Human Resources Guidelines

HRG02 Alternate Work Arrangements

Policy Status: 

Active

Policy Steward: 

Vice President for Human Resources

GUIDELINE'S INITIAL DATE: July 13, 1990
THIS VERSION EFFECTIVE: July 27, 2006

Content:

PURPOSE:

To provide guidance for areas in establishing alternate work arrangements for faculty and staff whose responsibilities can be accomplished outside of a University office and/or traditional work schedule for part or all of the workweek. Such arrangements are encouraged when, in the opinion of the supervisor, the University's work needs can be efficiently and effectively met. The purpose of flexible work schedules is to provide a greater capability for each employee to establish her/his own program of working hours within the workweek without changing the number of hours to be worked. Telecommuting is a work arrangement in which employees, for a portion of their scheduled work hours, perform their regular job responsibilities away from their primary business location utilizing telecommunication and information technology as appropriate. These arrangements can be either temporary or ongoing.

University and departmental demands are a priority throughout any alternative work arrangement - the arrangement must be transparent to customers in terms of service and quality. Alternative work arrangements are flexible and subject to change as business needs change.

FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING:

The term "flexible scheduling" encompasses many variations from the standard work schedule. The more complicated the arrangements, the more record keeping and supervision of the program is required. In its simplest form, a flexible schedule involves allowing an employee to vary the span of the workday.

Flexible scheduling can be as simple as changing the work hours from an 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. workday to a 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. workday, changing the lunch break from one hour to one-half hour, or working an extra hour on Monday in order to leave an hour earlier on Tuesday.

Flexible scheduling can be more complicated, allowing an employee to establish her/his own start/end times and/or lunch break, within predetermined guidelines.

The ultimate flexible schedule would designate part of the workday as core time, when the employee must be present unless specifically excused by the supervisor, with the balance of the day considered as flex time and variations during these periods left to the discretion of the employee. For example, a supervisor could establish a core time of 8:30 to noon and 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., with flexible hours from 7:30 - 8:30 a.m., noon to 2:00 p.m., and 4:30 - 5:30 p.m.

Even if a supervisor has not instituted a formal flexible scheduling program, employee requests for temporary changes in the workday such as to take a class, or to go to a doctor's appointment without charging sick leave, may be granted by the supervisor, provided such requests are in accordance with the provisions of this guideline. (See also applicable policies regarding sick leave and HR36, Educational Privileges for Regular Employees and Other Members of the University Staff.)

Nonexempt Staff Employees

When considering a request for a change in working hours for a nonexempt staff employee, a supervisor must abide by Federal and State Wage and Hour laws, as well as the documents referenced above. These provide for monetary payment at the rate of time and one-half for any hours in excess of 40 worked by a nonexempt employee during the employee's workweek. (Attendance at some instructional classes may be considered as work under the Federal and State Wage and Hour laws.)

Although it is permissible, with the supervisor's approval, for a nonexempt staff employee to alter when the 40 hours are worked during the workweek, such employee cannot "bank" overtime hours worked in one workweek for use as time off in a future workweek. Further, the employee must understand that altered schedules cannot cause overtime to occur. While it is possible for an employee to agree to waive University overtime policies on work schedules to accommodate personal schedule preferences, Federal and State Wage and Hour laws cannot be waived.

Required Approval

When an employee desires a change in working hours, the employee should submit the request in writing to the immediate supervisor, with a copy to the employee's Human Resources Representative. The supervisor shall provide an answer in writing. Although every effort should be made to accommodate the request, permission to change working hours is a special arrangement and privilege and should not be considered as a right. It is granted only when the supervisor believes that the requested change will not interfere with the efficient operation of the employee's regular University duties or the needs of the area. Requests submitted based on a need such as family care or car pooling will be given primary consideration. Otherwise, length of service will be the guiding consideration.

An area, which has established a flexible work schedule, may discontinue or alter the flexible schedule if work needs so dictate. Two calendar weeks notice of this change will be given to employees, unless the change is caused by an emergency.

NOTE: Assistance in administering or questions on this policy should be directed to the appropriate Human Resources Representative or the Employee Relations Division of the Office of Human Resources at (814) 865-1412.

TELECOMMUTING:

The University's establishment of a telecommuting program assists in meeting the needs of a workforce that has diverse work and personal demands. Telecommuting can provide flexible work schedules to accommodate temporary situations such as a leave due to a contagious illness or a temporary disability (such as a cold or a broken leg), an unexpected school closing, etc. In addition, telecommuting can provide flexibility on a long-term basis.

