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unidentified man updating his work digital calendar [View Image] VCU’s expanded flexible work arrangements are about more than teleworking. (Getty Images)

How VCU’s new work arrangement options give employees flexibility

The university’s newly expanded flexible work arrangements go far beyond teleworking twice a week.

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As Virginia Commonwealth University employees gear up to transition to on-campus work ahead of the fall semester, many are choosing to sign up for the university’s newly expanded flexible work arrangements.

Most employees have likely heard they are eligible for arrangements of up to 40% remote work, or roughly two days a week, with their supervisor’s approval, and eligible for more than 40% remote work with the approval of their division’s dean or vice president.

But under VCU’s expanded flexible work arrangements, there are far more options available to employees beyond just teleworking two days a week.

“On my team of 13, two [employees] will be working half day at home and then half day at the office,” said Squig Moore, director of employee success and development in VCU Human Resources, who helped design the new options.

The flexible work arrangement options include:

  • Hybrid telework, meaning part of the time on campus and part remote. Examples include Monday and Wednesday telework; Tuesday, Thursday, Friday on campus; or three weeks per month on campus and one week per month telework.
  • Compressed schedule, in which an employee works longer or shorter workdays to fill a full-time work schedule. An example might include a full-time employee who works 10-hour days four days a week.
  • Flextime schedule, which allows employees to adjust their arrival and departure times subject to supervisor approval and the operational needs of the school or department. An example would be an employee arrives between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., takes an hour for lunch, and leaves nine hours after arrival.
  • Job sharing, or a restructuring of work assignments that allow two or more employees to rotate assignments in student/patient/customer-facing roles and non-student/patient/customer-facing roles, thereby allowing for a telework option (or other flexible work arrangement) for all employees on the rotation.
  • Reduced schedule. Reduced schedule arrangements allow an employee to voluntarily work less than the standard workweek hours. This flexible work arrangement must be at the employee’s request. Compensation and benefits would be prorated.
  • Staggered schedule, in which employees would be allowed to work a full week during unconventional hours (instead of the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday work week) that best suit the employee’s schedule.

In establishing the expanded flexible work arrangements, VCU leadership was guided by the principles of safety, the student experience, the VCU Health patient experience, equity and inclusion, the need to balance successfully executing VCU’s mission with the work and life needs of the university’s workforce, and transparent communication.

“As an employer, VCU strives to be a great place to work, learn and live for faculty and staff,” said Cathleen Burke, assistant vice president for human resources. “To that end, [flexible work arrangements] offer a process for managers and employees to work together to meet the needs of employees along with creating a vibrant learning environment for our students.”

The deadline to have flexible work arrangements in place is Aug. 24. However, Moore said, employees shouldn’t worry about making a mistake. The arrangements can “absolutely” be adjusted at any time to make them work.

“They are not etched in stone,” Moore said. “And that’s a great conversation to have with your manager: ‘This is what I'm thinking, is this what you’re thinking?' And then if your manager’s like, ‘Yes, that sounds great.’ Then you might say, ‘OK, let’s check in at 30, 60, 90 days and see how it’s going.’”

So far, many of the most out-of-the-box-thinking flexible work arrangements have come from employees finding custom solutions that fit their personal needs, said Leslee Gensinger, learning and development manager with VCU HR.

“When we talk about flexible work arrangements, we don't know exactly what’s going to be [the] perfect solution right off the bat,” she said. “So what we’re saying is: Try it and see if it works, and if it doesn’t then just go back to the drawing board.”

All managers and employees seeking approval for a flexible work arrangement must first complete the “A New Way to Work: Flexible Work Arrangements” training in Talent@VCU. To date, roughly 1,800 employees have completed the training.

The idea to expand flexible work arrangements at VCU came after a survey last spring found that employees who telework reported feeling productive and connected to colleagues, said their jobs can be performed well either remotely or on campus, and noted room to improve connection to the mission and students and patients.

In that survey, 75% of employees said they felt their job could be performed on campus or off campus; 90% of employees working remotely felt productive; and 85-90% of employees working remotely felt they can collaborate and communicate effectively with supervisors and colleagues. It also found that 91% of supervisors felt confident in their ability to effectively supervise remote employees.

“When we talk about flexible work arrangements, we don't know exactly what’s going to be [the] perfect solution right off the bat. So what we’re saying is: Try it and see if it works, and if it doesn’t then just go back to the drawing board.”Leslee Gensinger

After working remotely during the pandemic, many employees liked the flexibility of remote work, saying it allowed them to be productive while also taking care of families, as well as their mental health, and other personal circumstances. The flexible work arrangements are meant to provide employees with that flexibility and well-being, while also supporting the university’s core mission and contributing to a vibrant on-campus community.

“The word that has been the word of the last now 18 months has been ‘flexibility,’” Moore said. “It’s about flexibility for employees, and support for managers. We really want to support managers because they need to have the tools to be able to allow employees to have these flexible work arrangements. Managers need to be able to say, ‘OK, I’m comfortable with the performance management that I’m doing for you while you’re remote. It’s about the job and not about the nine to five.’”

Another guiding principle of the flexible work arrangements is equity versus equality.

“If we said everybody got to work from home two days a week, that feels equal, but it’s actually not possible based on roles and needs of the university,” Gensinger said. “So equity is looking at equitable ways to provide our teams who are on campus and those who are able to telework equitable access to these arrangements. And that’s where flexibility comes in, and asking what is possible for us to do for our teams rather than what is not possible.”

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