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Flexible work at Stanford: Present state and future steps

Our employees transformed our approach to work and, in the process, embraced new ways of working.
Different ways of working

The way we live and work has significantly changed over the past two years, and Stanford has transformed from an almost exclusively on-site workplace to a hybrid model that supports a variety of work arrangements. While some employees remained on-site throughout the pandemic, many moved to a flexible, distributed work environment. 

It wasn’t always an easy transition. Across the university, we reassessed and reconfigured decades-long processes and procedures, stretching our patience and creativity along the way. With a residential campus experience driven by in-person teaching and research, a one-size-fits-all approach to flexibility wouldn’t work, but the possibilities had to be explored. Despite the significant undertaking, the university challenged pre-pandemic ways of working to improve employees’ autonomy, productivity, morale and, most important, their quality of life. Flexibility has its advantages for Stanford, too, including enhanced employee experience, increased engagement and the opportunity to retain and attract diverse talent. 

As is the case with experiments, we’ve had to iterate as we go. Through the collaborative efforts of school/unit leaders, feedback from the Stanford HR community and insights from industry research and trends, remote and hybrid policies were adjusted in February 2022 to establish a consistent decision-making process, even as work arrangements vary. In June, the university also updated its compensation policy to ensure that pay is managed in a consistent, equitable manner by:

  • Setting competitive pay based on the geographic region where work is performed; and
  • Establishing a regional pay structure based on five geographic regions (Stanford Work Location, Central, East, South and West), effective June 15. 

Where we are today

Through the many starts, stops and adjustments that the pandemic has necessitated, and with the exciting but demanding work of developing new ways of working, our community has risen to the challenge. We are now in a new phase where we’re settling into new working arrangements while still continuing to refine and adapt our work practices. 

Using information from the remote and hybrid work agreements submitted via Axess, we have more visibility into what our work landscape looks like today. 

  • Hybrid arrangements form the largest group within flexible work arrangements, with the vast majority in weekly arrangements ranging from two to four days on-site. Wednesday is the most common day on-site, with Tuesday and Thursday close behind. Employees in hybrid arrangements have become masters of adaptation as they’ve transitioned over the past few years from on-site to remote to hybrid and are now continuing to develop new norms for coordinating in-person work schedules, communication and collaboration.
  • We continue to have a significant number of employees fully on-site, often in student-serving and critical campus infrastructure roles. Employees who’ve worked on-site throughout the pandemic have provided the university community, including students, a sense of stability and support as they skillfully adapted to the changing landscape and variations in the on-site population.
  • Remote arrangements are the smallest group, but our remote employee population has grown significantly since pre-pandemic days, an estimated threefold increase. Opening the door to more remote arrangements has not only been a boon to the employees whose work lends itself to remote work, but has also introduced us to candidates outside of our region that we may have missed otherwise. Remote employees provide valuable feedback that helps us continually refine and improve virtual collaboration. 

Resources to support our distributed workforce 

Nearly everyone who works at Stanford has had to adjust to this new environment. Even if your team isn’t distributed, you likely work with others who are. 

Your local HR team is available to support you—whether it’s understanding the nuances of a policy, providing work arrangement guidance, or creating ways to build connection in a distributed work environment. 

As part of Stanford’s commitment to challenge pre-pandemic work practices and explore new opportunities to innovate, Ann Foley joined UHR this past winter as the first Director of Workplace Experience, with her initial focus on our flexible work program. Ann has seen the creativity and commitment that managers and HR leaders have shown in supporting distributed teams, and is listening to their needs for more education and guidance. 

“There’s no question that finding the best way through this transitional period is challenging,” says Ann. “At the same time, it’s such an exciting opportunity to apply all that we’ve learned over the past few years to design ways of working that draw out the best of us, as individuals and as a university. We have a tremendous wealth of insight and creativity to draw on from our employees, managers, leaders and faculty. I’m excited to continue gathering our collective wisdom to provide guidance and practical advice on how to move forward.” 

To support everyone with navigating flexible work, the Flexible Work webpages in Cardinal at Work have been updated to provide tools and tips for employees, managers and school/unit HR managers. In addition, workshops for managers on engaging and managing distributed teams are being offered this August. These are additional sessions of the popular workshops presented in the spring.

Moving forward with intention and experimentation—and with your feedback

Like many other organizations with distributed workforces, we are battling Zoom fatigue, making in-person time engaging and meaningful, and staying connected with each other. 

These challenges are a chance to act with intention and find innovative, equitable ways to ensure connection and culture, refine best practices for hybrid teams, conquer meeting overload, and assess and optimize space and technology.

In the coming months, schools/units will ask you to share your experiences and ideas related to flexible work, and you can provide feedback anytime by emailing

Elizabeth Zacharias, Vice President for Human Resources, shared her optimism about the future of flexible work at Stanford. “During the past two years, our community has been dedicated to experimenting with new ways of working, while supporting the university’s mission. Stanford is committed to prioritizing and refining flexible work as we continue to learn what best helps our community members thrive in their professional and personal lives.”

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