The Changing Workplace: A Case Study, Nicklas

written by: Drew Nicklas

As we conclude another pandemic year, it is a good time to reflect on what we have endured, created, and learned during COVID-19. One of the changes that is serving to transform our workplaces and work spaces in the idea of remote work. With that in mind, as a point of reflection this spring as well as a possible tool for use in the fall as new academic years begin, consider the following case study and reflective prompts. How do remote work options affect your workplace and teams?

The Case

How should supervisors address graduate student requests to work remotely? How should graduate students approach their supervisors with these requests?

The Setting

Tinker University (TU) is a large, public, land-grant institution in the South. Historically, it has been a traditional campus with online learning options for courses, but not a lot of online work options for staff. The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to work remotely for most of the first year of the pandemic. Now that staff are able to be back on campus, offices are exploring options for their team members.

Tinker University’s student affairs M.Ed. program requires all full-time graduate students to be employed as graduate assistants within a department that works directly with college student.  The continuation of their graduate assistantship is a requirement of students in order to graduate.  From this requirement, students get practical work experience, have their tuition costs covered, and receive a graduate stipend to assist with additional costs of attending graduate school.

Key Players

  • Janie (she/her) – a white woman. Second year graduate student. Holds privileged statuses around identity other than her gender.
  • Simone (she/her) – a white woman. Second year graduate student. Holds privileged statuses around identity other than her gender.
  • Lissa (she/her) – a white woman. In her sixth year as a staff member and program director at Tinker University. Holds privileged statuses around identity other than her gender.

The Situation

Janie (she/her) and Simone (she/her) are currently in the fall semester of their second year of graduate school.  Since March, Simone has been working from home to assist with a family member who is ill.  Simone is an out-of-state student and working from home has allowed her to continue her graduate studies while helping support her family member.

In November, ahead of the spring semester, Janie learns that one of her grandparents is in poor health and needs live-in support to aid with her recovery. Learning this and being aware of the support Simone received to work from home while helping her family, Janie tells family she should be able to come home and help care to her grandparent’s needs.  Janie gets permission from her faculty to continue her classes virtually in the spring, however, when she meets with her supervisor, Lissa, Janie is told that she cannot work from home because she was hired to a position that requires, she be working in-person.

Janie is upset by Lissa’s decision because she feels that she could continue to do her job remotely and is confused about why Simone was given permission to work remotely when Simone was hired for a position that has historically been in-person like hers.  She is also worried because of the impact her Lissa’s decision has on her graduate student status. In Janie’s program, students are required to have a graduate assistantship. Additionally without a GA she loses financial aid to help her complete the degree. Finally, Janie is concerned because her family is not sure who can help her grandparent now that Janie is unable to.

Janie asks Lissa if they can have more discussions about an option for Janie to work from home because her family really needs her support, but she also needs to maintain her graduate assistantship in order to graduate. Lissa says she is empathetic and shares that the office has prepared three different options knowing that having a graduate assistantship is a graduation requirement for Janie’s graduate program.  Lissa tells her to take the week to consider the following options, ask questions, and then to let Lissa know how she would like to proceed.

Option 1: Janie can return to the office and continue in her role.

Option 2: Janie can apply for a waiver through Human Resources.  If approved, Janie would be allowed to continue her job and work remotely.  Janie is aware of the waiver, but also knows that the waiver is most often used for documented medical needs.

Option 3: Lissa has offered to provide Janie with a different role on the team, one that does not work with students and would meet the criteria of positions that the department allows to work from home.  This position would be more administrative work and would result in Janie not getting the kinds of rich experiences that would develop her as a professional and would not make her as marketable as her current position.

Following the meeting with Lissa, Janie is frustrated and anxious.  She wants to stay in her current assistantship because she enjoys the work and her financial assistance is guaranteed, but she also is concerned about her grandparent’s health and feels she needs to be home to support her family.  She is also frustrated that she is having to make this decision when Simone was able to continue her role while working from home without having to navigate these extra steps and considerations.


  1. What additional information might Janie need before she makes a decision? Where might she go to get that information?
  2. What, if any, additional options might Janie want to consider or pursue?
  3. How might this situation be different (or similar) if the three people involved did not share the same identities? Could there be other implications or considerations?
  4. As a profession, how do we balance individual staff needs with student needs? In this balance, how do we discuss graduate students and their position as staff and students?
  5. What assumptions do we make about the value of face-to-face meetings as opposed to the value of virtual meetings?
  6. What research and assessment might we need to do to more fully understand the changing dynamics of our work culture in the aftermath of the pandemic (whenever that time comes)?

Drew Nicklas completed her M.Ed. in Student Affairs last Spring is the Parent and Family Programs Coordinator at San José State University.