As managers and unit leaders implement hybrid work environments, you will need to make assessments and adjustments to operations as planning meets the real world. Use these guidelines and resources to support your planning and successful implementation of a hybrid work environment.
Schools, departments and other units are responsible for developing thoughtful, fair, and equitable processes for establishing a new work environment in the post-pandemic world, subject to the following principles, which apply across the University.
- The health and safety of the Columbia community are the first priority in planning for an ongoing on-campus presence.
- Columbia University must maintain its lively, flourishing culture, with a staff that is engaged in supporting the mission of the University in myriad ways.
- Planning for any new operating model that includes hybrid and flexible options should begin with a careful, consultative review of its particular needs by each school, department or other unit.
- Managers must recognize that the past several years have been a period of substantial transition and stress for employees. The mental health and well-being of the Columbia community is a critical priority for the University. Wherever possible, plans for changing current operating models should be implemented on a phased basis, with at least 30 days notice, to ease the transition.
- Units are given discretion to determine which job functions should be performed on-campus and which can follow a hybrid model. Decisions should be based on a unit’s analysis of the specific functions involved and an assessment of its operational needs.
- Where a unit concludes that particular responsibilities should be carried out at least in part remotely, the employees involved will ordinarily be expected to work in a hybrid model (i.e., spending some time on campus and some time working remotely) and to live within commuting distance of the University. Fully remote work, while not prohibited by these guidelines, will be the exception, to be approved only in special circumstances under guidelines of the applicable unit. As under existing policy, units may consider whether they can functionally support other Flexible Work Arrangements on a case-by-case basis.
- All decisions affecting staff must be made fairly, equitably and without bias.
- Units should reassess their operating plans at regular intervals to ensure that the needs of faculty, staff, and students are all being met to the fullest extent feasible.
Getting Started with Hybrid Models
Based on more than two decades of experience executing flexible, hybrid work models, Cali Williams Yost, the CEO and Founder of the Flex+Strategy Group (CBS 95) explains how an organization like Columbia University can reimagine the way work is done and execute a more flexible, dynamic way of operating. For a more detailed explanation of the information provided below, please review this recording of a live training delivered to the Columbia community by Cali Yost.
What does a high-performance flexible workplace and workforce look like?
A high performance flexible workplace and workforce intentionally matches the work to be done to the places and spaces, the time and pace, and the technology and processes that enable it to be done best. That requires extra planning and coordination across all levels of the organization that can result in greater productivity, engagement and well-being. It also means that one size will not fit all. The optimal work flexibility will depend upon the realities of a particular organization and job; however, the consistency is found in the process for determining based on the work, how, when and where it’s done best.
How does this differ from the traditional work model?
In the traditional work model, the “work” was primarily organized around the work-place, or where you “go to work,” within the standard operating hours of “9-to-5, Monday through Friday.”
In a flexible, hybrid work model, the “work,” or “what” needs to get done drives where, when and how those core tasks and priorities are done optimally. That means for a university, like Columbia, the on-campus workplace will always be an important factor when determining “where” work is done best, but it is no longer the only consideration. Other factors will include what work can be done remotely? What technology supports the effective, seamless execution of the work regardless of where or when it is done? When is the work done best in a 24/7 operation like Columbia? How can our standard work processes and the pace at which we work adapt to support a more flexible, dynamic way of operating?
Setting up a Flexible, Hybrid Model
By answering a few key questions upfront, school/unit leaders establish the process-based guardrails within which their school/units’ flexible, hybrid model will operate. At the school/unit level, this framework of norms, guidelines, and policies should be broad enough to adapt to the unique realities of a particular department or job, but consistent enough to keep everyone going in the same direction. The consistency and fairness is in the process, not necessarily in the outcomes or the way the work will get done.
The operating guardrails become more specific and refined as each department and team answers the following interrelated questions:
1) Where do we work best, onsite and/or remotely? What work is done best where, based on the type of work and the level of collaboration required to execute it well?
2) How do we optimize workspace, onsite and remote? What types of workspaces, onsite and remote, will enable our work and how do we coordinate across those spaces?
