Work. With Flexibility. in the College of Science and Engineering

The University of Minnesota issued Work. With Flexibility. guidance that governs flexible work arrangements across the institution. Guidance from the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) in this collegewide document reinforces key aspects of the University’s approach and includes additional collegiate guidance. Please review this document and the University-wide guidance at the link above as you create your unit’s Work. With Flexibility. plan.

CSE is committed to an equitable, flexible work environment while continuing to foster a vibrant environment conducive to collaboration, creativity, diversity, and vitality. Employees are encouraged to seek out flexibility that increases their wellness, engagement, satisfaction, and productivity while continuing to deliver highly effective services to all stakeholders. Managers are encouraged to work with their employees on the same goals. To this end, CSE units are granted considerable flexibility to determine how to meet these goals.

Perhaps most importantly, the next several months (August-December 2021) will be a pilot period during which different approaches will be applied and ultimately assessed this winter. After that time, changes may be made. Therefore, permanent remote-work agreements should not be made, and commitments beyond the end of calendar year 2021 are strongly discouraged. Also, with the continued uncertainty of COVID there still exists the possibility of unanticipated adjustments as faculty, staff, and students return to campus.

Guiding Principles

The college has a wide range of units and personnel. Writing specific policies or guidelines for all situations would be impossible. Unit leadership and managers should consider the University’s guiding principles (below), and local decisions must be anchored in these principles. The denial of a requested flexible arrangement should include a rationale that links to these consistent University-developed principles:

The type of work drives decisions about where and how it should be done.

  • Consider both individual and collective productivity.
  • Prioritize highly effective delivery of our mission.
  • Assess the impact of flexible work on customer service or other similar values in making decisions.

Broad University-level operational, legal, and policy guidelines need to inform local solutions.

  • Local unit leaders define how best to adopt the University guidance to meet the needs of their college, unit, or department.
  • Enhance leadership development to help faculty and staff manage/supervise groups of employees who they don’t see face-to-face as frequently.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion should be considered at every step.

  • Ensure that we honor our commitment to community and belonging by recruiting and retaining diverse students, faculty, and staff and reducing disparities among underrepresented groups as outlined in MPact 2025.
  • Use flexible work policies to attract and retain people with disabilities or different living circumstances.
  • Normalize flexibility to enhance wellbeing.

Collegiate guidelines

Within broad parameters, the college offers CSE units considerable latitude to grant flexible work arrangements to employees. Where noted below, requests for approval of arrangements outside of these parameters will be considered and must be approved by the Dean’s Office. These requests are required in order to ensure collegiate awareness of the various approaches across the college and a degree of fairness and consistency in decision making.

The college will not impose a consistent outcome across all units, but it will ensure that the decision-making processes across the college are applied in a consistent manner that fully considers University-wide guiding principles and other relevant factors. Employees in different CSE units with similar work responsibilities may be offered different flexible work opportunities during the pilot period, but those differences will be justified in relation to the University’s guiding principles and the approach being taken at the local level.

The following guidelines apply to CSE’s P&A, Civil Service, and Labor Represented staff. While the previously-stated University principles apply to all employees, the guidelines below do not apply to faculty, graduate assistants, post docs, or undergraduate employees. Units may manage these diverse employee groups as they deem appropriate in consultation with their managers. The Dean’s Office is available for consultation regarding these employee groups, but full discretion is granted to CSE units to manage them. However, when the work of employees in groups not covered by the collegiate guidance is predominantly the same as that of staff covered by the collegiate guidance, all employees doing similar work in the unit should be treated similarly.

Flexible schedules

Flexible work schedules to accommodate employee preferences are encouraged. In some cases, a staff member’s desire for a flexible schedule might be leveraged to the benefit of the institution. For example, an employee wanting to work some evening or weekend hours could provide services to stakeholders needing assistance during those non-core hours.

If an employee and unit leadership wish to implement a flexible work schedule resulting in more than half of an employee’s planned hours being outside of the University’s core business hours (8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday), a request must be sent to Joy Wise Davis. The request should describe the arrangement and the means of ensuring the University’s guiding principles can still be achieved while a majority of work is conducted outside of the University’s core hours.

