Remote Work Task Force recommendations approved by senior leadership

August 10, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Recommendations drafted by the Remote Work Task Force on the future of staff work arrangements at Penn State have been reviewed and approved by senior University leadership. The task force, made up of representatives from across the University, has recommended that Penn State adopt flexible work arrangements for staff as an element of overall workforce planning operations. Specifically, the task force recommends granting units, colleges and campuses greater autonomy to implement more flexible work arrangements for staff while continuing to maintain the vibrancy of Penn State campuses, fulfill the mission of the University, meet or exceed all current standards of service, and achieve their own strategic planning goals. 

During the upcoming fall 2021 semester, the University will follow interim guidelines developed by the Return to Work Task Group. Resources related to this temporary guidance are available on the Return to Work On Campus website. Unless they have received approval for a work adjustment through the interim guidelines, Penn State faculty and staff should continue to prepare for an August return to on-site teaching and working, in accordance with the University’s current health and safety guidelines. At the beginning of 2022, revised flexible work policies and new guidelines will be available to the Penn State community.

To support staff members, stay competitive with peer institutions, and capitalize on potential benefits of continued remote work arrangements, University leaders charged the Remote Work Task Force in March 2021 to provide recommendations regarding expanded remote working options for staff. 

“We’re so appreciative of the dedication and ongoing commitment from staff members during the course of the pandemic,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost. “This process and our recommendations are designed to give units, colleges and campuses the flexibility to support staff members, while bringing our community together again and continuing to achieve our teaching, research and public service mission.”

Sponsored by Jones and Lorraine Goffe, vice president for Human Resources and chief human resources officer, the Remote Work Task Force centered its analysis on the following themes: organizational advancement, process and model, resources, and lessons from other organizations. Research completed within the scope of these themes was then compiled into a white paper that outlines the task force’s nine recommendations. 

“The submission and approval of recommendations from the Remote Work Task Force is an exciting event that marks the beginning of a transformative time for the University,” said Goffe. “The work of the task force represents a strong start on our shared journey of adopting new ways of working. By implementing these recommendations, we hope to strengthen retention of our highly valued staff members, increase our recruitment of diverse candidates, and respond to the evolving expectations of our workforce.” 

Task force recommendations outline general action plans for the University overall, as well as for the newly formed task force implementation team. 

Recommendation #1 – University Mission and Goals

The University’s approach to remote, hybrid, and other flexible work arrangements must be aligned with Penn State’s mission, vision, and strategic plan. Commitment to campus vibrancy is a foundational element of flexible work planning efforts. 

Recommendation #2 – Flexible Work Arrangements

The University will endorse the application of flexible work arrangements for staff at an institutional level. During implementation, the scope and criteria for implementing flexible work arrangements will be fully defined and will be utilized to meet institutional objectives such as increasing employee engagement, supporting retention, and advancing diversity in staff recruitment.

Recommendation #3 – Policy and Guidelines

The implementation team will review and advise on institutional policies related to remote, hybrid or other flexible work models. Guidelines developed by the team will equip unit leaders and supervisors to make local decisions on flexible work arrangements while still adhering to institutional policies. Units will be provided with resources such as key criteria, requirements, questions for reflection, and more. The implementation team will also create a review process to address potential equity issues in unit decision-making.  

Recommendation #4 – Business Case Analysis

The implementation team will conduct a business case analysis of the impact of increased flexibility on finances, service delivery, and physical resources at the University. This analysis will include an estimated return on investment. 

Recommendation #5 – Assessment

The University will conduct regular assessments to ensure that increasing flexibility in staff work arrangements creates a positive impact, especially related to “Our Commitment to Impact,” Penn State’s strategic plan. Assessment practices may include surveying employees, supervisors, and other stakeholders to evaluate whether new policies work for the University community. 

Recommendation #6 – Training and Support

The implementation team will develop training and support resources for unit leaders, supervisors and employees. Assets could include best practices, online training modules, talking points, and decision trees. Human Resources Strategic Partners and Consultants will be prepared to assist units, colleges and campuses with decision-making and conflict mitigation. Planned training subjects include collaboration between remote and on-site employees, effective management of remote employees, monitoring and assessing job performance of remote employees, and more.

Recommendation #7 – Technology

The implementation team will provide support in preparing units, colleges and campuses to provide remote or hybrid staff with the technology needed to effectively work and interface with colleagues. Utilizing remote meeting technology at all meetings to include remote workers will be promoted as a University standard. University teams will be expected to utilize business applications that enhance innovation and problem-solving among team members. Institutional data security will be reviewed and maintained.

Recommendation #8 – Engagement and Culture

The University will endorse flexible work arrangements — applied at the discretion of unit leaders and supervisors — as a new standard for staff work at Penn State. The University will create transparent messaging around the impact of increased flexibility. The implementation team will guide units in promoting principles of engagement and inclusion for teams composed of both on-site and remote workers, including the creation of new resources to increase engagement of remote workers.

Recommendation #9 – Performance and Accountability

The implementation team will guide the development of training for managers around how to effectively conduct performance-related meetings with staff working in flexible arrangements. Support offered will reinforce the need for individual accountability, effective management, and evaluation of work based on work quality and performance.  

Future planning

Task force research and recommendations will be used as a roadmap for the implementation of an updated University-wide remote work policy and accompanying guidelines. The new task force implementation group, led by Robert Hartman, senior director of labor and employee relations and interim assistant vice president for Human Resources, will be a cross-functional team of representatives from across the University. This group will be charged with implementing all task force recommendations, with the primary goal of revising policies and creating University-wide guidelines by the end of 2021, which will be shared with the Penn State community in early 2022. 

The long-term future of flexible work arrangements at the University will continue to develop in 2022 and beyond. Units, colleges and campuses will continue to have autonomy to implement flexible work arrangements among staff members according to their business needs, as long as campus vibrancy and commitment to in-person service — especially in supporting students, customers and community members — is maintained where applicable. New policies and guidelines will provide a framework for teams across the University as they explore flexible work options and adjust their individual approaches to staff work arrangements in the years to come. 

To learn more, visit the Return-to-Work website.

Last Updated August 11, 2021