New Survey Highlights Back-Office Challenges and Opportunities for Educational Institutions in Remote Work Environments

As the 2020 – 2021 school year kicks off for many students across the U.S, the impact of COVID-19 continues to grow. Colleges, universities, and K-12 schools are all grappling with how to safely reopen and continue to operate for the good of students and education. New research by the SAP Concur organization highlights challenges and opportunities for educational institutions as they continue navigating hybrid and fully remote work and learning environments.

To better understand the new operational reality in education, we commissioned a research study of more than 500 finance and administration decision makers in higher education and K-12 across the United States. The results offer a snapshot of not only respondents’ ability to manage an expanded portfolio of responsibilities in this new normal, but also the challenges presented by outdated policies and inadequate technology to support learning. 

Some of the key highlights include:

Sustained remote work may mean failure to comply with state and federal government reporting regulations:

  • Thirty-eight percent of all education decision-makers say complying with mandated state and federal reporting policies was a key challenge when transitioning to remote work environments.
  • While nearly all education decision-makers (96%) are concerned their institution will fail to comply with state and federal government reporting regulations due to sustained remote work, the degree of concern varies by geographic region.
    • Nearly one-third of all education decision-makers who work in cities (29%) say they are “very concerned” that they will not meet these regulatory requirements.
    • Fewer than one in 10 education decision-makers who work in rural areas (6%) feel the same way as their counterparts living in urban areas.*
  • When looking ahead to the Fall 2020 semester, higher education decision-makers (33%) are slightly less concerned about complying with outdated policies than their counterparts in K-12 (37%).
  • As employees continue to work remotely due to COVID-19 risks, 40% of all decision-makers indicate that adapting policies to allow for remote compliance would ensure their department could handle financial operations more effectively and over a longer period of time.

Managing COVID-19 health risks remains a top priority:

  • Fifty-one percent of higher education decision-makers at public colleges and universities are concerned that their school may not be prepared to keep them safe, while only 37% of higher education decision-makers at private colleges and universities felt the same way.
  • One in four higher education decision-makers (26%) and one in three (35%) K-12 decision-makers list requiring face masks as a top health concern. 
  • Higher education decision-makers are concerned with managing dorm assignments to maintain social distancing (43%). Reducing on-campus dorm density is a behavior that may help reduce the spread of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Forty-three percent of K-12 decision-makers say protecting at-risk members of the community is a top priority.

Technology is a prerequisite for long-term remote work and new work realities that will be shaped for months and years to come:

  • Nearly all education decision-makers (99%) believe that some sort of investment, whether it be in technology or in personnel, is critical to maintaining operations.
  • Although 78% of all education decision-makers believe workforce productivity has either stayed the same or increased as a result of remote work, the confidence decision-makers have in sustaining high levels of productivity greatly diminishes as colleges, universities, and K-12 school districts remain online for another semester.  
  • Seventy percent of all education decision-makers think less than 20% of their workforce will be able to work remotely without negatively impacting productivity levels.
  • To ensure departmental operations do not suffer due to sustained remote work, 69% of all education decision-makers say investments in hardware and software are critical. However, 63% of all education decision-makers say their finance and administrative departments lack a fully remote solution.
  • In addition, one-quarter (25%) of all education decision-makers say that their most commonly used tools to manage financial and administrative operations include localized software, documents, and data that must be accessed on-site at an office.
  • Since beginning remote work, finance and administrative departments also believe they have an increased scope of responsibilities. In fact, 41% of education decision-makers say they are managing three or more new responsibilities due to COVID-19.

Colleges and universities believe they will need to adopt new operational models within the next five years to offset revenue losses:

  • Fifty-six percent of higher education decision-makers anticipate that, within the next five years, colleges and universities will adopt a hybrid classroom model that incorporates both onsite and remote learning.
  • Before they adapt to these new models, a majority of higher education decision-makers suggest that short-term changes will need to be made to offset losses.
  • Ninety-four percent of higher education decision-makers anticipate taking cost-cutting measures (e.g., hiring or salary freezes, outsourcing jobs or tasks, reducing their workforce, enforcing pay cuts) to offset budget shortfalls due to reductions in student enrollment and on-campus attendance during the Fall 2020 semester.

“Virtually overnight, COVID-19 transformed the way educational institutions operate both in the classroom and in the back office,” said David Ballard, Senior Vice President, U.S. Public Sector, SAP Concur. “As K-12 school districts, colleges, and universities begin a new semester and navigate this ever-evolving work and learning environment, education decision-makers will need to address financial and operational implications by balancing short and longer-term needs. This could include adopting mobile apps now, and a longer-term investment in tools that will help schools migrate to hybrid classroom and back office operation models.”

For more information on how to strengthen cost control and cut out the paperwork within your academic institution, Concur Invoice has you covered so you can always track your school’s spend, whether you are in the office or working from your home.  

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*This rural sub-audience represents a small sample size. 

The survey was conducted between June 15 – July 2, 2020 by Wakefield Research (www.wakefieldresearch.com), a leading independent provider of quantitative, qualitative and hybrid market research, among 150 K-12 and 350 higher education decision-makers who are based in the US and defined as business decision-makers, administrators, principals, and individuals who hold education administration titles.

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