university created the Opportunities Group to explore new methods of operation. Out of this committee came the Future of Work project advocating for four ways of working: On Campus, Defined Flexibility, Flexibility and Virtual. 

Accessible to all Ryerson students and faculty, the Future of Work’s 65-page playbook includes guiding principles and implementation strategies for the new hybrid work model. Ryerson’s administration and operations office says the university is in the first of what they anticipate to be a three-year process. 

“The Future of Work project will be rolled out in phases and will be driven largely by each area’s ability to plan and implement an approach that makes sense for their teams,” the office wrote in an email to The Eyeopener.

“Faculties and departments will drive their own strategies, and will be empowered to move forward on their own with support from the Future of Work team, with resources like the playbook, workshops and other tools,” the email stated, adding that the project rollout will be guided “by each area’s ability to plan and implement an approach that makes sense for their teams.”

The office said that evaluating the rollout would depend on department-specific operations, services, goals and objectives.

“The quality of student experience, course delivery and research are the centre of all flexibility decisions”

Viet Vu, an economist at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, a Toronto-based think tank researching policy solutions for Canada’s innovation economy, agreed that “a single university-wide policy is likely not going to work for a faculty or department.”

Looking at faculty-specific differences within a larger framework, Vu said the university will have to develop a comprehensive review of the successes and challenges posed during the transition. 

The playbook emphasizes the importance of a flexible strategy to inform and guide the transition. “The quality of student experience, course delivery, and research are the centre of all flexibility decisions,” wrote the Office of the Vice-President, Administration and Operations in the email. 

Vu added that flexibility is not a bad thing, but “there will come a time when you have to question effectiveness to help identify common themes the university needs to address.”

“Defined Flexibility” and “Flexibility” are separate categories in the playbook. Action items falling under “Defined Flexibility” are activities that require on-campus completion at set times, which the office said includes “operational needs, service delivery and team input.”

“Criteria that may be considered when deciding between ‘Defined Flexibility’ and ‘Flexibility’ might include the nature of the work, the hours of operation, needs and expectations of students or key stakeholders and employee needs,” wrote the office. 

“People want to get back in-person when the time is right”

The Future of Work website states that “Flexibility” requires “some in-person, on campus interaction” but the “timing and schedule for in-person and on campus activities is variable.”

Chris Gibbs, chair of the creative industries program, pointed out that “professors already have flexibility, it’s what they do with their classes.” 

“It’s very hard to paint flexibility with one brush,” said Gibbs. 

The current hybrid model under the pandemic allowed Nishka Jayasuriya, a fourth-year student and president of the Law and Business Student Association (LBSA) at Ryerson, to reorganize and re-evaluate her study habits, she said. Jayasuriya said a hybrid model gives her “the flexibility to still be a part of university engagements but also allowed [her] to finally relax and enjoy what our campus has to offer.”

Nicole Han, a third-year student and the LBSA’s vice president of events, agreed with the convenience factor, but added that “a class needs to be either completely in-person or completely online, or else it creates a difference in learning for the students.”

Gibbs said that a return to in-person learning is still possible with a permanent hybrid structure. 

“People want to get back in-person when the time is right,” said Gibbs, but “people have formed new habits and new preferences, and people have still been able to get their job done.” 

The Office of the Vice-President, Administration and Operations stated that departments like Human Resources, Facilities Management and Development and Communications and Computing Services will be involved in the transition to a hybrid work model, but did not offer examples of “resources, tools and policies” to be implemented as the university transitions. 

The office added that it considers ways of working a “continuum.” Categories like “On Campus” and “Defined Flexibility” are not necessarily neat boxes with defined parameters. 

“Measuring success is tricky,” said Vu, “It’s okay that the university does not know yet.”

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