Managing Flexible Work Arrangements

While many departments and units around the University allow flex-work, no formal University policy or union contract directs managers to accept requests for non-standard schedules*. Some jobs simply must be carried out within regular business hours and at a specific location.

At the same time, Harvard encourages managers to consider requests, since a convincing body of research now demonstrates the benefits of flexible work. Best practice suggests the following approach to evaluating requests and designing a flex-work structure:

  • Set performance goals: Clarify your unit’s and employees’ goals. Flexible work arrangements work best when both the manager and the employee understand the desired results of the employee’s work and a performance-based management system is in place. (See Managing Flexible Schedules: What Successful Organizations Do, by the MIT Workplace Center.)

  • Set the non-negotiable schedule principles: Before getting into the details of individual schedules, decide how your business objectives dictate the department schedule. For example, the principles of your unit might be:
    • Telephone coverage must be in place five days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • Everyone must attend Tuesday-afternoon staff meetings
    • Everyone must be available for a weekly check-in at a mutually convenient time, and
    • Everyone must be reachable by phone or email during regular business hours, Tuesday through Thursday.

  • Set your core hours and bandwidth: Once you establish your principles, you can determine the hours you need covered.

  • Consider each employee’s proposal: Do they fit into the core hours and bandwidth you have set? Has the employee demonstrated convincing “wins” for the department? Does performance history suggest that this employee can manage the arrangement?

  • Consider the group of proposals, if applicable: Do they work together? Do they leave gaps? If so, you might try meeting to bring up concerns and make adjustments. You may find that including employees in this discussion results in answers you hadn’t thought of. For example, the parent who wants to work 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. may leave you with an afternoon gap, until the moonlighting musician points out that she would be just as happy to work 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

  • Grant or deny based on business reasons: A good manager keeps an open mind regarding flex work, but will not agree to changes that could undermine business goals or burden other staff. Preferably, the requestor(s) will ease that decision by demonstrating that the proposed schedule will benefit the department in specific ways.

  • Implement, and measure progress during a trial period: See Measuring Success, Making Adjustments.

* Unless they are a part of an accommodation related to a medical issue. For information on disability-related flex work, contact disabilityservices@harvard.edu.