Flexible Workplace Guidance for Supervisors

Supervisors have a responsibility to achieve the goals of their units, and to provide the guidance, support, and training for their staff to ensure that employees can do their jobs. Supervisors are responsible for using university resources wisely in order to deliver results in the most efficient and effective manner. The implementation of WorkFlex can help supervisors meet their goals in many ways.

The following guidance is designed to help supervisors think about and implement workplace flexibility. University leadership has supported being flexible in the past, and especially to help manage through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, to provide flexibility going forward requires a reassessment of past practices and incorporating new ways of thinking about how work gets done at ISU, how supervisors manage their teams, and how everyone can collaborate. The following guidance and suggestions will help employees, supervisors and teams think through how they can enable and support flexibility based on their own unique circumstances as campus returns to a new and improved “normal.”

Talking About Flexibility

When thinking about creating a culture of trust, it helps to recognize the concerns of employees and managers to help understand each other’s perspectives.

Employee ConcernsManager Concerns
  • Decisions will be based on preference with biases and potential discrimination.
  • I will be treated differently for requesting flexibility.
  • My supervisor is unlikely to allow any of the options.
  • How will decisions be made?
  • What if my request is denied?
  • Multiple requests will make it impossible to grant every request and effectively run my unit.
  • Flexibility will make it difficult to know who is available when.
  • How will customers of our services know about people's availability?
  • How do I make fair decisions when there are conflicting requests?

How to discuss WorkFlex with Staff

Many supervisors are uncomfortable broaching the topic of flexibility with their employees. They may fear that they will set high expectations that they will not be able to meet, that they will create conflict between employees, or that their team’s ability to reach goals will be compromised.

However, supervisors who embrace alternate work arrangements attest again and again to the strength, productivity and loyalty that come with setting an expectation of flexibility with their employees. An open and honest discussion of what may or may not be possible in any given work setting can help to head off unrealistic expectations. It allows the whole group to weigh the pros and cons of given options, and to problem-solve together how they might work as a team to create a flexible work environment that benefits all parties.

Discussions like these also help each team member buy into the process and provide input into how flexible work options might be tracked or assessed as different arrangements progress. Finally, such discussions often take the burden of creating shared expectations off of the supervisor alone, creating and fostering an environment in which all team members expect high levels of productivity, communication and problem-solving from each other.

Collaboration Tips

Supervisors have the ultimate responsibility for approving requests for work flexibility, but it doesn’t have to be their sole responsibility to figure out how to make it work. A “best practice” recommendation is to make WorkFlex decisions and discussions a collaborative effort. Engage your team in helping support their colleagues’ requests for flexibility. This will help remove concerns about bias in decision-making, or lack of clarity about different people’s flexible situations, or issues of perceived unfairness. The team can come to agreement on how to make it work and how they will continue to work together to help supervisors with the decision.

Things to discuss as a team:

  • Setting schedules to ensure coverage
  • Identifying core hours where everyone is available
  • Determining meetings or activities that require in-person attendance
  • Figuring out how to collaborate and communicate online
  • Establishing protocols for changes and requests

Leading by Example

Supervisors create the culture and shape team perceptions about flexibility and work. Employees are often hesitant to ask for the flexibility they need. Think about ways to make it clear to your team that you support them. How supervisors use their own flexibility speaks a lot to the team about expectations. Consider leading by example in using flexibility while staying focused on the purpose of your role at ISU.

Keeping Management Simple

Supervising employees can feel overwhelming at times, and there can be a tendency to overcomplicate it. When thinking about managing employees using flexible options, keep in mind that employees are generally looking for four simple things from you, and use the following points as a guide in your discussions.

  1. Ask them what they think and let them know you value their opinions and suggestions
  2. Let them know what you expect of them under a WorkFlex arrangement
  3. Say something positive about their work and their contributions to your team
  4. Share any information that will help them thrive under a WorkFlex arrangement

These four simple steps are all about communication that creates trust and creates clarity. These are proven ways to improve engagement and retention among your staff. For each conversation you have with your employee, think about these four items. Also, think about how often you have conversations with your employees who are using WorkFlex options, especially hybrid workers. Employees are concerned about being out of sight and out of mind when it comes to requesting a flexible schedule, so having frequent conversations that cover these items will help them stay connected to the work, to the team, and to you as a supervisor. At a minimum, schedule a 15- or 30-minute biweekly connection point to have these conversations.