Flexplace

This arrangement allows for a portion of the job to be performed off-site, on a regular, recurring basis. The majority of work time is spent at the office and the off-site work typically is done at home.

How Does a Flexplace Agreement Work?

In a flexplace arrangement, workers are given the option of spending all or part of a day, a week or month working at home or at an alternate work location. As in any flexible work arrangement, individuals working under a flexplace arrangement are still expected to manage the workload at the same quality level as before the arrangement was established. Individuals may be required  to be at the office at specified times or on specified days for meetings or other important activities. At all other times, if the type of work permits, the staff member is able to work from a pre-approved location, typically a home office, communicating with supervisors or other staff members by telephone or by e-mail.

With flexplace, as with other flexible work arrangements, time worked does not equate to achieved outcomes. Outcomes are based on the staff member's achievement of results and use of competencies critical to achieving those results. Some flexplace arrangements stipulate work during certain core hours for communication and integration of work.

Before putting flexplace arrangement in place, you’ll need to make sure that you are prepared with the proper technology and security systems at the off-site office. Since you’re requesting the arrangement, you are responsible for making sure that you’re equipped with the right technology. Check in with your School/Center/Department/Office’s technology experts to make sure everything will be set up appropriately. Choose offsite work hours so that they will be approved by your supervisor and understood by your colleagues.

Flexplace arrangements involve special issues, such as worker's compensation considerations and the purchase and/or management of equipment and systems away from the workplace. Use of University equipment, products and materials involves responsibility for University property, guided by the following policies:

Policy # 002 Safeguarding University Assets
Policy # 003 Uses of University Resources
Policy # 009 Acceptable Use of Electronic Resources
Policy # 624 Return of Property

The flexplace addendum should be included with the Flexible Work Option Agreement. This addendum specifically addresses the issues of a flexplace arrangement.

Benefits

  • Reduces commuting costs and vehicle wear and tear.
  • Provides quiet, undisturbed time for writing, analysis, and planning.
  • Potential for more office space options.
  • Reduction in commuters can reduce traffic and air pollution.
  • Makes it easier to get to recurring appointments close to home, such as a fitness class or a child’s extracurricular activity.

Challenges

  • Involve special issues, such as worker’s compensation considerations and purchase and/or management of equipment and systems away from the workplace.
  • Costs may be incurred for establishing appropriate hardware, software, and connectivity.

Next Steps

  1. Review guidelines for success along with Considerations, Making it Work, and Common Questions sections below.
  2. Complete Staff Member Flexible Work Arrangement Self-Assessment.
  3. Prepare a formal proposal for the supervisor to clarify the desired arrangement and the likely benefits to the organization. The proposal should focus on the business case and not the reason you would like this arrangement.
    1. advantage to the unit.
    2. proposed work plan.
    3. proposed schedule.
    4. plan for communication/cooperation.
    5. plan for continuity.
  4. If the proposal is accepted, a formal agreement can clarify approved plans and the pilot nature of the arrangement.
  5. A flexplace addendum is recommended for work-at-home arrangements.
  6. The arrangement should be piloted.  A pilot experience of 3-6 months is recommended.
  7. At the end of the pilot period, the arrangement should be evaluated.  Either party may end the arrangement if it does not meet the organizational/or personal needs.

Considerations

  • Not all jobs are appropriate for flexplace. In general, jobs that are appropriate are those that:
    • Can be measured. Supervisor and the staff member must be able to identify specific objectives and performance standards.
    • Require relatively little face-to-face communication. The job must permit the substitution of telephone and/or electronic communication for face-to-face contact on days when the work is conducted from home.
    • Are truly portable. They do not require access to off-line equipment or files.
    • Involve thinking tasks (writing, researching, programming, analyzing, and massaging information).
    • Generally do not require managing people.
  • The following also should be considered:
    • How will peers, other units, or customers be affected by home-based work?
    • What is the maximum number of staff members in the unit who can work at home at any one point before work flow or productivity suffer?
    • Is the individual highly motivated and a self-starter who can work independently without on-site supervision and physical proximity to coworkers and others with whom the staff member interacts?
    • Are the plans adequately worked out to assure that necessary equipment and systems are in place for home-based work and there is an understanding of how the costs associated with these arrangements will be covered?

Tips for Success

The decision to authorize flexplace arrangements, either on an individual or a group basis, should be carefully considered in terms of coverage and communication. It is also a good idea to make final approval contingent upon a trial period, after which any adjustments can be made to areas that are not functioning smoothly.

