Flexible Work Options, Tools, and Resources
Reenvisioning How Rice Works
The purpose of this toolkit is to provide an approach, guidelines, and related resources for leaders to use when looking ahead to design and structure their organizations (department, divisions, etc.), including the
- work/projects to be executed (what and how);
- structure that will support the work most effectively and efficiently;
- management, leadership, and culture that enables high performance; and
- environment and workspace that meets the needs of the organization and its employees.
As we reevaluate positions and how work gets done post-COVID, we have the opportunity to think differently, innovate, and create efficiencies.
The following sections will present an approach, as well as options and a range of tools and resources, to guide leaders through the process of reenvisioning how organizational objectives can be achieved as the landscape continues to change in a post-COVID-19 world.
Guidelines and Policies
Flexible Work Policy/Guidelines for Benefits-eligible Staff Employees
TEMPLATE – Position Description Questionnaire
When considering the work to be done and examining current positions and incumbents:
- Are the responsibilities to be performed outside the usual workplace appropriate to the individual's job classification assignment;
- Can the employee respond to real-time work questions (e.g., work a set schedule; be accessible by phone, e-mail, instant chat) if utilizing a more flexible work arrangement;
- Will any of the work have to be done by others NOT working in an alternative or flexible arrangement;
- Is there a degree of interaction in-person with other university offices required to get the work done;
- How can technology or process improvement play a role;
- Does the job include supervising the work of others?
- Will the way the work is being done need to change?
- Will the workload change?
- Are there employees scheduled to retire within the next few years?
Developing a Workforce Plan and/or Organizational Structure
Example - Modified Workforce Plan Model
How to get started
- Start with your HRBP and involve supervisors in the discussions
- Conduct an environmental scan of your current staffing/workforce and identify gaps (unmet needs and skills); current vacancies (can the position be redesigned?); potential eliminations where there is excess or duplication; areas where technology can make processes and workflow more efficient; and consider expected retirement/turnover
- What positions are critical to keep or source (internally or externally)?
- Develop a current state and future profile.
- What are the future trends, skills, and needs based on your work?
- Can you utilize part-time staff in a new way?
- How does the current structure align with the strategic plan and your mission?
- Is there a need for a transitional structure? Reasonable timelines?
- What financial resources are needed?
TOOL – Role Transition
TEMPLATE - Transition Plan
Article – Conducting an Environmental Scan
Leaders should ensure that clear expectations have been set for each person/position, including expectations for alternative work arrangements. Additionally, it is good to have this conversation 1-2 times a year in the event circumstances have changed. The following may assist with setting expectations.
Resources for Engaging and Leading a Remote Team
Depending on how the position is designed and the essential functions of that role, employees may request a flexible working arrangement. Given the recent opportunity to work remotely due to COVID-19, it is likely that this type of request will be made more frequently in the future. Regardless of the position, effective supervision requires clear communication of expectations and ongoing check-ins.
When evaluating a potential flexible arrangement, such as telecommuting, it is important to take into consideration an employee’s performance level. For example, generally, telecommuting may be considered when the performance is at an acceptable level or above and the employee has completed their probationary period. Telecommuting arrangements are typically not a consideration when performance improvement actions are in effect. Additionally, a supervisor may wish to consider whether an employee is still in their probationary period.
Supervision: How will the arrangement be monitored? Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that they continue to supervise an employee in a flexible working arrangement. Specific items include:
- Clarity as to how performance will be evaluated;
- The degree of supervision required to accomplish the work;
- The supervisor's ability to evaluate whether work is being performed;
- The degree to which the employee can work with minimal supervision;
- The supervisor's ability to verify the time spent working; e.g., whether the work has measurable outputs (e.g., pages to be typed, a paper to be produced, a specific number of accounts to be reconciled, etc.); and/or
- The degree of confidence the supervisor has in the employee's ability to accomplish the work off-site;
- How the employee will communicate with the supervisor.
Resources for Stages of the Employee Lifecycle
Article - A Guide to Managing Remote Workers
Article – Onboarding a New Leader Remotely
Engagement and Development
Article - 12 Tips for Having Amazing Check-ins
Article – How to Do Performance Reviews Remotely
Article - Managing an Underperformer Remotely
Article - How to Recognize Remote Employees
Creating an effective culture for the team is essential, even more so when employees are working in flexible work arrangements. Leaders should be intentional about setting expectations for the team and make time for conversations and commitments around communication, decision making, conflict resolution, etc. and provide opportunities for feedback (upward, across, etc.) to foster an environment of trust and transparency.
Template – Remote Team Agreement
Video - Keeping Teams Connected (4:45)
Article - How to Build Trust
Reconsidering Work Space
When considering what alternative work arrangements are appropriate for effective performance, leaders must establish expectations about an employee's workspace. After considering the work to be performed and the employees performing the scope of work, other considerations may include:
- Can the current office space (Rice location) be designed to work more effectively for the group?
- Can space be redesigned to support only the interactions that cannot occur remotely?
