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Northwestern IT Flexible Work Arrangements Policy

The Human Resources department has issued broad guidelines covering flexible work arrangements at Northwestern University

Consistent with these guidelines, NUIT supports flexible work arrangements where possible. This document explains how NUIT will administer such arrangements, and in particular the following:

  • Flextime – flexibility in starting and quitting times without changing the total hours worked.
  • Compressed Workweek – a full-time schedule compressed into less than a five-day workweek.
  • Telecommuting – working from a location other than one’s regular work sites on campus.

Existing flexible work arrangements should be reviewed and adjusted as needed in accordance with this document. If you have questions, contact your director or associate director, or NUIT’s Director of Administration and Finance. 

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General Principles Underlying Flexible Work Arrangements in Northwestern IT

Flexible work arrangements for NUIT employees should adhere to the following principles:

  1. Work/life balance is important. Requests for flexible work arrangements should be genuinely considered and supported where appropriate. Being in the office helps build collaborative working relationships and effective communication patterns, which are especially important when many of our work products are the result of contributions from several NUIT employees or other University colleagues. NUIT’s productivity and ability to serve the University is very much dependent on this. Thus, it is expected that work is completed in the workplace and employees are present at the office to accomplish the work at hand. With that said, in our society today, flexible work arrangements can be an important part of work/life effectiveness. They can help employees juggle competing demands of their work and personal lives.
  2. Existing standards for work quality, quantity, and timing should be maintained under flexible work arrangements. The primary considerations in determining if granting a request is appropriate are the provision of services to our customers, NU/NUIT work requirements, and the benefits of and need for physical proximity with colleagues. Flexible work arrangements should be established so that adequate coverage is maintained during normal University business hours.
  3. Flexible work arrangements are not an entitlement. Employees are not automatically entitled to work under flexible arrangements. Minimum requirements regarding length of service and performance levels generally should be met to be considered for recurring flexible work arrangements. Flexible work arrangements, especially recurring arrangements, require a level of trust, and to be granted such flexibility employees need to have demonstrated that they can be productive under flexible work arrangements.
  4. Director or associate director approval is required. Before an employee’s work schedule can be redefined on a recurring basis, the employee’s supervisor should be consulted. Approval or denial of a request for recurring flexible work arrangements is at the discretion of the NUIT director or associate director.
  5. Variation in work impacts flexibility. There is a broad array of services and functions across NUIT, so flexible work arrangements may not work in some NUIT units or at various times of the year even though they may be appropriate in other units. This is not an inconsistent application of this policy. Based on scheduling needs and workloads, directors or associate directors may determine “black out days” when flexible work arrangements will not be authorized.
  6. Flexible work arrangements are subject to change. They can be changed at any time to accommodate changes in business needs or to address work performance issues. They should be reviewed on an ongoing basis and at least semi-annually to determine if continuation is appropriate. Under most circumstances, a reasonable notice period should be provided before ending a flexible work arrangement.

Incidental Flexibility versus Recurring Flexibility

There are differences in the need for, motivation behind, and handling of requests for incidental flexibility and recurring flexibility.

Incidental Flexibility

From the perspective of the organization, ebbs in workflow, changing priorities, operational support, or unpredictable events may sometimes require employees to put in extra hours or adjust their standard hours to support work requirements (e.g., system upgrades outside of standard work hours) or customer needs. This is generally understood and accommodated by many employees, and in return, supervisors may provide these same employees with time off or a schedule differing from their standard schedule. Likewise, from the perspective of employees, sometimes events beyond one’s control (e.g., plumbing emergency, severe weather) get in the way of work, and these unplanned demands on their time may cause employees to request flexibility. These requests need to be fairly balanced with the organizational need to get work done. Within the parameters outlined in this document, it is often reasonable to accommodate such requests. If possible, employees should request this incidental flexibility at least one day in advance. They should inform co-workers as needed. Last-minute requests (less than 1 business day notice) should be limited to emergencies. Use of paid time off is the more appropriate choice for last-minute, out-of-office needs. Ongoing requests for incidental flexibility can begin to look like recurring flexibility and should be treated as such. If requested flexibility extends beyond 3 months, it should be handled as a request for recurring flexibility.

Recurring Flexibility

This is a planned alternative work schedule that generally recurs over a 2-week period. Each recurring flexible work arrangement should be documented and agreed to in writing, piloted before being put in place, and formally reviewed at least semi-annually to determine if it should be continued as is, continued with adjustments, or cancelled. The remainder of this document provides guidance on how requests for recurring flexible work arrangements should be administered.

