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An Update on Northwestern’s Alternative Work Strategies Policy

Dear staff,

This spring, we committed to engaging the community to learn about the challenges and opportunities related to working remotely and to hear your thoughts about Northwestern’s Alternative Work Strategies (AWS) policy moving forward. We are pleased to provide an update today, ahead of the Aug. 1 timeframe, on what we learned and our plans going forward.

We appreciate the time and thought you put into providing feedback for the staff survey, which was conducted in partnership with Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council (NUSAC) and has helped guide our decision-making. Not surprisingly, the feedback we received to the survey, as well as concurrent group meetings, reflects the diverse perspectives of our community.

Through the survey (visit the website for a summary), staff expressed interest in continued support for flexible work options, with these options playing a critical role in job satisfaction. We also know through our own recruiting efforts — as well as benchmarking and market research — prospective employees seek flexibility when considering a new job. These data points, along with our priority of enhancing Northwestern’s status as an academic leader and employer of choice, have informed our policy and guiding principles, as detailed below.

Local direction

As of Sept. 1, using the following principles as a guide, managers, with the approval of their school or unit leader, will be responsible for making AWS determinations equitably and based on business and operational needs.

Many of you are interested in continuing the options for flexible work. AWS provides a variety of flexible arrangements, and we encourage managers to review these options.

When determining the extent to which a position can be performed on a flexible basis, we advise school and unit leadership to consider these criteria. This local direction, versus a “one-size-fits-all” approach, is intended to balance necessary and meaningful in-person interactions with continued opportunities for remote work and other forms of flexibility.

Guiding principles 

  • Northwestern thrives by bringing together diverse staff, faculty and students to engage in learning, scholarship and creative work, and these in-person interactions are central to our mission.
  • There is a general expectation that staff will be on campus three or more days per week, but schools and units can customize their plan to meet their unique needs.
  • Managers/employees who request more than two remote days per week are required to provide a rationale to their unit/school leader or designee.
    • It is expected that there will be consistency within a unit/school (i.e., staff members in similar roles on the same team should receive similar consideration).
  • In-office time should be meaningful and focus on collaborations and collective activities together (e.g., staff meetings) on a weekly basis to strengthen and create new cultural norms. We encourage staff and managers to work together to identify what is meaningful for their areas.
  • School and unit leaders will be responsible for ensuring the arrangements work effectively in their areas.
  • To discuss what support might be best for you, email the Well-being team.
  • The Primarily Remote category should be used only for unique circumstances (e.g., market-based competition for/access to talent; distinctive or niche skills not otherwise readily available in the local market). 

Next steps

We have asked local leadership to follow up with you in the coming days, even if your area’s current work plan is working well and will continue as of Sept. 1. Remember, both managers and employees can consult with the HR Well-being team or their HR business partner to discuss AWS plans, and there is a robust toolkit on the website. In addition, enhanced manager training will be available in September.

Our workplace, like so many across the country, must evolve to meet the changes in the ways we work. In that spirit, we will now refer to this policy and guidance as Workplace Strategies as we begin to fully integrate this approach into our work environment. We thank you for your commitment to Northwestern and look forward to working with you as we focus on the days ahead.