By SUSAN JONES
If the past year and a half has taught us anything, it’s how to be flexible.
FLEX WORK INFORMATION
A new page on flex work at Pitt is now live on the Office of Human Resources’ site, which includes:
- The interim flexible work policy
- An overview of flexible work arrangements
- Flexible work request forms
- Contacts for additional assistance
Three optional workshops are being offered in July to help supervisors think creatively about the options available; have productive conversations with their team members and makes decisions that align with Pitt policies.
The sessions, which can be found on the University Calendar, are:
- 10-11 a.m. July 7
- 1-2 p.m. July 13
- 10-11 a.m. July 22
Last year, Pitt employees were forced into remote work situations that many had long sought before the pandemic. Now, the University is using the lessons it learned during 2020 to create a new interim flexible work policy that will take affect in July as many staff members begin to return to campus (see related story).
The new policy, which can be accessed here with Pitt ID, was discussed at a Staff Town Hall (find the recording here) and Staff Retreat on June 15, at Staff Council’s June 16 meeting and at supervisor training sessions this week.
At all of these meetings, Pitt officials emphasized that any flex work agreement would put the University’s business needs first, but as Mark Burdsall, deputy vice chancellor of Human Resources, said at the town hall: “I want to reiterate that the University is eager for employees’ work-life balance and campus sustainability goals to be made by encouraging units and supervisors and responsibility center heads to really look at, are there opportunities to offer flexible work where possible.”
Diane Chabal, manager of HR’s Organization Development department who led the supervisor training session, said that flexible work policies also can enhance recruitment and retention of employees. “People want, in most cases, more flexibility and choice in the way that they work, the way that they get work done and where they work.”
The current, pre-pandemic policy wasn’t very welcoming or encouraging of flexible work arrangements, Chabal said.
A flexible work arrangement is one in which:
The employee works remotely all or part of the time.
The employee works on days other than their usual work days.
The employee works at different times, other than their usual work times.
The policy applies to all full- and part-time staff, including temporary employees and student workers.
Burdsall said the key in making any flexible work arrangement is communication between staff, supervisors and responsibility center heads. “What we need to consider is efficiency, outputs, and also all of our well-being,” he said at the town hall.
The main differences in the new interim policy are:
If you’ll be working remotely, in a hybrid environment, or changing your work schedule, you’ll need to sign a flex work form with your supervisor to confirm when you’ll be working remotely.
The form also requires that you designate a work area, typically in the employee’s home. “This is included to ensure supervisors are aware of staff members’ remote work locations and that it is free of safety hazards,” Burdsall said. “An employee can change their designated work area with approval from their supervisor. Additionally, the Office of Human Resources coordinates with the CFO’s area to ensure compliance with taxation and other requirements, especially for work areas outside of the Commonwealth.”
Flex work can occur during an employee’s provisional period.
Departments that can’t provide this flexibility, such as Pitt shuttle drivers, can complete an opt-out form.
It also provides a way for supervisors, the University, or a unit to direct employees to work in a flexible way, like many of us were asked to do this past year.
The HR officials emphasized that the new policy does not apply to people requesting accommodations because of health-related issues. These cases should all be directed to Disability Resources and Services.
And whether or not an employee works on campus, completely remotely or in a hybrid arrangement, Burdsall said, should have no impact on their standing, annual review or salary. “All employees will be treated equitably across workloads and locations,” he said. “Every individual employee is important to the whole University.”
Any employee working remotely will be subject to some universal standards — including designating a work area — to ensure quality, safety, accountability, confidentiality and data security:
Anyone with a flexible work agreement will have to do an online training, and people who handle high risk data will be required to use a University-owned and managed device. If the University does provide computer hardware, it remains the property of the University and can only be used by the employee for work purposes.
Workers compensation reporting is going to continue. If you have a work-related injury that occurs under these flexible work arrangements, you will need to report the injury within 24 hours using the standard reporting process.
Employees will need to make appropriate child and dependent care arrangements so they are able to complete their work without interruption and focus on what they need to do.
If there’s a change in an employee’s work hours, supervisors should obtain approval and make sure the change is clearly communicated to the employee. This is particularly important with non-exempt (bi-weekly) employees, Laura Ainsley, a learning and development specialist in HR, said during the supervisor training.
“We’re all familiar with that feeling of work creep that goes into our personal lives,” she said. “We need to be really, really aware of making sure that folks who are non-exempt still have those protections, and that we’re communicating that we don’t want them to have to work beyond those standard times that have been set.”
Chabal said she sees this as a time for supervisors to reflect on the past year and what about remote arrangements has worked — “there’s some very positive things that you want to carry forward, but there might be some things that you need to tighten up a little bit.”
One question supervisors may ask, Chabal said, is what exactly qualifies as a legitimate business reason to grant a flexible work agreement. “Can that mean that we as supervisors can say it’s good for our business to recognize that our employees want to have some work-life balance?” It can, she said, “especially if the employees can perform the work. And I think a good gauge of that is, have they been able to perform the work in a flexible way over the past year. … If that is something that’s been working, and if your team has been able to work together and stay engaged, that’s certainly something that you can justify as a business-related reason if you’re able to meet the needs … of the people you were serving.”
Supervisors will be asked to review the flexible working arrangements annually, and the agreements can be rescinded or modified at any time.
Several questions were raised about the new interim flexible work policy at the various forums this week. Below are a synthesis of those questions and responses.
Will there be an appeals process if an employee feels they are able to work flexibly but a supervisor disagrees?
If you believe your work can be completed remotely and your supervisor wants you to return, you should discuss it directly with your supervisor to determine what flexibility is or isn’t possible based on business needs. Explain your perspective and listen actively to their reasons for asking you to work in person.
If a supervisor denies or modifies a request, it will need to be sent to the RC head for approval and the supervisor must provide a legitimate business-related reason for denying and modifying the request, Chabal said. The Employee and Labor Relations department also is a partner in this process, she said.
What if one unit won’t allow any flexible work arrangements while another with similar duties does? How do you deal with those disparities?
“Supervisor training on the interim policy includes decision-making fairness based on position requirements,” Dave DeJong, senior vice chancellor for Business & Operations, said in response to an emailed question. “Beyond training, we are working with RC heads to set expectations in pursuit of consistency and equity across RCs. Feedback will be used to finalize the policy in the coming year.”
Is there a University-level policy for how much in-office time is required in this new flexible policy to reserve an office space or is that department/building specific?
The terms of each flexible work arrangement differ by unit and role and are based on the needs of the unit. However, there is no predetermined minimum or maximum number of days required on-campus in the policy itself.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.