A telecommuting program also allows the University to address emerging environmental compliance issues, such as the Clean Air Act and to comply with legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, telecommuting provides alternate methods of addressing budget issues. Finally, a telecommuting program can strengthen management and employee relations.

Factors of Successful Telecommuting

The telecommuters, supervisors, and actual jobs involved in a successful telecommuting arrangement have the following characteristics:

Characteristics of a Telecommuter

A successful telecommuter is a highly disciplined, self-directed, and self-motivated individual, capable of balancing work and personal demands. In addition, the telecommuter must be able to function in an environment that is less structured and more autonomous than a traditional work environment. This type of arrangement can be successful only if the telecommuter has demonstrated good organization and time management skills. In many cases, the telecommuter will have to be computer literate.

In the past, performance emphasis has not been placed solely on results, but also included externalities such as the employee's presence and presentation. Since telecommuters do not have the luxury of putting in the proverbial appearances, they must focus almost exclusively on the bottom line because it is the results that will make their presence felt. Those results have to be good if telecommuting is to succeed.

Telecommuters have to adjust to being isolated from daily co-worker interactions. Some may compensate for the lack of social interactions in the office by keeping in contact by phone, e-mail, etc. However, some people may dismiss the possibility of telecommuting knowing that they need social contact on a regular basis in order to work productively.

Characteristics of a Supervisor

The supervisor of a telecommuter must be open to new ideas, be trusting of employees, and be a good communicator. Performance is monitored and managed by results rather than by traditional observations. (See PERFORMANCE EVALUATION section below.)

Characteristics of a Job

Not all jobs are adapted easily to a telecommuting arrangement. Jobs that are adapted easily include those that consist of writing, reading, researching, independent thinking, editing, and working with data. The job probably should not be dependent on access to other University employees (other than by electronic mail) and physical materials. The job should have an independent function, be more technology and information driven, and have measurable duties.

Responsibilities for Successful Telecommuting

Telecommuters

The telecommuter needs to be continually aware of University guidelines, policies and practices. Close communication between the telecommuter and the supervisor will ensure that the employee is aware of any departmental or University priorities. Quality customer service will continue to be a top priority, including customer service and service among colleagues within the department. This includes awareness of training required both for the telecommuter and for colleagues who will be interacting with them. When establishing a telecommuting schedule, the needs of the office and the customers must be taken into account.

The telecommuter is responsible for ensuring that the established business hours are adhered to. Just as procrastinating and being distracted by non-work items can result in failure, so can overwork. A disadvantage of telecommuting is that it provides 24-hour access to work. Working too much causes stress and stress-related illness, burnout, and reduced productivity. Knowing when to stop is essential to good job performance.

One key to telecommuting success lies in creating a work area at home that is used strictly for work. Once the office area is established, home-based employees should train those people (e.g., family members) who see them there to think of them as working.

Supervisors

The supervisor is responsible for exploring and evaluating the business rationale for a telecommuting arrangement, with quality customer service as a top priority. Human as well as financial resources need to be examined. Start-up expenses as well as ongoing telecommuting costs need to be projected. Once a telecommuting arrangement is established, periodic cost/benefit analyses can be helpful in re-exploring the success of the arrangement.

The supervisor needs to insure that the telecommuter is included in pertinent staff meetings and training sessions. As well, regular communication and updates between the supervisor and telecommuter are imperative. As with any employee, clear performance guidelines and periodic performance reviews are essential.

The supervisor should evaluate very carefully what computer access and interfaces should be given to the telecommuter. In order to avoid any potential issues, only access that is imperative to the telecommuter's daily work function should be granted. The supervisor is responsible for documenting the need for access to any computer programs (e.g., Internet, IBIS). Last, as with all computer and workspace arrangements, all workspaces will be expected to follow Penn State's ergonomic guidelines (http://ehs.psu.edu/).

The supervisor should schedule regular meetings with the telecommuter to assess needs, give feedback, discuss problems, and just catch up. Doing this avoids the feeling of losing contact, and the telecommuter will feel less isolated. Holding regular meetings to set timetables and assess progress gives employees deadlines to keep them on target. When face-to-face meetings are not possible, other means, such as mail and telephone, should be utilized to keep the lines of communication open.

The supervisor should review the telecommuting arrangements periodically and make necessary adjustments in order to address any changing business demands.