For the manager/supervisor:

  • Remember: out of sight does not mean not at work. One of the most difficult aspects of managing staff working from home is maintaining confidence in the staff member's commitment to work and productivity even when you cannot observe the work being done. It can be challenging to overcome the mindset that work is done more effectively in the work place than from a home office. Individuals who care about their performance and are committed to the organization will alter a flexible arrangement if it is not working. Individuals with productive work histories typically will remain productive in a changed environment, especially if the changed location has been requested to meet a personal need or preference.
  • Manage for results. In order to effectively manage for results, criteria for success should be established at the beginning of the arrangement, as well as prioritization of which tasks are most critical and which can be deferred. By setting outcome goals, milestones, and time lines, production can be measured and fears of lost productivity allayed.
  • Establish review periods. Set intermediate reviews to determine progress on tasks. Intervals can be set based upon completion of certain tasks or on a recurring convenient basis.
  • Provide support and guidance to off-site staff members. Both the supervisor and the staff member are likely to feel less connected at the beginning of a flexplace arrangement. Supervisors can help this situation by making sure that there is regular, but not intrusive, communication in the early stages and throughout the flexplace experience.
  • Communication. Coworkers need to be kept informed of their colleagues' typical schedules. This calls for extra attention to communication for the first few weeks. After that, problems with customers or coworkers should diminish. A weekly work schedule should be posted in a prominent visible place. If some arrangements for working off-site change on a regular basis, communication about the changes needs to be constant and consistent.
  • Availability. There may be fewer workers in the workplace at the same time due to the absence of flexplace workers. Meeting times and arrangements for interaction between staff members need to take this into account and be scheduled into mutually available times.
  • Coverage. Thinner coverage may result in some work challenges. Turnaround time may need to be adjusted, or special tasks/projects may need to be distributed differently.
  • Overtime. Weekly paid staff members must receive prior authorization from supervisors before working more than forty (40) hours in a work week whether at home or at the work site. This is a strict requirement of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

For the staff member:

  • Beware of isolation. Because most people tend to focus on the potential advantages of staying at home, they are completely surprised by how isolated a flexplace arrangement can feel. They may not have anticipated how much willpower and self-discipline it takes to be productive when the temptations of home are just a few feet away. Supervisors, too, find the adjustment difficult. They tend to be uneasy when their staff members are not in sight at all times, even if deadlines are met and productivity is maintained. Some staff members feel concerned that being out of their supervisor's line of sight  removes them from opportunities to stay on the fast track. Many people are reluctant to utilize Flexible Work Options or continue with them if they feel that it will interfere with their career advancement opportunities.
  • Accessibility. Off-site staff members should be accessible during specified periods or within a reasonable amount of time. Some staff members use cell phones to facilitate access; others schedule specific communication times. Supervisors need to remember, however, that not even on-site staff members are accessible at all times.
  • Accommodate changes in circumstances. When jobs change either in their nature or in their relationship with the overall objectives of a department, aspects of the flexplace arrangement may have to be adjusted. It may be time to return, at least temporarily, to a standard schedule.

Common Questions

"How can I evaluate how well a staff member is working if they are off-site many days a week?"

Whether managing staff members on-site or off-site, supervisors must specify job responsibilities, tasks, and objectives as clearly as possible. Emphasis should be placed on quantity and quality of results achieved rather than on the number of hours worked.

"How can I keep an off-site staff member in the loop?"

Communication is the key to staying in the loop. To ensure effective communication with off-site staff members, regular contact, whether by phone or during scheduled office workdays, should be maintained. Bulletin boards and periodic work review meetings with staff members can add to essential contact.Most regular staff members who work at home do so only part of the time--two or three days a week. This allows staff members to attend meetings and to maintain their office relationships.

"Whose insurance covers an accident if a staff member is working at home?"

Since flexplace just means flexibility in the place of work, an accident may be covered by worker's compensation if it occurred in the dedicated work space of the home work site during the identified regularly scheduled hours. Staff members should specify these work conditions in advance, and commit to setting up a safe and appropriate work space. This will encourage observation of safety rules and provide a basis for differentiating between a work-related accident and one that is non-work related.

"Who is responsible for a flexplace arrangement?"

Arrangements may be initiated by either interested staff members or their supervisors. If a flexplace schedule is agreed upon, supervisors will need to monitor the arrangement, assess how it is working and provide support to the staff member(s) so that he/she will not feel isolated and disconnected from the organization.

"How will this arrangement affect compensation and benefits?"

Unless there is a change in the work hours of the assignment, compensation and benefits should not be affected. Any questions regarding benefits should be directed to the Penn Benefits Center at 1–888–PENN–BEN (1-888-736-6236).