Requirements for Participation in Recurring Flexible Work Arrangements

To be considered for participation in recurring flexible work arrangements, employees must be in good standing and have job responsibilities that do not require them to be physically present on campus at all times during regularly scheduled hours. Generally, employees with recurring flexible work arrangements are fulltime and have been with NUIT at least six months. Because of complications with the Fair Labor Standards Act, non-exempt employees are not eligible to telecommute.

Examples of Cases for Recurring Flexible Work Arrangements

Deciding if a request for a recurring flexible work arrangement is appropriate and should be approved requires weighing individual needs against organizational goals. This can be a difficult call depending on the specific circumstances, and no two situations are likely to be the same. To promote consistent application of this policy, following is additional guidance for translating the general principles in this document into yes/no decisions and, where appropriate, recurring flexible work arrangements:

Recurring Flexible Work Arrangement Preferred Alternative Arrangement
Flextime to take classes or pursue a degree in an IT or field related to one’s position. Consider courses that don’t interfere with normal work hours.
Flextime to leave early to pick up child from school after losing previous day care provider until new childcare can be arranged. Locate a new childcare provider. Supervisor review monthly progress on locating new childcare provider.
Flextime or compressed workweek to care for sick parents or other family members. Use Incidental Sick Time and other paid time-off under NU benefit plans.
Flextime to be able to volunteer for a good cause. Seek volunteer opportunities that don’t interfere with work hours.
Flextime or compressed workweek to take classes or pursue degree. Consider courses that don’t interfere with normal work hours.
Telecommute part of the day before or after coming to work to accommodate a recurring medical appointment (for self or family member). Move the appointment to an alternative time minimizing conflicts with work schedule.
Flextime to leave early some days to pick up child from daycare provider (or school). Modify childcare arrangement to accommodate a full workday.
Compress workweek to pursue personal hobbies/interests. Use existing NU plans for paid time off.

Recurring flexible work arrangements are alternative methods of meeting the needs of NU/NUIT, while recognizing the importance of work/life balance. For example, most flextime arrangements specify a core period of time during the day in which all employees must be scheduled to work. If an NUIT operation needs to be staffed during all regularly scheduled business hours and the number of employees in the NUIT unit is insufficient to cover operations in the absence of one or more employees, flextime may not be feasible. Telecommuting is not an alternative means of providing child care at home. It is not a means to extend vacation or paid leave. It is not a substitute for sick leave. When a staff member uses vacation, personal floating holiday, or sick time, the amount of paid time away from work is equal to the scheduled work hours for that day. For leave accrual and reporting, time spent telecommuting is treated the same as time worked at the office.

Procedures for Handling Recurring Flexible Work Arrangements

Approved requests for recurring flexible work arrangements must be documented on the Northwestern IT Flexible Work Arrangements Agreement form (login may be required to access).

This form must be signed by the employee, his or her supervisor, and director or associate director. A pilot period for initial requests should be specified on the form. At the end of the pilot period, the arrangement should be assessed to determine if it is meeting the needs of the unit and if it will be continued. The signed form should be forwarded to the NUIT Administration and Finance unit for inclusion in the employee’s file. At least twice a year, the recurring arrangement should be reviewed to determine if it should be continued, adjusted, or canceled. If changes are made, an updated approved form should be sent to NUIT Administration and Finance.

Guidelines for recurring flexible work arrangements follow:

  1. Over the course of the flexible work period, scheduled work hours should not be more or less than the number of regular hours for the period. Most flexible work schedules are established over a 2-week period, and the agreement form is consistent with this convention.
  2. Employees telecommuting should be online and easily reachable by Lync, email, and phone, and their telecommuting schedules should be made known to the employee’s work group, including phone contact information.
  3. Work events (meetings, required onsite work, etc.) overrule scheduled flexibility. When these occur, employees should discuss it with their supervisor to determine what alternative arrangements might be made (e.g., calling in remotely to a meeting, shifting a non-work day to another day of the workweek).
  4. A recurring flexible work arrangement is a privilege extended to employees who are successfully completing tasks correctly and on schedule. When work is past due or “at risk” such privileges may be temporarily revoked.
  5. Consistent with Human Resource guidelines, for non-exempt employees:
    • The flexible work period can be no longer than 2 weeks and is to coincide with the biweekly payroll period.
    • Scheduled work hours may not exceed 10 per day.
    • The normal lunch period may not be shortened in a flextime or compressed workweek schedule.
    • Where formal rest breaks are necessary and a part of the work schedule, such breaks may not be shortened or eliminated from the schedule.