Hybrid working is an important trend for universities. In particular, the role of the campus is now unclear for university workers. Contradictions and tensions are emerging. While some are happy to continue working from home, others find they need the space, specialised equipment, company, and mentorship that working on campus can offer. Yet while some see the campus as a social 'hub' for meeting with colleagues, socialising, and building a sense of community, others seek to use this same space for quiet, focused work.
Diversity of working activities
On top of these diverse and sometimes conflicting personal preferences and requirements, university employees also engage in a range of different work activities, from administration and support, to teaching and writing; from desk research, to laboratory, and field site research. Such diversity of working activities and preferences leads to a great deal of complexity for those who seek to support university employees in their work, for example in the functions of IT, HR, and Facilities.
So far there is little research on the emerging forms of hybrid working - what it is exactly, how workers experience it, and what is needed to support it. There has been even less attention given to the unique context of hybrid working in universities, where employees are highly autonomous and where work culture and style differs across departments and units. We therefore are conducting a one year study of hybrid working at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, in order to build an understanding of:
- how a range of University employees use physical and digital spaces to conduct their work and
- what challenges and opportunities arise around hybrid working for University employees, with consideration of how these might be addressed in practice
How can hybrid working 'work'
The research will be qualitative and led by a full time postdoctoral researcher, dr. Gislene Feiten Haubrich, in collaboration with Associate Professor Ella Hafermalz and Professor Marleen Huysman, all from the KIN Research Group in the School of Business and Economics.
dr. Haubrich will conduct interviews and observations in order to investigate how Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam employees work: their routines, practices, preferences, and the opportunities and challenges they encounter when working 'hybrid'. In particular the team will pay attention to how technological, physical, and hybrid spaces are used and how this use impacts social practices, in particular knowledge sharing, organisational learning, and work effectiveness.
Within the 1 year time frame, the research results will be synthesised and used to create approximately 7 'personas' that typify University employees. Personas are a useful tool for informing design and policy. We plan to engage a leading expert on creating personas in the process of producing these for Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
2-3 workshops will be run where the personas are introduced and discussed in terms of what they mean for supporting hybrid working at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, from the joint perspectives of HR, IT, and Facilities Management. A key aim in running these workshops is to build joint understanding of how these three functions can work together in supporting university employees in hybrid working.
Throughout the 1 year project we will provide regular (e.g. monthly or bi-monthly) updates on our research, for example at steering group meetings. Each of these updates will feature at least one 'actionable insight' that for example offers an anonymised 'view from the workfloor' that is considered particularly urgent; and/or in which we present a learning from recent scientific publications on the topic of hybrid working that is relevant to the University context. The results of the research will also be analysed and written up as scientific publications.
In order to clarify our scope and focus, we also outline what we are not doing as part of this project. We cannot reveal the identity of our research informants. We are not producing formal reports; or giving consulting advice or advising on ready-made-solutions (e.g. equipment or software purchasing advice).
We are dedicated to being open, collaborative, and engaged in critical discussions about how to make hybrid working 'work' at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and look forward to offering insights from the 'work floor' that can inform design, purchasing, and policy choices that serve our University community for years to come.
Dr. Gislene Feiten Haubrich is a Postdoctoral researcher at KIN Center for Digital Innovation dedicated to study hybrid working at the Vrije University Amsterdam. She is a qualitative and interdisciplinary researcher, and her research interests include new ways of working and interaction. She contributes to external research activities as a member of the Executive Board of the Research Group on Collaborative Spaces (RGCS), the COST Action CA 18214 - The geography of New Working Spaces and impact on the periphery and the Information, communication, and digital cultures at CITCEM.
Dr. Ella Hafermalz Associate Professor at the KIN Center for Digital Innovation at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Her research focuses on how new technologies are being integrated in the workplace. In her latest research she explores issues related to responsible and explainable AI.
Marleen Huysman - Professor of Knowledge & Organization at the School of Business and Economics (SBE) of the VU University Amsterdam is founding director of the KIN Center for Digital Innovation. She is the figurehead for the VSNU research agenda "Digital Society" (Work and Organization program line) and joined the Dutch National AI Coalition. She recently was awarded a prestigious national grant from the NWO’s Open Competition to follow AI from development in the lab to its use on the work floor to develop a collaborative methodology for augmenting knowledge work.