Guiding Our Return with Flexibility
August 24, 2021
This message was sent to all faculty and staff on August 24, 2021.
As we come back to campus this fall, we have an opportunity not only to return but to reinvent. This is a time to adopt the lessons we've learned in the past year, to reevaluate business practices and to try to come back together in a way that improves the student experience and prioritizes employee engagement and wellbeing.
Flexibility across units and across functions will be critical to this process, as business and individual needs vary significantly across and within colleges and offices. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work, as we strive to best meet the needs of our students, faculty and professional staff.
Drexel Human Resources (HR) has been conducting a pilot project over the past months to explore the benefits, barriers and policy implications of remote and flexible work arrangements. The baseline survey results from the pilot are being used to improve the existing Flexible Work Arrangement Policy. Our HR Business Partners will be key in the process, helping to support an equitable approach across teams and units.
On the academic side of the house, leadership of all levels have been collaboratively discussing how best to evolve our current practices in the fall. The majority of colleges and schools are planning for professional staff to be in the office 3-4 days a week, having the option to work remotely for 1-2 days, with further variation depending on the needs of the college, team functions, the time of year (e.g. increased presence during "peak weeks") and other variables. Similarly, for administrative units, plans will vary greatly for the same reasons. Some teams will be going almost fully remote — particularly those that are vacating leased space — while others will require a more regular, in-person presence on campus to serve students, employees and the community.
For both academic and administrative units, the individual management of units will be critical to our return, as each manager understands the specific needs and dynamics of their population. That said, there are some clear goals we all must share, and for that reason, we are providing the following Guiding Principles.
- Provide What We Promise. At the end of the day, our financial stability depends on our efficiency and the quality of services we provide our students. We need to ensure we are delivering the product/experience we have promised. Units that directly interface with students should ensure a consistent presence, as should units that support the on-campus teaching and research activities of the University.
- Balance Presence with Flexibility. It's safe to assume that most employees will be seeking flexibility to some extent. Consider when in-person interactions are most valued, both among employees and students, and focus on the ways in which people truly benefit from being together. If we are not flexible, we will run the risk of losing our greatest assets — our people.
- Don't Forget Lessons Learned. The past year provided insight into new ways to harness technology and the challenges faced by different populations. It also changed employee expectations of the workplace. We have an opportunity to rethink how we do business, and we should not let it pass us by. How can we use these lessons to improve the academic experience and enhance access, accessibility and equity for students and employees alike? How can our return help us become a more innovative, nimble university? We do understand that we will need to gradually address some tech and facilities needs to incorporate some of these lessons. The Provost's Office is working collaboratively with IT and other units to upgrade our classroom spaces, while the flexible work pilot team is addressing operational issues, such as space needs, policy impacts and manager support.
- Hard Is Not a Reason to Remain Stagnant. We have an opportunity to rethink how we work and deliver the student experience in the context of Drexel's evolution as an innovation partner and global institution. This process will take effort, but it is worthwhile to remain a competitive institution and employer.
- Lead with Respect and Trust. Drexel faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to position the University in a strong state, leading in some cases to the point of burnout. Provide flexibility where possible and assume your employees' best intentions until they demonstrate otherwise. Drexel provides support for both managers and their teams through your HR Business Partner, learning and development opportunities in Career Pathway, and the Employee Assistance Program, which offers free professional and personal counseling services for all faculty and professional staff and their household members.
- One Size Doesn't Fit All. Every team's functions and needs are different. Encourage your managers to have clear conversations with their direct reports to inform leadership decisions, understand employee needs and set clear expectations. Managers should ask about employee needs at the same time that they consider the long-term trajectory of their team and the needs of the University.
Before the pandemic, September was always a time of change and transition — thousands of new students anticipating their first days as Dragons, others returning or heading out on co-op, faculty and staff looking ahead to the promise of a new academic year.
This September, it's different. We're not just coming back from summer; we're coming back from one of the most challenging years we've faced in our lifetimes. It will take time for Drexel and all organizations to figure out how best to operate in this changed world. The plans we implement this fall are likely to evolve throughout the academic year, as we continue to learn and adapt. While we have always had a Flexible Work Arrangement Policy, we have struggled with implementation in the past; we will need to better support a culture that allows for flexible work. The new process to evaluate and apply for a flexible work arrangement can be accessed on the Human Resources Flex Work page.
Paul E. Jensen
Executive Vice President
Nina Henderson Provost
Helen Y. Bowman
Executive Vice President
Treasurer and Chief Operating Officer
Senior Vice President
Chief Human Resources Officer