UHR developing post-pandemic flexible work guidance for staff

With on-campus work limited to essential services since mid-March, many Iowa State staff have been getting an involuntary and impromptu trial run in working from home. Some have needed to work at different hours than usual.

Prior to COVID-19, ISU didn’t limit staff from working remotely or outside typical business hours, but more encouragement for remote work and flexible shifts is a strategic priority of university human resources (UHR) and the Professional and Scientific Council. It also was an issue raised in the 2018 climate survey.

UHR is developing a program this summer for flexible work options for Iowa State staff, including recommendations for employees requesting such arrangements and what supervisors should consider before approving them. The goal is to boost employee well-being and productivity by promoting work-life balance.

"In today’s work environment, employees have different needs," said Kristi Darr, interim vice president for UHR. "Overall, ISU has looked at being present in the workplace as a sign of an employee’s productivity, and we know that technology allows many positions to have greater flexibility than in the past. We need to help supervisors think differently about measuring productivity and the support they can offer for their employees.

"Providing flexibility to a staff member, with the right expectations, can support employee retention, job satisfaction and employees' overall well-being," Darr added. 

UHR began studying the issue seriously earlier this year, before the coronavirus pandemic. Widespread remote work caused by COVID-19 gave employees and supervisors a chance to see what works and what doesn't.

"With so many employees working from home, questions we would have asked about what people would want have been answered by what people are doing. I think we're able to start at a different point than we would have before," said Ed Holland, UHR benefits director.

In June, UHR will meet with focus groups that include staff, supervisors and faculty who manage staff. After incorporating focus group feedback, the tentative goal for the flexible work program is a late August release.

The initiative is unlikely to involve any formal policy changes and will apply to staff, not faculty. The hope is to give staff and their supervisors the tools for considering options, Holland said.