Workplace Strategies FAQs
How do I ensure equity when assessing workplace strategy proposals among my team members?
Workplace Strategies must be tailored to the specific role in question and the specific employee in that role in order to be effective. This specificity means that Workplace Strategies are going to vary greatly from role to role and sometimes even among similar roles. But the process by which Workplace Strategies are assessed and approved must be equitable. Decisions should be made based on whether or not the Workplace Strategies proposed are job appropriate, legally compliant and operationally viable, and on the impact that the Workplace Strategy has on work outcomes and stakeholders.
In establishing an equitable process, start by considering:
- What is my leadership style and what support would I need to manage direct reports utilizing Workplace Strategies?
- What concerns do I have? What are the concerns based on?
- If my concerns relate to performance, have I addressed these concerns with the employee already? If not, you should consult with your School/Unit HR Professional or Central HR Business Partner to ensure that the situation is truly a Workplace Strategy concern and not a pre-existing performance issue.
- How can I focus on my direct reports’ performance and results?
- What are the various positions on my team and how might they benefit from Workplace Strategies? What sorts of challenges would specific Workplace Strategies raise for the work, colleagues or stakeholders?
- Does my School/Unit require a formal proposal to be submitted? If not, will I ask team members to use this general template or create another process by which Workplace Strategy proposals should be submitted to me? Refer to Assessing Roles for Remote/Hybrid Workplace Strategies for more information on evaluating proposals that include off-site work.
- How can I ensure that I am evaluating each proposal fairly, based on a clear strategic approach that considers daily responsibilities, goals, and stakeholders?
- How do I make sure that I communicate decisions in a timely and transparent manner?
- How do I define “success”? What counts as a contribution? How can I ensure that the I evaluate my team members’ contributions and successes in a clear, transparent and consistent manner?
- How might I support the employee in being successful if the Workplace Strategy is approved?
When assessing requests, do not inquire about an employee’s personal situation. Similar to a job interview, only ask questions that allow you to assess whether the role can successfully be performed with the Workplace Strategy.
It is recommended that newly-established Workplace Strategies begin with a 30-90 day trial period to assess feasibility. Following the trial period, all Workplaces Strategies should be assessed regularly (at least quarterly) to ensure they fully support academic and business needs.
If you decide to not approve a Workplace Strategy(ies) request, be prepared to provide the business rationale for why the request is being denied.
For more guidance, refer to the Workplace Strategies Toolkit and consider requesting a Workplace Strategies consultation to talk through your specific questions.
How do I know my direct reports are working when they are working remotely?
The prospect of managing one or more remote/hybrid team members may feel uncomfortable at times, even if you successfully accomplished this during COVID-19. Research, however, shows that remote workers tend to put in more hours and be more productive than on-site workers.
It’s important first to understand why you may be questioning your direct report’s commitment to their work. Are there performance issues that need to be addressed? Is so, then you should discuss next steps with your local HR Professional or your Central HR Business Partner. Is the employee new and are you still building a working relationship with them? Then focus on establishing trust between you.
As with you on-site employees, keep your focus on work outcomes and impact on colleagues and stakeholders. Set clear expectations regarding availability and work hours, preferred means of communication, response times, deadlines, and other deliverables. This will help you to more easily measure productivity and assess performance. Consider the methods you utilize to monitor job performance if employees are on-site and determine how technology can be leveraged to monitor performance in similar ways when the employee is remote.
We are all adjusting to these new ways of working and will need to learn and adjust accordingly. Be sure to review the full Workplace Strategies Toolkit and to take advantage of peer support across the University through the MS Teams Manager’s Corner channel and Manager’s Corner Live monthly meeting. You can also always request a Workplace Strategy consultation to help you more specifically work through your questions and concerns.
Does having some or all of my team members remote stifle creativity and innovation?
Many leaders are concerned about the impact of remote/hybrid work on creativity and innovation, citing the loss of serendipitous in-person encounters. However, there isn’t a great deal of evidence that chance meetings produce innovation.
Instead, research shows that hybrid and remote teams can, in fact, be more innovative than in- person teams if they adapt their practices for the virtual environment. Even pre-pandemic, there were studies that showed that virtual brainstorming led to more ideas. This is in part because virtual settings allow more diverse perspectives (from introverts, lower status team members, and those from traditionally underrepresented groups, for example) to emerge. One advantage of using Zoom, for instance, is that it makes it more difficult for groups to talk over each other and allows thoughts to be contributed thoughts via chat as well as orally. The key is to leverage digital tools and asynchronous work more effectively and intentionally, as in this example.
