An employee or their supervisor interested in a flexible work arrangement should have a preliminary discussion to introduce the idea and receive an initial indication regarding the feasibility of such a request.
In determining the feasibility of a Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA), the employee and their supervisor should consider the arrangement's potential impact on:
- department operations and budget,
- the delivery of services,
- the distribution and flow of work among department employees.
Any flexible work arrangement should have either a neutral or a positive impact in these areas. Other factors that may be considered include:
- the employee's performance record, and
- what will or may happen if circumstances change and the flexible work arrangement is no longer beneficial or feasible.
After the initial discussion, it will be helpful for the employee and supervisor to review the Flexible Work policy. If the proposal is aligned with the policy, the next step is for the supervisor to complete the Flexible Work Suitability Assessment tool (pdf). This tool should be completed by the supervisor each time a Flexible Work Arrangement is considered by a supervisor or requested by an employee and will help determine what specific flexible work arrangements are feasible as determined by the employee, supervisor, and leadership of the division.
The key principle to keep in mind when assessing the feasibility of any request is to evaluate it from all points of view: the employee’s, the supervisor’s, the other members of the team, and the individuals or groups served by the employee and the department. In addition to all the factors to be addressed in the request, employees and supervisors should consider this question:
- Will the services or support that the employee provides to others (students, prospects, parents, alumni, donors, colleagues, supervisors, etc.) be provided similarly or better under the arrangement being proposed?
Additional Factors to Consider When Evaluating a FWA Request
There are many factors to be addressed and considered in requesting and evaluating a flexible work arrangement request. The following factors will likely apply to any requested flexible work arrangement.
- Has the supervisor been given enough time to review the request?
If the request originates from the employee, the employee should consider the requested start date and the work that needs to be done when submitting their request. Be sure the supervisor has adequate time to review before the desired start.
- How will the expectations and objectives of the position be met under the requested
flexible work arrangement?
Performance expectations, objectives, and standards should remain the same or be enhanced by a flexible work arrangement, especially as they relate to the interactions the employee may have with students, faculty, staff, and other constituents in the course of the work. Make a list of those expectations and objectives, including those that may not necessarily be spelled out in the position description. In the request, the work that may be accomplished better under the arrangement should be emphasized.
- Will the arrangement result in any additional expenses to the department?
In most cases, an arrangement that results in additional cost to the department is not feasible, unless the additional expense can be offset in some way that can be quantified. For example, job-sharing arrangements may result in added cost if the two employees do not share the same workspace or computer. The request should address possible additional costs and include plans for offsetting those expenses.
- Does the employee have a well-established and satisfactory record of accountability,
reliability, and self-initiative in completing projects and tasks?
Since many flexible work arrangements involve a higher degree of autonomy, the employee’s supervisor and colleagues must have confidence in the employee’s ability to work well independently. If there is uncertainty about how others perceive the performance in these areas, candid feedback should be requested from others—not just the supervisor—in an appropriate manner. If there is room for the employee to improve, coaching on these aspects of the performance may be necessary, and the employee should make that improvement before requesting a flexible work arrangement. This is one factor that an employee or supervisor may want to explore with help from their HR Consultant.
- What are the department’s expectations as they relate to employee visibility or accessibility?
Even if an employee can fulfill all the specific expectations and objectives of the job under a flexible work arrangement, consideration must be given to any burdens the requested arrangement places on others in the department and any inadvertent barriers it creates to the employee’s accessibility in meeting colleagues’ and constituents’ needs. Including specific steps to help alleviate or address those concerns will be an important factor in a successful arrangement.
- Will others perceive the arrangement as fair?
The supervisor should consider whether approving the request will be perceived as fair, or if approval will open the door to the appearance of favoritism or discrimination. For instance, a supervisor may reasonably believe that the approval of the request is feasible only if the supervisor is able to also approve similar requests from everyone else. An existing culture of trust and support, coupled with open and transparent communications about the flexible work arrangement and the employee’s willingness to periodically reevaluate the arrangement, may help address the supervisor’s concerns about fairness and equity.
Employees and supervisors should contact their HR Consultant at any time with questions about a flexible work arrangement request, its evaluation, or its implementation. If a FWA is requested by an employee, supervisors should communicate openly with their employees and provide a timeline of their expected review.
If FWA is denied: Supervisor should provide an explanation indicating their reasoning.
If FWA is approved: Review and follow the process for documenting the FWA.
Step Four: (ongoing, if FWA is approved)
Once a FWA is in place, and with due consideration to privacy concerns, flexible work arrangements should be transparently communicated to the employee's clients, customers, students, and appropriate colleagues, including new employees and supervisors who begin working while the arrangement is already in place, in order to prevent misunderstandings or work disruptions.