After more than a year, Virginia Tech is preparing for an in-person experience for students this fall. Providing that experience is a top priority for our university and every employee plays a role in helping us achieve that goal.

At the same time, we learned a lot about flexible work options during the pandemic. Whether it’s telework or alternate scheduling, flexible work options can improve employee and team engagement, productivity, and retention without compromising university operations.

The recent spring 2021 climate survey results reflected feedback from 3,400 faculty, staff, and wage employees. Questions about flexible work during the pandemic yielded the following results:

  • Sixty-five percent of employees reported being able to better manage their family responsibilities through remote work.
  • The majority of employees whose role allows (74 percent of those who responded) would like to work remotely in some capacity.

Taking into account the feedback from both employees and university leaders, the Division of Human Resources is working to peel back the layers of questions around flexible work options to pilot multiple models. Partners in this effort include employees in the Advancement and Information Technology divisions, the College of Engineering, and the Pamplin College of Business.

Over the next year, these pilot groups will test a variety of flexible work models including everything from fully remote to hybrid schedules where employees are onsite some days and working remotely other days.

“There’s a lot wrapped up in what flexible work means and how Virginia Tech can take all that we’ve learned and apply it to a future work model that provides both the employee and the university with options for how, where, and when we work,” said Bryan Garey, vice president for human resources. “Most importantly, the model or models must not compromise the support and services that we are all here to provide our students. Our pilot groups will help us understand what models work best for academic and administrative areas of the university.”

There’s not one golden ticket or one right answer because flexible work is first and foremost about communication – between employees and supervisors, between supervisors and teams, between fellow teammates.

Additionally, there are jobs that are required to be onsite because of the important role they play in serving students and the campus. Many of these employees have been working onsite throughout the pandemic, providing critical services in every area of the university’s operations.

This summer and into the fall, while the pilot groups continue their work, Human Resources is collecting essential data and information, and also sharing new and updated resources for the university. Resources include tools to assess when flexible work may be appropriate and how to build a work plan for the fall semester that could include this option for employees.

Several projects are underway with more information coming throughout July on the following topics and systems:

  • A revised telework suitability guide that incorporates feedback from our employees and new information collected throughout the pandemic.
  • A new flexible work arrangement forms site where employees and supervisors will document telework and alternative schedule agreements. The old telework and alternate work agreement forms were retired on July 1 to prepare for the new site.
  • New training for supervisors on how to lead teams where hybrid environments (in-person and remote) and telework exists.

Watch for more on these and other topics as Human Resources helps Virginia Tech plan for fall 2021 and beyond.

Ultimately, providing flexible work options is a balancing act between the needs of the university, students, the department, and the employee. Several principles are helping guide decisions around flexible work:

  • Leaders will make the decision on flexible work options for their teams.
  • The university acknowledges that flexible options will not work with some roles so analysis of job duties and collaboration is required between employees and leaders.
  • Flexible work arrangements are fluid and evolving. An employee who is teleworking now must realize that telework may not be possible at other points depending on the needs of the team or department.
  • Future work models must support the university’s academic mission.

“Our focus is to support the students, to partner with faculty as they provide an in-person education experience, and to ensure we have a talented and engaged workforce to meet the university’s needs,” said Garey. “We believe flexible work approaches help accomplish all in both the short term for the fall and beyond. All of this work aligns with our Beyond Boundaries vision and our strategic plan.”

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