A view of the mountains from behind a computer

A Lasting Legacy of Remote Work

Post-pandemic work landscape creates new realities for many Duke employees

But in 2022, while working for a hospital in Tampa, Florida, Narvaez found himself drawn to a job opportunity at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham.

“I knew if I was going to make a jump, it would have to be to a prestigious institution,” Narvaez said.

Last February, Narvaez joined Duke as a Director in Duke’s Research Administration Support Resource. Since then, he has been leading a fully remote team from his home near Tampa, assisting faculty in refining medical research proposals and maximizing grant funding.

In November 2023, Jon Narvaez, a Florida-based team member of Duke's Research Administration Support Resource, made his first visit to Duke. Photo: Brandon Bieltz.

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped workplaces, including Duke’s. On March 16, 2020, President Vincent Price announced that all faculty and staff who could work remotely or were not required for on-site support of critical operations should stay home. That started a lasting shift to flexible work arrangements for remote capable roles, and today, at least 547 employees – a 250% increase since 2020 – reside outside of North Carolina but work for Duke.

Antwan Lofton, Vice President for Duke Human Resources, said Duke has established a foundation for work location flexibility for non-patient and student facing roles to recruit and retain top-tier talent. Now, leaders of schools and departments assess roles that fit for hybrid or remote arrangements.

“We have long been an employer of choice here in North Carolina. Now, we want to be an employer of choice across the nation,” Lofton said.

Duke’s embrace of remote work reflects a broad trend as a survey of hiring managers by Upwork shows that an estimated 40.7 million American workers will work fully remote by 2026.

The shift at Duke is particularly evident in the Office of Research Administration infrastructure, where most employees now work remotely.

Laurianne Torres, Duke University School of Medicine Associate Dean for Research Administration, leads a large remote team. Photo courtesy of Laurianne Torres.

Laurianne Torres, Associate Dean for Research Administration at the Duke University School of Medicine, manages the Office of Research Administration and the Research Administration Support Resource. Before the pandemic, her teams operated exclusively on-site in Erwin Square Plaza.

Now, her two teams, comprising 142 members, are dispersed nationwide, with 31 residing outside North Carolina. Fewer spontaneous in-person interactions mean more Zoom meetings. However, the flexibility of remote work enabled Torres to assemble a more extensive and seasoned team. Despite challenges, she said, the advantages of remote work, including improved work-life balance, outweigh drawbacks.

“We just do things in a different way now,” Torres said.

Narvaez, who serves on Torres’ team, made his first visit to Duke last November. On his brief visit, he met with faculty investigators about research grants he helps manage for the Department of Head and Neck Surgery.

While 655 miles from his Florida home, Narvaez felt like he belonged amid Duke’s world-class hospital and alongside accomplished faculty.

“To actually be on campus and meet the people doing this research, it makes it completely different,” Narvaez said. “It’s like, ‘OK, this is who I work for.’ You see it. You feel it. That makes a big difference.”

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