Common Use Cases for Flexible Work
The following represent some of the typical types of employee scenarios we know are currently being shared with managers across the university or have been posed directly to the Work Flexible Work workgroup. Each represents an opportunity to engage in connection, active listening and solution-oriented practice to address the challenge.
1. Shifting work schedule arrangements
You have an employee on your team who has been working one day a week or fewer in the office during your pilot period and you now need to transition them to coming in more frequently as you move to the longer-term model of hybrid work arrangements that will support team collaboration and connection. The employee is making it clear they would prefer to remain with the one day per week arrangement and is asking you to further explain why this is not an available option.
Start with open-ended questions to learn more about your employee’s concerns about returning to the office more often - why do they not want to come back? And is their concern/desire tied to shorter-term challenges or are they focused on the long-term? Listen carefully to their responses and reflect them back to ensure you understand.
Address specific concerns when possible.
- Are they concerned about COVID safety? Let them express their concerns and if it seems helpful, share information from the COVID dashboard about vaccination and infection rates, mask-wearing protocols and frequent testing.
- Are they concerned about caring for a family member or other personal responsibilities? Have them talk through their concerns and share information regarding how a varied schedule could be handled. For example, what are their options for adjusting their schedule in the event of an unforeseen circumstance and how will you as their manager help them problem-solve.
- Empathize with the difficulty of the transition and that it will be uncomfortable at first, especially with COVID still impacting our lives. Ask them to share what would make the transition more comfortable for them (perhaps sitting in a less populated area, continuing mask wearing, etc.).
Taking the time to hear what your employee’s concerns are will help you to know where to focus. You can then guide the conversation toward talking more about the benefits of returning to on-site work for the team and the university. Using open-ended questions on that topic can help as well (for example, what do they see as the benefits of returning)?
2. Why do I need to return to on-site work?
Several employees on your team have asked why they need to return to on-site work if they have been successful working remotely throughout the pandemic. They are questioning what has changed and are upset that they are now being asked to return to a hybrid schedule.
Communicate to the employees that working during the crisis period of the pandemic when many employees were required to work remotely and many parts of the university had to operate virtually is different from Stanford’s residential campus model. Stanford’s goal is to be flexible while supporting the university’s mission, and this will require many employees to return to on-site work regularly. While some roles may be designated remote, Stanford is primarily a hybrid organization and returning to on-site work is expected and encouraged. With the hybrid model available and with leadership support, more Stanford employees have the opportunity for flexible work now than prior to the pandemic. We still value the interactions and opportunities that come with people being together. Our technology certainly affords us alternatives that can be very successfully used, but some roles and types of interactions can benefit from direct in-person interactions.
3. "In-office” days don’t work for everyone
As part of the pilot phase, you have determined to bring your entire team back together on-site three days a week (a hybrid team). This means that everyone will be “in the office” on the same days each week. While you have good reasons for making this decision, it is proving to be a challenge as several employees on your team have extenuating circumstances that conflict with the “in office” days you’ve identified.
Consider your goals for having “in office” days. Is it to align with reduced space requirements? Is it to optimize collaboration on a specific goal or project? Does the entire team need to be present on specific days or are there options to bring in certain team members on certain days that have the most job or work alignment to one another? Is it possible to explore that the employees with extenuating circumstances commit to being “in office” for two out of the three days? Are there other options to address the employees’ extenuating circumstances? A certain degree of discussion between you and your employees is inevitable (and okay) when determining work schedules that address both department/team needs and individual preferences.
4. Team involvement for scheduling arrangements
Your team is client-facing, meaning the population you serve, whether that is students, employees, or their families, requires a high level of in-person interaction and on-site presence. You want to be able to provide a degree of flexibility for your team, but have concerns that this may impact your service and client experience.
Once you understand your team’s needs and preferences, engage in a team conversation about how to ensure successful client coverage and service delivery. Consider exploring your clients/customers/stakeholders service preferences and expectations. Ask yourself, can my team use virtual engagement options to successfully deliver services? If an openness to virtual options exists, work with your team to determine how to measure the success of those options and any alternative solutions. Engaging your team in the solution-building process breeds accountability, collaboration, and team cohesion and it takes some of the pressure off of you as the manager to determine and agree on coverage.
5. Dedicated workspace for full-time on-site work
While many of the employees on your team would like a hybrid work schedule, you have several employees who have found working from home to be very isolating and cannot wait to get back to on-site work five-days a week. While eager to return on-site, they have also specifically asked for a dedicated workstation (e.g., workcube, desk or private office as applicable).
While a workstation will be available to employees, it may not be a dedicated workspace, i.e., the same one for every day they are on-site. Depending on your facilities options, providing a dedicated workspace may or may not be possible. You’ll need to determine what your options are before committing to this type of request. You may also consider asking your employee why a dedicated workstation is important to them. How they respond to this question may influence your course of action. If a dedicated workstation is important because they have concerns about hygiene and cleaning cadence of a shared workstation, your response will want to include the university’s custodial cleaning information and may be different from whether their concerns stem from not wanting to spend additional time searching for a different workstation every day they are on-site.
6. Managing with the right level of autonomy
In preparing for managing a work team that is distributed differently from the work team you were managing throughout the pandemic or pre-pandemic, you have concerns about managing employee autonomy beyond our recovery. You anticipate that employees will have different needs depending on their work location and you’re unsure how to gauge balancing individual needs with team and operational needs.
Communication will continue to be important as you move into flexible work. Consider the mode and frequency of how you are communicating with your individual employees and team. What is working well? What needs to shift? Continue to check in with employees rather than check up on employees. Checking up is a way to micromanage, while checking in provides an opportunity for you to share information, guidance, and support to ensure your team members can successfully and autonomously work. Providing your team with the skills and tools, and empowering them to have greater autonomy over where, when and how their work is done promotes a culture of trust, engagement, well-being and enhanced performance.