Evaluating a Flexible Work Proposal
Harvard expects managers to consider all proposals carefully, keeping in mind that they are are not obligated to grant approval. Many departments across the University have demonstrated the benefits of flexible work for both managers and employees. A best practice approach to evaluating proposals and designing FWAs includes the following steps:
Set performance goals: Clarify the unit’s and employee’s goals. Flexible work arrangements work best when both the manager and the employee understand the expected results of the employee’s work, and the performance-based criteria for assessment that will be used.
Set the non-negotiable schedule parameters: Before discussing individual schedules, determine an overall department schedule. For example, the schedule parameters of a specific department might specify that:
- 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.
- Everyone must be reachable by phone or email during regular business hours, Tuesday through Thursday.
- Exempt employees who are working a compressed work week must be reachable on their “free day” for time-sensitive concerns, and be willing to attend meetings that are scheduled in advance and require that person’s presence.
- Everyone must be available for seasonal and peak “all hands on deck” periods.
Set the core hours: Managers should establish core hours, which means the hours during which everyone must be physically present (e.g., daily between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., or every Thursday for a staff meeting). They should also establish the outer boundaries of the hours during which anyone may work (for example, no earlier than 7 a.m. or later than 7 p.m.). Once managers establish their principles, they can determine the hours that need to be covered.
Consider each employee’s proposal: Does it fit into the core hours and follow other set principles? Does it address his or her work priorities? Has the employee shown that job duties (including those that affect others) can be performed fully under the proposed arrangement? Has the employee demonstrated convincing “wins” for the department? Does performance history show that this employee can manage the arrangement?
Consider a group of proposals together, if applicable: Do they work together? Do they leave gaps? If so, consider a group meeting including employees to bring up concerns, make adjustments and find innovative solutions among the group. For example, one employee who wants to work 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. may leave the unit with an afternoon gap, until another employee points out that she would be just as happy to work 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Approve or deny based on business reasons: Proposals are expected to explain how the proposed FWA will benefit the department and support its business goals and objectives. Managers should keep an open mind regarding flex work, but never agree to changes that could undermine business goals or burden other staff.
Measuring Success, Making Adjustments
FWAs are successful when employers manage productivity by setting goals and timetables and defining deliverables clearly. New arrangements should be reviewed in 30 days to ensure they are meeting business needs. FWAs should be revisited at regular intervals thereafter (e.g., during annual performance reviews) and modified as necessary.
When measuring the success of a flexible work arrangement, managers and employees should consider whether:
- The quantity, quality and timeliness of work has been maintained, enhanced or diminished.
- The work arrangement has met the expectations laid out in the original proposal.
- The work arrangement has affected, either positively or adversely, relations with the employee’s colleagues, stakeholders, students and/or customers.
- The work arrangement has created a need for additional staff, or caused a unit’s other employees to assume more work.
- An employee has continued to comply with all University and department rules, policies and practices.
Following a review, a manager and employee may decide to extend the FWA, make adjustments or end it. If a manager determines that an employee should end an FWA, that manager should provide as much notice as is practicable before implementing the change.