Harvard University Flexible Work Guidelines

Harvard University aims for excellence in its administrative operations and the employment experience it provides. Flexible work arrangements can contribute to this excellence, providing the potential for employees to perform consistently at the highest levels, work together efficiently and effectively to meet the University’s mission and business objectives, and maintain a good quality of life.

When flexibility is well integrated with a performance-based culture, it becomes a strategic tool to achieve business goals and to foster engagement. Harvard is committed to implementing flexible work arrangements that support:

  • A high-performance, results-based work environment where highly engaged individuals, groups, and managers can thrive;
  • Business continuity in the case of disruptions caused by factors such as construction or weather; and
  • The University’s sustainability goals and commitment to employee wellbeing.

Without prescribing specific solutions given the wide range of differences in jobs, units and organizational objectives, these guidelines prescribe a common process that will ensure fair consideration across the University. We encourage you to read the guidelines thoroughly to understand their general principles.

What Do We Mean When We Say "Flex?"

Flexible work arrangements (FWAs, or “flex”) are workplace arrangements that vary from the standard 9-to-5, in-the-office presence. They typically include flexibility of time and/or place. There are two types of flexible work:

  • Occasional flexibility responds to one-time or intermittent needs and may not require a formal proposal, but establishing parameters in writing encourages “ground rules” at any level of frequency.
  • Formal flexibility is an ongoing change to an employee’s regular way of working and always requires a formal proposal. These guidelines and tools address formal FWAs, but may also be helpful in clarifying mutual expectations about occasional flexibility.

You can find definitions of key FWA terms here. A shared understanding of these is critical, since misunderstandings can lead to confusion or conflict. Managers and employees should take some time to review the FWA terms and get aligned on a common vocabulary so they can effectively communicate about a potential or current FWA.

Six Basic Principles of Workplace Flexibility at Harvard

Harvard has established the following principles to ensure an equitable process for all employees, support business objectives and create a work environment that supports employees’ full engagement:

  1. All managers are expected to consider all formal proposals for flexible work arrangements (FWAs) objectively and fairly to ensure an equitable process across the University, but are not obligated to grant approval.
  2. FWAs should have either a positive or neutral effect on business results and the work environment – never a negative effect.
  3. Flexible work arrangements are meant to be responsive to the changing needs of the workplace, and should be reviewed and updated both as needs change and, at least annually. FWAs should not be considered permanent.
  4. Flexible work may not be suitable for every job. In particular, many types of jobs require employees to be on-site full-time or at regularly scheduled times (see the Job Considerations Grid for guidance).
  5. The personal circumstances of individuals, or their reasons for proposing an FWA, should not drive the decision to approve or deny the FWA. (Learn more about the role of the reason and personal bias in evaluating FWA proposals.)
  6. Formal FWAs require a detailed proposal using the proposal form, addressing how, when and where work will be performed. Employees should also speak with their managers or HR department about local policies and practices. (Proposal form is also available in Word.)

Managers and supervisors are responsible for considering FWA proposals objectively and fairly, but are not obligated to grant approval. Using these guidelines and tools consistently should reduce the risk of unreasonable denials on the part of managers, as well as unreasonable expectations on the part of employees. To learn more, please read Flexible Work Proposals and Evaluating, Managing, and Measuring FWAs. Be sure to speak with your manager or HR department about local policies and practices. If you are a member of a union, you should refer to your contract regarding flexibility provisions. If there is a conflict between the language in one of Harvard’s union contracts and the Harvard flexibility guidelines, the union contract language prevails.

You can find additional resources, tools and University partners to help you navigate the FWA process in Tools and Resources.