Alternative Work Strategies
The extended period of virtual work during the COVID-19 pandemic has provided valuable insights into the potential benefits of thoughtful use of Alternative Work Strategies for our staff and for our institution. Northwestern recognizes that the implementation of Alternative Work Strategies supports a variety of goals related to staff engagement and well-being, recruitment and retention, sustainability, service excellence, cost efficiencies, space utilization, and the overall enhancement of the employment experience.
Policy on Alternative Work Strategies
The new Policy on Alternative Work Strategies establishes a common, ongoing framework and common definitions, within which school and unit leadership can implement various Alternative Work Strategies—including but not limited to remote work—in accordance with their operational needs. Please see the Policy for the range of Alternative Work Strategies. To maintain the vibrancy that characterizes our campuses, the University expects that most employees will continue to work on designated campus locations for a majority of their work week. The Policy on Alternative Work Strategies will supersede the Flexible Work Arrangements guidance.
Download the Policy on Alternative Work Strategies, (effective July 6, 2021)
- Alternative Work Strategies may be implemented at the school or unit level.
- All schools and units are required to submit their post-pandemic plans, in alignment with the above policy, to the Office of Human Resources for review.
- Any arrangements instituted under this Policy are subject to revocation by the school or unit leadership at any time with or without prior notice.
- This policy will be assessed regularly and refined as needed.
Policy on COVID-19 Alternative Work Arrangements
Phase Out of Policy
The COVID-19 Alternative Work Arrangements Policy will be phased out after June 20 with an end-date between July 31 and September 3. Schools and units will determine the date on which the AWA will be sunset, based on their operational needs. Between June 20 and the policy end date, schools and units should provide reasonable flexibility to individuals, but ensure that business needs can be met. The qualifying criteria for an AWA (listed below) will narrow after June 20, in alignment with improving public health conditions.
Employees who require the AWA beyond June 20 should speak with their managers about their needs. Existing AWA arrangements will not automatically extend beyond June 20.
In 2020, Northwestern established a temporary provision for faculty and staff required to return to in-person campus work activities, or who support ongoing academic research, who request alternative work arrangements due to:
- Own or household risk of exposure,
- Required care of minor and / or adult dependents,
- Limited access to reasonably safe public transportation options (through June 20 only), and / or
- Inability to secure child or elder care.
A school or unit's Return to Campus Plan may adequately address employee scheduling or flexibility needs. In these cases, the provisions of this policy need not apply. This policy is intended to address situations in which an employee requires additional flexibility. Employees will need to complete an Alternative Work Arrangements Request Form (VPN required). Faculty can complete this Alternative Work Arrangement Proposal Form to share with your department chair or supervisor.
As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic with K-12 schools re-opening and fewer challenges in securing childcare, we are evolving to norms of more faculty and staff returning to campus and formalizing new ways of working. Consequently, we will be sunsetting the Alternative Work Arrangements policy to rebuild our sense of community and support the mission of the University as a place where we convene to teach, learn, work, and innovate.
The COVID-19 pandemic precipitated fundamental changes in the way we teach, learn, and collaborate with each other. Northwestern has implemented a new Policy on Alternative Work Strategies to address this shift, which goes into effect on July 6, 2021. See the section above for additional information on this new policy.
Flexible Work Arrangements
The following flexible work arrangement guidance will be phased out on July 6, 2021, when the Alternative Work Strategies Policy goes into effect. The Policy on Alternative Work Strategies supersedes the Flexible Work Arrangements guidance. Practices enabled under Flexible Work Arrangements will be provisioned through the Alternative Work Strategy Policy beginning July 6, 2021.
Northwestern's work encompasses a wide range of positions to fulfill its mission. Understanding the many varied duties of staff members across the University, Northwestern recognizes that the implementation of a flexible work arrangement can often optimize the needs of the University and the staff member or work team and supports flex work arrangements where possible.
The availability of flexible work arrangements varies by school, unit, and position based on business and operational needs.
Types of flexible work arrangements
There are two types of flex work arrangements: occasional and formal. Occasional refers to one time or intermittent requests. Formal are arrangements that require some type of change in when or where someone works on a regular basis. Both require communication with and approval by the manager.
The specific nature of the flexible work arrangement, whether occasional or formal, can take a variety of forms. The most common are:
Transition To/From Leave
The main consideration in setting up an alternative work arrangement is how the work will be completed. It is recommended that the below guidelines be taken into consideration as well.
- Flex is a business strategy and engagement tool.
- Flex is NOT a perk; a way to facilitate caregiving; a way of addressing health issues; or a form of ADA accommodations.
- Staff proposing a flex arrangement should be in good standing and should have passed the 6 month probation period, unless the flex arrangement is part of the staff member's starting agreement.
- The process by which managers approve flex arrangement proposals should be equitable and objective.
- Written proposals (see proposal template form below) and pilot periods are strongly recommended.
- Decisions should be reason-neutral; managers should not consider individuals' personal circumstances or reasons for seeking a flex work arrangement in either approving or rejecting an employee's flex proposal and should avoid asking for a reason as part of the proposal.
- Flex work arrangements should be job-appropriate, operationally viable and legally compliant. A position that requires the employee to be on-site regularly may not, for example, allow for telecommuting.
- Flex work arrangements should have a net-neutral or net-positive effect on business results.
- Flex work arrangements should be responsive both to the changing needs of the workplace and of the individual and reviewed regularly.
- Team-based flex arrangements should include guiding principles.
- Managers may establish non-negotiable schedule parameters and core hours, based on business needs.
- Non-exempt employees cannot work over their approved hours unless they have supervisor pre-approval.
- Employees and managers should consult the Well-Being team and their HR Business Partner regarding best practices, policies and training for both individuals and teams.