- Is there a way to better utilize space such as talent sharing space (2 staff sharing a space with alternating schedules)?
- Can office space be transitioned into collaborative or meeting space?
- Can there be office cubes or smaller spaces for dates remote workers are onsite? (drop-in workspaces)
What technology and ergonomic issues must be addressed?
See the Technology Considerations section of this toolkit
Infographic - Ergonomics
Flexible Work Arrangements
Rice strives to be a great place to work. In an effort to attract, retain, reward, and sustain a happy and healthy workforce, Rice offers a variety of flexible work arrangements. Flexible work arrangements enable staff to have greater control over how and where work is accomplished. There are a variety of different flexible work options, including but not limited to flexible schedules, compressed workweeks, and telecommuting options. The Options for Flexible Work Arrangements section below is not meant to be an exhaustive list of flexible work options, but rather a helpful tool for supervisors and employees. Not all flexible workplace options are available in all departments or for all positions. Supervisors must consider the potential benefits and challenges of each option.
All requests for flexible work arrangements should be made to an employee’s supervisor. The supervisor may seek guidance from their supervisor, division administrator, and/or their HRBP. In some instances, formal agreements will be made. Please contact HRBP@rice.edu with any questions and/or guidance on implementing a flexible work option in your department.
Prior to implementing a telecommuting or other type of arrangement, it is important to have discussions regarding the specific tasks and duties that will be performed. In some cases, the work being performed may not lend itself to being done at another location other than the normal work location. NOTE: See the Options, Benefit, and Challenges for Flexible Work Arrangement session of this toolkit.
Recommended discussion points include:
- How can this benefit the department?
- The degree of interaction (both in-person and by phone) with other university offices required to get the work done;
- Ability to provide expected levels of customer service;
- Whether the job includes supervising the work of others;
- How the employee will be available to respond to real-time work questions (e.g., work a set schedule; be accessible by phone, e-mail, instant chat);
- Whether the employee has completed at least six months of their probationary period;
- Whether any of the work will have to be done by others NOT working in a flexible arrangement;
- Whether the employee has the resources and support needed to telecommute (or similar) successfully; and/or
- Other factors deemed relevant by the manager and/or university.
- Clarify roles and goals
- Establish clear objectives
- Avoid micromanaging
- Create a shared document that clarifies ownership of projects with clear deadlines
- Ensure the alternative workspace is adequate
- Does the workspace have the appropriate space and allow for minimal disruption?
- Is there appropriate data and document security and ensure there will be no health and safety concerns?
Options, Benefits, and Challenges for Flexible Work Arrangements
A reduced work schedule is a schedule that is less than 40 hours per workweek. Some positions at Rice are part-time in nature, but the majority are full-time (40 hours/week). There may be opportunities for an employee to request a reduction in the schedule, temporary or permanent, depending on the needs of the department and the function of the position. These decisions are solely at the discretion of the supervisor and head of the department.
Rotating/alternating schedules can allow the employee to have flexibility especially for things unique to their situation (e.g. child care needs, transportation issues, etc.)
Staggering arrival and departure times can reduce traffic in common areas including elevators.
Allows a possible budget-saving if a full-time position is reduced to part-time.
- Supports employees who need or require additional time off due to caregiving, personal, or other responsibilities.
- Attracts employees who prefer to work part-time.
- Provides flexibility depending on academic or calendar demands.
- Can retain employees in the longer term.
Depending on the size of your staff, demands of the department, and/or demands of the position, reducing coverage may not be feasible.
- It could be difficult when scheduling meetings and coordinating departmental collaborative efforts.
- The arrangement may not work for all departments, roles, or situations.
Based on the employee's needs and circumstances and the needs/essential functions of the position, the following are recommended:
A job share arrangement is a full-time job split between two individuals, each with responsibility for the success of the total job. Job sharing allows two staff members to share the responsibilities of one full-time position, typically with prorated salary and paid time off. Creative and innovative schedules can be designed to meet the needs of the job sharers and the department. Job-sharing arrangements can be 50/50, 60/40, or any similar combination. The schedules may also overlap as needed or desired.
Successful job sharing arrangements usually place responsibility for a functional arrangement on the individuals sharing the job (job partners) rather than the supervisor. Both job partners should agree up front that if one of the job partners is not meeting the needs of the organization or decides to leave the job, the other will revert to a full-time schedule, permanently or until a replacement job partner is found within a reasonable time frame. If a new job partner cannot be found and the remaining job partner does not want a full-time job, he/she will agree to resign from the job to be replaced by a full-time employee. This is considered a voluntary resignation and does not qualify the individual for position discontinuation and staff transition benefits.
Job Sharing Example
Elizabeth began to consider job sharing when her mother became ill. She realized that because of personal responsibilities, she no longer wanted to work on a full time basis but still wanted to be able to preserve her career skills and status within her profession. With her supervisor, Elizabeth determined that a job sharing arrangement would be valuable in helping her create a sense of balance in her life. She now works Monday, Tuesday, and until noon on Wednesday when her job sharing partner takes over to work the remainder of the workweek.