Remote work arrangements

Units may grant employees remote work arrangements up to three days per week. If an employee and unit leadership wish to go beyond three days per week of remote work, a request must be sent to Joy Wise Davis. The request should describe the arrangement and the means of ensuring the University’s guiding principles can still be achieved while a majority of the work is conducted off-campus. Units cannot require employees to work remotely who previously did not have a remote work arrangement.

All remote work arrangements must be documented with a signed agreement. OHR has provided a sample flexible work agreement (beginning on page 14). Using a different form is allowable but must be approved by Joy Wise Davis to ensure appropriate information is being captured and shared with the employee.

On-campus collaboration days

It is important to foster a healthy team-oriented culture and strong connectivity among employees, particularly as new employees join our teams who lack the pre-existing relationships of long-time staff members. While intentional remote interactions can facilitate these important collaborative relationships, there is also value in formal and informal in-person interactions. Units may implement specific collaboration days each week during which employees are required to be on-site to attend in-person meetings and engage in other collaborative activities.

Remote workspaces

Employees are expected to maintain a professional remote work environment that is conducive to productive work for their remote activities. This includes having a suitable internet connection and phone, as well as a workspace with the necessary equipment and freedom from interruption while engaged in remote work.

Future space considerations

During the pilot period, space adjustments are not required to be made. However, it is anticipated that upon the issuance of ongoing guidance, the college will not maintain dedicated private space for employees who have chosen to work predominantly remotely. The threshold will be considered later, so at this point employees should be made aware that in the future their on-campus space arrangement will differ depending on how much time they spend working on campus.

Occasional flexible days

Employees will have occasional appointments and other personal demands that can be accommodated by use of a flexible schedule or remote work. This is allowed as long as the employee’s work responsibilities can still be accomplished. If the frequency remains low, occasional flexible days do not need to be documented with a formal Work. With Flexibility. agreement, but supervisor pre-approval is required.

Costs

University policies that are currently under development will dictate what remote work expenses may be covered by the University. The University will provide equipment and supplies necessary to accomplish one’s work, but the University will not provide duplicate equipment to employees choosing a hybrid work arrangement. Other costs, such as transportation costs when required to be on campus, internet connections, and at-home office furniture are anticipated to be the employee’s responsibility. This guidance will be updated to match the University’s policies as soon as they are finalized. Employees requiring disability accommodations should contact the Disability Resources Center.

Assessment mechanisms

Assessment during and after the Work. With Flexibility. pilot period is critical. Feedback should be solicited at the local level from multiple stakeholders (faculty, students, staff) throughout the pilot period, and adjustments should be made if evidence arises that the University’s principles are not being achieved. As the pilot period draws to a close, it is anticipated that the University will engage in formal assessment mechanisms, and the college may do its own information gathering to assess the success of the various approaches taken across the college to inform ongoing guidance. The Dean’s Office will continue to work with a representative group of CSE administrators, as well as consult multiple stakeholders, throughout the pilot and assessment periods.

Unit plans

The Dean’s Office will not review and approve all unit Work. With Flexibility. plans, but consultation is available. To create a successful plan, consider the following:

  • Supervisors working in a different location from their direct reports will have limited or no ability to observe staff. How can meaningful management, ongoing assessment, and annual evaluations continue in such cases? The University is offering supervisor training on this topic
  • Staff often have interactive aspects of their work that can be accomplished remotely if carefully structured. Remote staff who previously fielded questions via office drop-ins or phone calls will need to have mechanisms to accomplish these consultative activities efficiently. Be clear about their hours of availability and preferred means of communication, so stakeholders do not feel a degradation of service.
  • Some staff who can do most of their work remotely will have occasional duties that require being on campus. Be sure to consider these less frequent events in your initial plans to ensure the staffing of these events is fair and equitable and does not fall entirely on whoever happens to be physically on campus when the events occur.
  • Be clear with staff about their own expected flexibility within their remote work agreements. An agreement to work remotely on a certain day of the week should not be considered a guarantee never to be on campus on that day. Events happen when they happen, and unexpected situations arise. Staff should be clear under what conditions and with how much notice they will be expected to be on campus regardless of whether they have a remote work agreement.