Manager's Guide for Considering Remote Work for a Specific Role

Managers have a responsibility to achieve the goals of their units, and to provide the guidance, support, training and organization for their staff to ensure that employees can do their jobs. Managers are responsible for using University resources wisely in order to deliver results in the most efficient and effective manner. The implementation of remote work can help managers meet their goals in many ways

Deciding which jobs can accommodate different types of flexibility

All jobs are not amenable to all types of flexibility, and this can be a part of your dialogue with your staff as you explore flexibility for your team. Positions that are largely based on computer transactions would be most easily adapted for performing in a remote location, but what about positions that rely on teamwork, or require an individual’s presence to provide services to customers? With a little creativity, a surprising number of jobs can be performed in new ways that may not be evident at first glance

For instance, a nurse, teacher or receptionist cannot perform all of their duties from home. However, those jobs may be well suited to compressed work weeks, part time schedules or job sharing – and they may have instances where planning lessons or completing financial reports can be done from another location. Much of this determination will depend on the size of the staff and the nature of the work.

Here is an example of a group who did some creative thinking and developed a proposal from the whole team:

  • Scenario: This is an office with hours from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, that requires a front desk administrative assistant to be present to handle patients throughout the day plus cover extended hours until 6:00 pm once a week. The same person cannot cover all the hours the office is open because they would go over their maximum 40 hours/week. There is one person that is primarily responsible for the front desk coverage. There are three additional administrative assistants on the floor that can cover the front desk during breaks, lunch, and the extended evening hour. The primary administrative assistant would like to move to a compressed work schedule (four ten-hour days) so that she can stay home with an elderly grandparent one day per week.
  • Resolution: This request may at first seem impossible. However, all administrative assistants met together to discuss the options and restructured their schedules to allow for this flexibility for their teammate. Each of the three remaining administrative assistants took one full day of front desk duties (which meant they worked once every three weeks). The primary administrative assistant was now able to cover the weekly later hour from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. within her regular ten hour per day schedule, relieving her team mates from this duty.  The arrangement allowed the primary administrative assistant to work four longer days and then have one day off per week to be with her grandmother
  • When teams work together like this, 1) the managers’ job is made easier by productive teamwork, 2) an employee’s work-life needs are met, and 3) the stage is set to help another employee who needs flexibility in the future.

How to discuss remote work with staff – communicating what is possible in a unit

Many managers are uncomfortable broaching the topic of flexibility openly with their employees. They may fear that they will encourage high expectations that they will not be able to meet, or that they will create conflict between employees, or that their team’s ability to reach goals will be compromised.

However, managers that embrace non-traditional work arrangements attest again and again to the vitality, productivity and loyalty that comes with setting an expectation of flexibility with their employees. A discussion of what may or may not be possible in any given work setting can help to head off unrealistic expectations. It allows the whole group to weigh the pros and cons of given options, and to problem solve together how they might work as a team to create a positive work environment for all.

Discussions like this also help each team member buy into the process, and provide input into how remote work might be tracked or assessed as different arrangements progress. Finally, such discussions often take the burden of creating shared expectations off of the manager alone, creating an environment where all team members expect high levels of productivity, communication and problem solving from each other.

Questions to consider when deciding how a remote work option might fit an employee:

  • How much onsite supervision, oversight, or direction is needed by this employee?
  • Can this employee work independently and be self-directed in accomplishing their tasks?
  • Does this employee need to demonstrate competency in a critical area before such an arrangement can be approved?
  • How can I help this employee succeed if this schedule is approved?
  • Can the employee miss some meetings and social functions? If not, how can these duties be scheduled in?
  • Will the remote work arrangement affect existing career development plans for this employee?

Questions to consider when deciding how remote work might affect the work being done:

  • Can the employee complete the same amount of work while on a remote work arrangement (not including a reduced appointment)? Consider weekly, monthly, and annual work projects that need to be accounted for.
  • Does the workload need to be restructured for remote work?
  • How will the employee receive the work that needs to be accomplished?
  • How will I judge whether productivity is higher, lower or unaffected by the change?
  • How often will I check in with the employee to see how things are going?
  • How much travel is required to do the job? Are the travel demands of the job aligned with remote work?
  • Does the job require working with others? How will remote work affect interactions with others?
  • How necessary is it that someone be onsite at all times?
  • How will office communication be affected by remote work? Consider communication between the staff member and internal or external customers, co-workers, supervisors, others.
  • How will remote work affect the workload of other employees?
  • Determine if there are federal laws that prohibit someone from working their desired work schedule. For example, non-exempt employees have restrictions on the total number of hours that can be worked.
  • Assess what the advantages and disadvantages would be if the remote work arrangement were implemented.

