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When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations — including Drexel University — to abruptly move their workforce to an all-remote model in spring 2020, employers who hadn’t already widely adopted flexible or remote work models quickly came to realize that, with today’s technology, many office-based employees can work successfully from home all, most, or at least some of the time. Now, Drexel is embarking on a pilot program to test the viability of expanding its existing Flexible Work Arrangement Policy on a wider scale.
Nine units — five academic and four administrative — have been selected to participate in the flexible work pilot project: College of Engineering, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel Libraries, Office of Research and Innovation, Budget and Financial Planning, Human Resources, Institutional Advancement, and Office of the General Counsel.
Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Megan Weyler said the areas were selected because they have individuals in varying stages of participation, with employees working on-campus, remotely or hybrid.
“This variation will allow the pilot groups to provide feedback on ways to keep teams with different work locations and arrangements connected to one other, describe the challenges faced and benefits realized,” said Weyler.
Research shows that under normal (non-pandemic) circumstances, employees with remote or flexible work arrangements are more productive, have less stress and increased satisfaction, and are more likely to stay in their jobs.
“We have been very successful in transitioning to a remote work environment,” said Vice President, Associate Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer David Rusenko, whose team includes the offices of Budget and Financial Planning, Comptroller, Tax Compliance and Treasury. “An already productive workforce has been able to successfully maintain its high level of service and responsiveness while improving morale, as employees have been able to better balance important life issues with the demands of a very challenging job.”
For Drexel, having more employees work remotely could allow for the consolidation of space, elimination of leases, and associated cost savings. And offering flexibility can make jobs more attractive to applicants and expand the potential pool of prospective employees.
But there are pitfalls, too. Not all employees are well suited to remote work, and some work simply cannot be performed remotely. Hybrid workforces may have difficulty gelling, with off-campus individuals feeling left out or disconnected. And while remote-work options can level the playing field in some respects, it can also widen disparities. Drexel’s pilot project is designed to help identify and anticipate these issues so the University can effectively plan for a more robust flexible work model rollout.
The project informally kicked off this past winter, with stakeholders across the University contributing to a white paper that explored the many potential issues and policy implications associated with implementing permanent remote-work models at the University, including legal, regulatory, tax, HR, IT, procurement, facilities and space considerations. The white paper will continue to be updated throughout the pilot period.
Over the spring and summer terms, all employees in the pilot groups will participate in surveys and focus groups to share their experience. While only professional staff members will be participating in the pilot, faculty members will also be invited to share feedback during this time. This information will enable senior leadership to understand the challenges they encounter and identify ways to enhance the program.
Upon completion of the pilot, expected this fall, Weyler said she hopes the University will be able to expand flexible work arrangements to more areas of the University. In the meantime, if you have questions about Drexel’s current Flexible Work Arrangements Policy, please contact your HR Business Partner.