Establishing A Telecommuting Program:

Establishment of telecommuting programs is encouraged whenever possible. However, a telecommuting arrangement is a privilege and not a right. As outlined above, not all employees and not all jobs are suited to telecommuting. An employee interested in telecommuting first should present a proposal to her/his supervisor with a copy to the Human Resources Representative. This proposal should include:

  1. the reason for the request
  2. the length of time that the telecommuting arrangement is desired
  3. the number of hours-per-day or days-per-week that the employee will be telecommuting - including when (what days/hours) the employee will be accessible
  4. a description of the impact on customers in terms of service and quality of work
  5. an explanation of how necessary communication with University offices and customers will be maintained
  6. the daily hours when the telecommuter is accessible to coworkers and customers
  7. a list of duties to be performed while telecommuting
  8. a list of the necessary equipment and where/how/by whom it will be obtained and maintained
  9. potential problem areas (if any)

The supervisor then reviews the proposal with the Human Resources Representative and the Employee Relations Division of the Office of Human Resources. If a telecommuting arrangement is feasible, then the supervisor discusses all aspects of the telecommuting arrangement with the employee and reaches a written agreement with the employee. The written agreement includes all of the factors listed above and a clear delineation of whom is responsible for:

  1. telephone costs (if any)
  2. supplies (paper, pens, etc.)
  3. computer set-up and maintenance, installation of and/or training on computer software
  4. security of University equipment, materials, and supplies (including responsibility for loss)
  5. any additional applicable items

Any required travel that ordinarily would be considered as normal commuting to and from work is not reimbursed. Required travel elsewhere may be reimbursed per University travel policies. Finally, the agreement should include a provision for the modification or termination of the agreement should either University or employee needs change.

Insurance Coverage

Workers' Compensation coverage applies for those employees working at home. However, prior to implementation of the telecommuting arrangement, the Workers' Compensation and Environmental Health Offices must be contacted to work with the telecommuter and her/his supervisor in setting up physical telecommuting arrangements to ensure safety of equipment set-up, etc., to avoid unnecessary injuries, as well as to assess the ergonomic set-up of the telecommuting equipment. All workspaces will be expected to follow Penn State's ergonomics guidelines.

Child Care

Telecommuting may not be a good alternative for child care. If the job duties can be performed at hours outside of the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., when the child is sleeping or alternate care is available, then telecommuting may be a good alternative. Otherwise, it is difficult to work effectively while trying to care for small children. Trying to do both at once usually means that the individual is neither an effective worker nor an effective parent. This is a conflict that needs to be resolved before commencing telecommuting.

Resources

Questions regarding this program should be referred to the Telecommuting Consulting Team (Office of Human Resources, Academic Services and Emerging Technologies, Telecommunications and Networking Services, and Environmental Health and Safety) at telecommute@psu.edu.

PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS:

Establishment of performance goals, and subsequent reviews, should focus on measurable results rather than traditional on-the-job behaviors and performance. Thus, measurable interim goals can help ensure that targeted resultant goals are met in a timely, acceptable fashion. Other performance criteria should also be established. For example, is the telecommuter to call the office on a regular basis or attend regular staff meetings?

When setting objectives and giving performance feedback, the following should be remembered:

  • employee participation promotes acceptance of the manager's observations - employees who are allowed to voice opinions will be more satisfied with the feedback
  • setting specific performance objectives rather than general ones clarifies exactly what is expected of the employee
  • productivity improvement is more likely if problem areas are discussed right away
  • criticism triggers defensive reactions - talking about how something can be improved, rather than spending too much time on the downside of an employee's work, can be more productive
  • reward the employee for work well done - employees respond much better to positive feedback than to criticism

Objectives, should be clearly defined, with measurable output such as completed reports or written codes. These can be measured in quantity, quality, and time-to-complete. Care should be taken not to over-measure; not every task can be evaluated in quantitative terms. Measuring productivity and performance should not be different for on-site and off-site employees. A good system for measuring output should be equally effective for both employees on-site as well as those working at home.

Evaluate individual work as well as group work. Telecommuters may sustain or even increase individual productivity levels, but their group work may suffer because they are not staying in touch with co-workers.

LIMITATIONS:

Implementation of alternate work arrangements must be in accordance with the provisions of:

  • HR34, Employment Conditions for Staff Employees
  • The professional Agreement between The Pennsylvania State University and the Pennsylvania Nurses Association.

CROSS REFERENCES:

Cellular Usage Agreement for Pooled Devices.

HR34 - Employment Conditions for Staff Employees

FN14 - Use of Tangible Assets, Equipment, Supplies and Services

CHANGES:

6/20/08 - Updated Penn State's ergonomics guidelines link.

7/27/06 - Name changes in Resources Section; The former Center for Academic Computing is now Academic Services and Emerging Technologies and the former Office of Telecommunications is now Telecommunications and Networking Services.