Time working remotely also allows for more frequent and sustained “deep work” which leads to creativity and innovation; a 2010 meta-analytic review of over 800 teams, for example, found that individuals are more likely to come up with more, and better, ideas when they aren’t interacting with others.
Managers can foster creativity and innovation both on and off site by establishing an expectation that employees should be creative; by giving employees time to be creative; and by fostering a work environment in which employees can feel free to take risks.
Can non-exempt employees perform work fully remote or in a hybrid remote manner?
Yes, all Workplace Strategies (including remote work) are permissible for non-exempt (i.e., hourly) staff, so long as they adhere to record-keeping and meal break requirements and depending on the nature of their responsibilities. Data compilation and entry, responding to email and phone inquiries, and website management, for example, can all be performed off-site.
Managers or designated School/Unit Administrators must review policies related to Work Hours and Payroll in the Staff Handbook before approving any Workplace Strategies for non-exempt employees (specifically Varying Schedule, Overtime, Reporting Hours, Lunch Periods and Rest Periods). If Managers or School/Unit Administrators have questions about flexible schedules and the timekeeping system, they should contact AskHR@northwestern.edu.
When managing a non-exempt employee utilizing Workplace Strategies, it is imperative to establish clear mutual expectations regarding their work schedule and for you to know when they are working.
Non-exempt employees are eligible for overtime pay, therefore any Workplace Strategy used by a non-exempt employee should not result in overtime work. Be sure to set clear team procedures for seeking and obtaining written approval to work overtime hours. If an employee is not authorized to work overtime, they should be informed not to respond to phone calls or emails outside of business hours until the next business day. If there is an emergency need for them to respond outside of business hours, they should be directed to clock-in for the time spent responding, no matter how brief.
Can employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement utilize workplace strategies?
What if my employee(s)’s expectations and my expectations regarding workplace strategies don’t align?
What if I have concerns regarding the denial of my workplace strategy proposal?
What are the downsides of utilizing workplace strategies?
- Preferential treatment: We know that physical proximity to one’s manager can lead to preferential treatment and increased access to networking opportunities, stretch assignments, promotions, and career advancement. This type of cognitive bias (also called “proximity bias”) may disproportionately affect underrepresented groups, such as women, parents, people of color and people with disabilities since these are the groups spending the least amount of time working on site. Managers leading distributed remote and hybrid teams must therefore focus on results rather than who they see in the office. Managers also need to be proactive in ensuring that employees are still included in meetings and discussions, have exposure to senior leaders, and are considered for relevant opportunities when those employees are off-site.
- Burnout: when workers are remote they tend to work longer hours than those on-site and to feel as if they must be available 24/7. This contributes to employees’ difficulties establishing and maintaining boundaries between their professional and personal lives. Managers play a crucial role in supporting their teams’ well-being and can help mitigate burnout by, among other things, checking in on team members frequently; encouraging regular breaks and use of PTO; creating clear expectations with the team regarding communication; and modeling self-care.
- Isolation: Some employees experience increased isolation and disconnection from their colleagues, particularly if they first joined their team remotely. Managers need to be proactive in making those who are off-site feel included from the moment they onboard; asking employees about their needs; making sure to recognize employees’ achievements and show appreciation for their efforts; and creating opportunities for social connection.
Be sure to review the full Workplace Strategies Toolkit for more information and to take advantage of peer support across the University through the MS Teams Manager’s Corner channel and Manager’s Corner Live monthly meeting. You can also always request a Workplace Strategy consultation to help you more specifically work through your questions and concerns.
What is the policy for workers outside of Illinois?
For tax purposes, the Office of Human Resources must be notified at least 60 days in advance if an employee is approved by their School/Unit to perform work in the United States from a remote location outside the State of Illinois. It is the responsibility of the employee and their Manager to complete and submit the Remote Worker Notification Form and any tax documents as advised by Human Resources. The employee is also responsible for updating their home address in MyHR.
The University generally does not permit work to be performed from remote locations outside of the United States, except under very limited circumstances. Schools/Units are required to consult with their respective HR Business Partner (staff) or the Office of the Provost (faculty) before approving a current employee to perform work from a remote location outside of the U.S. or before extending an employment offer to an employee who will not be physically residing in the U.S. when they begin working, regardless of whether it is on a temporary or permanent basis.