For ideas to help keep remote and remote workplace employees engaged, consider the following:

  • Make sure the remote employees know that while they are “out of sight,” they’re not “out of mind.”
  • Maintain a regular schedule of one-on-one meetings consistent with how you manage on-site employees.
  • Consider checking in on a regular basis to ensure the off-site work arrangement is satisfactory. Ask questions such as “What is working well? What are some of the challenges faced during the past month? Do you feel your professional skills are growing? Is there an area of skill you would like to develop further?”
  • These types of conversations show a deep caring for remote employees and help them feel recognized, appreciated, inspired and build a bond between employer and employee.

Managing to outcomes rather than face time

Performance management in almost every job requires the establishment of outcomes – whether it is that floors are clean, or bills are processed, or classes are taught. There are outcomes that can and should be defined rather than focusing on the process of how goals are achieved. This requires joint understanding and discussion between the manager and employee. It also requires that the manager have a strong understanding of how long tasks take to complete, and what complexities employees must deal with to achieve the outcome desired.

There are many resources available to managers to help them create realistic and productive work plans with employees so that both parties focus on achieving goals instead of “face time.” By shifting the focus to outcomes, the manager and employee can focus on accomplishments and getting the work done, as opposed to emphasizing an on-site presence.

How to set up a remote work agreement with an employee

In order to establish remote work, consider the following steps

  1. First, analyze your department’s workflow and staffing needs. Identify your peak service or demand times, regular weekly meeting schedule, and ideal work schedule coverage.
  2. Check with your Human Resources department to see what the policy is in your unit or school regarding remote scheduling and remote or remote work arrangements. Note if what you are considering for your staff is an exception to a current policy, is aligned with current policy, or is something altogether new for your unit. The university supports unit-level decision-making to determine the most effective practices for each department.
  3. Define a process for requesting a schedule change and providing approval. Determine if this will require a formal proposal from employees or if it will be arranged on an ad-hoc basis as requests are made. Refer to the remote workplace agreements for more information about expectations between the university and the employee when work will be performed off-site.
  4. Identify who in your workgroup would like to arrange a remote work schedule. Determine if everyone who wants a remote work option can have them or if you need to establish a rotating system.
  5. Analyze all remote work schedule requests. Refer to the "Questions for Managers to Consider.”
  6. If approval is given, consider establishing a pilot period of 3-6 months to allow for adjustments necessary for success. Establish a check-in process during the pilot period to evaluate how the new schedule is working for both the employee and the department. If the remote schedule is not working, make fine-tuned adjustments or return to a more standard work schedule.
  7. Use either the remote workplace agreement to confirm details of the schedule, pilot period, check-in plans, and how continuation will be determined at the end of the pilot period.

When things are not working – how to discuss performance issues

  • When a remote workplace employee is having performance issues, as with any other employee, the manager should make the employee aware of the performance concern and discuss ways to improve performance and meet expectations.  
  • Consider if the employee’s work arrangement (remote workplace) is a factor. Does the employee need more on-site supervision or training that cannot be provided remotely? Would the employee benefit from being able to engage more directly with on-site colleagues? Does the employee display the level of independence and job knowledge required to successfully work at an off-site location? Is the employee’s work schedule not in line with the needs of the unit or the unit’s customers (i.e., patients, students, faculty, researchers)?
  • If the work arrangement appears to be a factor in the performance issues, discuss your concerns with the employee. Consider a temporary adjustment to the employee’s work schedule or work location.  
  • Continue providing feedback and sharing performance observations with the employee. If performance improves, consider if the employee may return to their prior work arrangement or if it may be advisable to remain on the adjusted schedule. If performance is not improving, advise the employee that a performance improvement plan may be required. Contact your unit or central Human Resources Representative for assistance in developing a performance improvement plan.