Flexible Workplace Guidance for Supervisors: Considerations

The Supervisor's role within WorkFlex

An employee’s supervisor is the first and most important evaluation point to determine suitability for a flexible work arrangement for P&S and Merit positions. A supervisor should consider the following upon receiving a request for flexible work

  • Business need/benefit
  • Position suitability
  • Employee suitability
  • Supervisory conditions
  • Team effectiveness

As a supervisor, how you navigate through decision-making while addressing an employee’s request for flexible work is critical to both program success and employee engagement. As supervisors think through WorkFlex requests, strong consideration of the university’s and department’s or college’s mission, goals, and customer service requirements must drive this process. If it is determined that the request does not align with the defined mission and goals, it is likely the request as provided should not be approved. The following sections will help you navigate through decision-making to arrive at the best solution for your employee, department and the university.

Here is a tool that can also help you work through this process: ISU Flexible Work Arrangement Suitability Assessment

1. Evaluating Business Need/Benefit

Flexible work arrangements should have either a net-positive or net-neutral effect on business results and the work environment. ISU’s request and consideration process enables consideration of multiple requests and impacts across the department in a thoughtful way.

  • Is the work arrangement in the best interests of the university?
  • Does it enhance, maintain, or diminish operational efficiencies?
  • Does the addition of flexible work arrangements enhance the productivity of the department and the employees?

2. Which jobs can accommodate a WorkFlex arrangement (Position Suitability)?

Each job has its own unique requirements and limitations on flexible work options – some more than others. This can be a part of your dialogue with your staff as you explore flexibility for your team. Work that is primarily accomplished on a computer would be most easily adapted for a flexible schedule or location, but what about positions that rely more on in-person teamwork or customer interactions? With a little creativity, a surprising number of jobs can be performed in new ways that may not be evident at first glance. Added flexibility in work arrangements should not impact productivity, customer service, operational efficiency or team collaboration.

Some jobs may not be suitable for flexible work:

  • Customer facing
  • Jobs requiring on-campus teaching
  • Jobs focused on manual labor

Considerations: items that may make a position unsuitable for flexible work

  • Requirement for ongoing access to equipment, materials and files that can only be accessed on campus
  • Require extensive face-to-face contact with students, supervisors, other employees or the public
  • Require extensive time in meetings or on collaborative efforts
  • Involve performing work on campus and at standard office hours
  • Security considerations that require presence on campus or facility location

3. Consider the individual making the request (Employee Suitability)

  • Can this employee work independently and be self-directed in accomplishing their tasks?
  • Does this employee need to demonstrate competency in a critical area before such an arrangement can be approved?
  • Does the employee’s current work performance align with the request being made?
  • Is the employee performing adequately and has not been the subject of disciplinary action?
  • Will the approval of the request impact performance negatively?
  • How can I help this employee succeed if this schedule is approved?
  • Can the employee miss some in-person meetings or events? If not, how can these duties be scheduled?
  • Can the employee complete the same amount of work (not including a reduced appointment)? Consider weekly, monthly, and annual work projects that need to be accounted for.

4. Consider your own management style and skillset

  • Are you comfortable allowing employees flexibility in where, when and how they work? If not, what changes might you have to make as a supervisor to support employee flexibility in where, when, and how they work?
  • How and how often are you monitoring the work performance of your employees?
  • Are you comfortable working with the whole team to weigh the pros and cons of given options and problem-solve together how the team can collaborate to create a flexible work environment?
  • Can you trust that the requesting employee(s) will be productive without continuous supervision in a flexible work arrangement? If not, what changes might you have to make as a supervisor to ensure this?

5. Consider the impact to the team and its effectiveness

  • How will office communication be affected by the arrangement? Consider communication between the staff member and internal/external customers, co-workers, supervisors, and others.
  • How will the WorkFlex arrangement affect the workload of other employees?
  • Would the team support varying work schedules, work hours or individuals intermittently working remotely?
  • Can productivity of the team be measured as a whole and has productivity and performance improved with flexible work, or at least remained constant?
  • Does the job require working with others? How will the arrangement affect interactions with others?

Throughout all five of these specific consideration points, a focus on the work that is required as well as the expectations and goals of the unit have to be weighed.

  • How can technology be leveraged, and is it available in this situation?
  • Are some duties seasonal or needed at peak times during the semester?
  • Does the workload need to be restructured?
  • How will I determine whether productivity is higher, lower or unaffected by the change?
  • How necessary is it to be onsite at all times?
  • How will the employee(s) receive the work that needs to be done?

Connect with your HR Delivery to help you review any requests.

How to set up a flexible work arrangement with an employee

In order to establish a WorkFlex arrangement, consider the following steps:

  1. First, analyze your department’s workflow and staffing needs. Identify your peak service or demand times, regular weekly meeting schedule, and ideal work schedule coverage.
  2. Identify who in your work group would like to arrange a flexible work schedule. Determine if everyone who wants a flexible work option can have one, or if you need to establish a rotating system.
  3. Analyze all flexible work schedule requests.
  4. If approval is given, establish a pilot period of a maximum of six months to allow for adjustments necessary for success. Establish a check-in process during the pilot period to evaluate how the new schedule is working for both the employee and the department. If the flexible schedule is not working, make reasonable adjustments to address what’s not working.

If things aren't working: How to discuss performance issues

As with any other employee, if an employee with a WorkFlex arrangement is having performance issues, the supervisor will need to talk through the issue with the individual and define some way to measure improvement. Determine if the performance issue is related to the employee’s WorkFlex arrangement. If so, in what ways? (Not enough time allocated for the job; communication is problematic due to off-site location, etc.)

Once the employee and supervisor can identify possible causes of the problem(s), the supervisor and employee should work together to improve performance. The supervisor can also change the WorkFlex request and require the employee to return to “regular” office hours until the performance issue is addressed. When satisfactory performance is re-established, the supervisor may choose to again allow for flexible scheduling. For assistance in addressing performance, contact your HR Delivery team.