- Job sharing partners can provide more consistent service to internal and external clients than two part-time staff members.
- Job sharing partners can fill in for one another during scheduled and unscheduled absences
- Two heads are better than one.
- The job sharing partners' clients, supervisor, and co-workers, and the partners themselves, can benefit from the varied perspectives, strengths, and skills each job sharing partner brings to the job.
- Staff members in job sharing arrangements have more time outside of work to take care of personal responsibilities; as a result, they can be more focused on the tasks at hand during their scheduled work time.
- It may be a challenge for a staff member who is interested in job sharing to find a job sharing partner with whom they are personally and professionally compatible.
- Job sharing partners may find it challenging to maintain the constant communication required to keep one another informed about scheduling (meetings, training, travel, etc.) and the status of shared work.
- A work unit may find it difficult to fund a job sharing arrangement.
- May decrease the potential for advancement.
A compressed work schedule allows an employee to work a traditional 35-40 hour workweek in less than five workdays. For example, a full-time employee could work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days.
This option is more easily applied to non-exempt (bi-weekly paid) staff for whom maximum work hours are identified, but it is not ruled out for monthly paid staff who may work more than 40 hours during the workweek. Payroll practices require non-exempt staff that agrees to a compressed workweek arrangement to be paid overtime based on all hours over 40 in a workweek.
Another popular option is a nine-day/two-week work arrangement, which allows for two weeks of work to be compressed into nine or nine and a half days of work. This is popular with staff members who want some flexibility in their schedule and do not mind extra time built into the beginning or end of the workday.
- Reduces an employee's commute time.
- Staff members working compressed workweeks have more time outside of work to take care of personal responsibilities; as a result, they can be more focused on the tasks at hand during their scheduled work time.
- Staff members working compressed workweeks may be more productive during the hours outside of the traditional workday when fewer staff members are present.
It may be a challenge to sustain morale among staff members who work long days but do not have the opportunity to work a compressed workweek. The longer workday may be physically and mentally draining. Some types of compressed schedules, such as 80 hours over 9 days, may present a challenge to supervisors of non-exempt staff members since overtime must be paid to non-exempt staff members who work more than 40 hours in a given week. Staff members may find it difficult to arrange dependent care or transportation around the long workday.
Telecommuting is a regular or temporary arrangement of working from a location other than the employee’s office for a portion of the employee’s schedule.
Telecommuting is appropriate for employees who:
- Have the ability to successfully organize, manage time, work independently and productively with minimal supervision, and have at least a satisfactory work performance history;
- Have a thorough knowledge and understanding of their job functions and the equipment required for the alternative work arrangement;
- Have access to a remote worksite or space that is safe and free from interruptions; and,
- Are able to provide the security necessary to adequately protect any University information and equipment used at the remote worksite.
- Allows staff to minimize commuting time over the span of a workweek.
- Allows for fewer inter-office interruptions and enhanced productivity.
- Serves as a form of positive recognition for staff.
Depending on the size of your staff, office coverage may not be optimal, especially when staff is out of the office or on vacation.
- Could be difficult when scheduling meetings and coordinating departmental collaborative efforts.
- Employee must have a high level of autonomy and self-direction to be productive in the absence of direct supervision.
- May present technology and/or security concerns, depending on the work and level of security needed.
- The arrangement may not work for all departments, roles, or situations.
Supervisors have the discretion to approve or deny an employee’s request for telecommuting based on job or business-related criteria. Positions that may be considered for telecommuting arrangements are those that:
- Have job functions that can be performed at a remote site without diminishing the quality of the work or disrupting the productivity of a unit;
- Do not require an employee's presence at the regularly assigned place of employment on a daily or routine basis;
- Allow for an employee to be as effectively supervised as he or she would be if the job functions were performed at the assigned place of employment;
- Have an emphasis on the electronic production and/or exchange of information by means of computers, modems, or phones;
- Involve a measurable or quantifiable work product; and
- Have a minimal or flexible need for specialized materials or equipment available only at the regularly assigned work site.
Additionally, when operational needs require, an employee must report to the regularly assigned place of employment upon the supervisor’s request. Employees will be given as much advance notice as feasible under the circumstances presented.
When a participating employee is working in another state, the employee is responsible for contacting Human Resources and the University’s Payroll Office regarding tax ramifications that may relate to working in another state.
Return of University Property
When the remote work arrangement is terminated, the employee must promptly return all notes, data, reference materials, sketches, drawings, memoranda, reports, records, equipment, software, supplies, and any other University property in the employee's possession or control.
Damaged or Lost Property
The University shall not be held responsible for costs, damages, or losses associated with the termination of the agreement.
Tools and Templates
Template – Remote Working Needs Assessment
Tool – Criteria for Remote Working
e-book - Work Smarter Not Harder
Article – How to Improve Your Focus
Technology Considerations and Resources for Remote Work
Video – No Wifi: How to Wire Your House for Internet (22:00)