URBANA — The University of Illinois has issued guidelines to “normalize workplace flexibility” for many of its civil-service workers and academic professionals, allowing them to adopt hybrid or remote schedules in the near future.
The university’s human resources department sent out its clarified guidelines Tuesday, codifying the process for employees to arrange agreements to work some or all days off-site.
“Hybrid or remote working options, tools and practices that were seen in rare cases and for a very narrow range of jobs are now as much a part of our operational vocabulary as in-person work,” wrote Shari Mickey-Boggs, senior associate chancellor for human resources.
In a message to the News-Gazette, Mickey-Boggs said the guidance shouldn’t contain “too many surprises” for current employees who’ve been navigating hybrid work environments for the last year-plus.
“This guidance doesn’t really bring major changes to our hybrid and remote work environment as much as it formalizes many of the processes and practices we developed during the pandemic,” she said. “They will also allow us to establish some clearer definitions in an employment environment that was reshaped by COVID-19.”
The UI will generally accept civil-service and academic-professional staff working up to two days a week remotely, although each employee will have to get an agreement approved for remote and hybrid work.
Anything more than two remote days a week will require approval by the “appropriate dean, vice chancellor, associate chancellor or their designee,” Mickey-Boggs said.
Those who arrange to work more than two days a week off-site could lose their office, moving to a shared space when working on campus.
“Space previously assigned to an employee who is now fully remote or remote more than two days a week may be repurposed to meet unit needs,” Mickey-Boggs said. “Such action may not be immediate but will be incorporated into space planning efforts.”
Not every academic-professional or civil-service employee can apply to work remotely. Jobs requiring significant physical labor or presence, like building-service workers, groundskeepers or airport employees, can’t arrange off-site work, for example.
And remote or hybrid workers will be expected to adhere to a set schedule, minimize distractions and participate in the normal meetings, phone calls and work operations they would in a typical day.
The remote and hybrid work agreement forms collect info on the employees’ departments, their positions and job functions, where they’d work from while remote and the schedules they desire, Mickey-Boggs said.
The approval process is “really a cooperative and collaborative arrangement between an employee and their particular unit,” she said. “These decisions fall under the authority of the respective campus unit leadership where the employee works and approvals have to consider the mission and business needs of the university and the unit.”
The updated guidelines kick in on Jan. 9. The UI will move to annual submissions for remote-work agreements each July.
“In a way, it provides supervisors with some tools to have a determination in terms of how to manage remote work at a higher level,” said Jessica Li, associate dean for research in the College of Education and director of the Bureau of Educational Research . “The university should provide training to the supervisors on how you should work with your remote employees, and how often you should have wellness checks.”
Li recently investigated the psychological effects of working from home for more than 1,300 employees at Talent Co., a multinational training academy.
Her case study found that employees who expected to work from home coped far better with the shift than those who didn’t plan to make the shift or were forced to do so for self-quarantine or lockdown.
Some of the material benefits are straightforward: saving time on commutes, potentially avoiding workplace distractions and politics, and in some cases, more time to help around the house or with family. Some reported that working from home helped them build resiliency and increase their self-motivation.
But employees seeking a remote work arrangement will want to consider the potential disadvantages before making the switch, Li said.
“You’re out of sight and out of mind; you will be missing some of the relationship building and promotional opportunities,” Li said. “There are opportunity costs associated with working from home because you are not present.”
Li’s recommendations for employees opting for an alternative work arrangement: Clarify how often you and your supervisor will communicate, and determine what performance evaluation will look like while working from home.
“We take great pride in our university’s adoption of workplace flexibility. We recognize our ability to provide that flexibility is important to our ability to recruit and to retain the best, brightest and most diverse staff possible,” Mickey-Boggs wrote. “At the same time, our decisions about working modes must always be based on prioritizing face-to-face engagement with our students and support for our faculty.
“We believe these guidelines will provide the most flexibility while still delivering the services necessary to uphold our academic, scholarly and engagement missions.”