In March and April of 2020, most colleges across the country shut their doors, told students to return home, and halted in-person learning for the remainder of the semester. Since then, it’s been more than just an extended Spring break for students. Seniors missed out on important graduation ceremonies and celebrations. Students missed out on activities and the ins and outs of dorm life, and the sudden stop to in-person learning has had everyone wondering what might happen in the fall.
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Already, many universities across the country have decided to start their semesters remotely, including Harvard, Princeton, and Georgetown. Other colleges began their semester in-person but have decided to switch to remote learning after an influx of COVID-19 cases. That’s what happened recently at the University of Notre Dame.
With so many schools making the choice to hold classes online for the time being, what does it mean for IT staff? First, it means that they are being held to an extremely high standard at the moment. Without technology, remote learning options wouldn’t be possible. So, for major universities, there can’t be any hiccups in the way things are run.
As you might imagine, that can create a lot of pressure on any college’s IT staff. So, what can be done to support IT professionals during these stressful times?
First, it’s important to know exactly what challenges IT workers are facing right now when it comes to collegiate networks. Even before the impact of COVID-19, universities faced several IT challenges, including:
Now that so many schools have either gone partially or fully remote, there are even more challenges for IT staff members to face. Networks have to be able to handle many more people using them at once. Websites have to be able to withhold hundreds (if not more) of visitors logging on at the same time. Many universities will also need increased security measures in place for things like video conferencing and live virtual classes. It’s up to IT professionals to secure video conferencing by staying current and implementing user-authentication when signing into virtual meetings.
Some universities across the country have already shown how their IT teams have excelled throughout this virus. At Yale, for example, the campus IT staff has been praised for not allowing any technological emergencies since this pandemic started, and making sure everything has continued to run smoothly.
So, with all of the added pressures on IT professionals at universities this year, what can be done to help and support them? There are a few ways to make their lives easier and give them a chance to breathe.
For starters, even if you have a qualified IT staff on board, try outsourcing if they are getting overwhelmed or can’t keep up with the demand. Hiring contractors for specific jobs can be a great way to give your staff a break so they aren’t spread out too thin. The great thing about outsourcing is that you can hire a professional for one job or several, and as things start to calm down you don’t have to use them anymore.
It’s also important to make sure you have the right tools and resources available for your staff to work properly. Even the best IT professionals can only work with what they’re given. Now isn’t the time to cut back on technology when, for many, it’s being so heavily relied on to maintain some sense of normalcy.
Finally, it’s important to remember to compensate your staff appropriately, especially for overtime that they may be working during these first few weeks of the semester. You can also offer incentives that can help your staff to stay motivated, including:
By making sure your IT staff is taken care of in as many ways as possible, it’s more likely that things will continue to run smoothly and they won’t feel as burned out.
While everyone wants to get back to normal, we are still very much in the thick of this pandemic. As classes are beginning for universities across the country, there will be new challenges to face for everyone.
According to our own FULL FABRIC webinar, held in April 2020, some of the biggest challenges universities will face in the coming months (and even years) include a possible decline in enrollment and an impact on international mobility.
However, thanks to remote, virtual learning, those getting their education through a university can still continue to work toward their degrees. For now, that makes the role of a university’s IT staff more important than ever. Showing your support for IT professionals and empowering them in as many ways as possible can help them to stay encouraged and let go of frustration during these trying, busy, and confusing times.
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