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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 Toolkit


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:

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.  

 Download the policy

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

Phase Out

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:


A work schedule that permits flexibility in starting and quitting times without changing the total hours worked in a work week. Most flextime arrangements specify a core period of time during the day in which all employees must be scheduled to work.

Compressed Workweek

A full-time work schedule (37.5 to 40 hours per week) compressed into less than the traditional five-day work week.


A work schedule that allows employees to work part or all of their work hours from a location other than their regular work site. An example would be an employee who works from a home office 1 day per week.


A work schedule of at least 18.75 but less than 37.5 hours per week is considered part-time and may have prorated vacation, holiday and sick time. Employees who work less than 18.75 hours per week are not benefit eligible.

Job Sharing

A work arrangement in which the responsibilities of one full-time position are shared by two employees. Job sharing differs from part-time work in that job share partners are expected to be interchangeable in work assignments and represent a single employee in all respects.

Seasonal Arrangement

A work arrangement in which the employee uses a flexible work arrangement only during a certain season such as summer or after classes end for fall quarter.

Transition To/From Leave

A work schedule that allows employees who are about to go on leave or who are returning from leave to utilize flex time, remote work or other flexible work arrangements before or after their 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.