Flexwork at Harvard

Harvard University aims for inclusive excellence in all of its operations and the employment experience it provides. Flexwork contributes to this excellence by providing the potential for employees to perform consistently at the highest levels, work together efficiently and effectively to meet the University’s academic and business objectives, rise together to the challenges facing the contemporary workforce, and remain nimble during periods of disruption. When flexibility is well integrated with a performance-based culture, it becomes a strategic tool to achieve business goals and to support wellbeing in the workplace, in the home, and beyond. 

Since the onset of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 public health emergency, Harvard has used remote work as a key strategy to sustain operational continuity while reducing density and exposure for those who must work on campus. In recent months, departments and units across Harvard have implemented or increased telework under these new circumstances. Employees who can work remotely have been asked to do so indefinitely, unless specifically advised to return to on-campus work. Schools, departments and units are best equipped to know who among their faculty and staff need to be on campus and how much, based on the requirements of the position. HR offers a template to help determine why certain jobs need to be performed on campus and think through the implications. Managers are encouraged to work with their teams to restructure work and to re-engineer processes, empowering employees through trust and transparency, to enable remote work. 

Previously, Harvard had required employees to submit a written proposal to propose flexwork arrangements. In light of the pandemic, employees who are able to work remotely are not asked to submit a proposal because they are being required to work remotely. That said, it is nonetheless important for managers and employees to have frequent and thoughtful conversations about how, when, what and where job functions will be completed. Employees and managers are encouraged to help define their plans using this Flexwork Form.

The principles are intended to provide a conceptual foundation for best practices and common-sense decisions. Few will argue that such a sudden and massive pivot to remote work is optimal.  But with continued grit and creativity, managers and employees will benefit from sharing the burden of trade-offs to protect an effective but still new way of working, personal wellbeing, and inclusive excellence throughout the University.