3) How do we leverage technology? What technology do we have access to, and how can it enable our work? Is there a consistent level of proficiency across the organization?
4) When do we work best? What are our core hours? Do we need to establish standard operating hours around these core hours to do our work? How do we manage expectations of accessibility and responsiveness?
5) How do our core processes need to adapt? What are our standard operating processes related to planning meetings, approvals, onboarding, etc.? How do they need to be adapted?
6) How do we need to pace ourselves? What are the rhythms of our operations and how does the way we work need to adapt to support different periods?
Working within a Flexible, Hybrid Model Day-to-Day
Once the guardrails of a school/unit’s flexible, hybrid model are set up, then it’s time to skill up and support managers, teams, and individual employees to operate within that framework day-to-day. This requires answering the following questions:
1) How do managers and employees engage? What is the “cadence” of priority-setting and updates required to support planning, coordinating and executing the work?
2) How do managers measure performance? How do managers measure performance? What matters in terms of measuring performance, since “presence” should never determine effectiveness? How are performance issues handled?
3) How do teams coordinate and collaborate? What system will teams use to coordinate how, when and where they are working, and how will they collaborate, onsite and virtually?
4) How do employees need to plan and fit their work, and lives, together? Based on priorities at work and in their personal lives, how do individual employees leverage the how, when and where guardrails that have been set for their jobs fit work and life together?
Reinforcing and Evolving a Flexible, Hybrid Model Going Forward
A flexible, hybrid operating model by its very nature is never “done.” Reinforcing a dynamic, responsive way of operating while it evolves as lessons are learned and the strategic realities of the University and the school/unit change, means answering the following questions:
1) How will we recalibrate the way we work as realities change? How does a school/unit as well as an individual department/team, support that ongoing evolutionary process?
2) How do senior leaders need to support and reinforce the way we work? While much of the day-to-day work within a flexible, hybrid model happens at the department level, senior leadership of a school/unit plays an important role in guiding and reinforcing a new way of working. What are the mindsets and behaviors of senior leaders that make a difference?
3) How does HR, IT and Facilities need to align? While HR, IT and Facilities don’t “own” flexibility in the way work is done, they all play a critical, coordinated role in the effective execution of a flexible, hybrid work model. What does that look like and how can schools/units align and partner with their HR, IT and Facilities functions to optimize the way work is done best?
1. Can schools/departments determine their own hybrid operating model?
Unit leadership determines the operating model for their area. There is no requirement that all functions perform their work fully on-campus. Units should consider whether some functions might appropriately be performed remotely, at least in part, either for a transitional period or for the long term.
Fully remote work, while not prohibited, will be the exception, requiring submission of a Flexible Work Arrangement proposal, to be approved by the unit leadership only in special circumstances. A leadership committee is being formed to set policy on this going forward and additional details will be forthcoming. For questions, please consult your HR Senior Business Partner.
It is recommended that hybrid schedules be reviewed regularly and adjusted to meet optimal performance goals.
2. In order to assess eligibility for hybrid/flexible work, managers should engage in a functional job analysis of each role within a department. Can you help me understand what a functional job analysis is?
A functional job analysis is a qualitative assessment used for job designing and job description crafting, based on what and how tasks are performed. The main questions to consider are how, when, and where can/should the functions of each role be performed to understand the best fit for the job and its role within the larger unit. Some forms of the analysis take the employee into consideration to see how behavior and performance level impact the work.
3. How should managers handle requests for 100% remote work?
At this time a 100% remote work policy is still in development. Please consult with your HR Senior Business Partner for guidance.
4. How can I, as a manager, behave and operate to ensure that the ongoing transition back to campus is a success?
- Clarity and transparency are critical in communication with staff. Employees need to participate in and understand the decision-making process.
- Be flexible within your sphere of control. One size does not fit all and some employees may require additional flexibility.
- During this time, one of the key strategies for retaining top talent is making sure people feel that they have choices that fit their needs.
- Flexibility does not equal laxity. Employees should be as productive working remotely as they are on campus. Again, clarity is key.
- Fairness and consistency are also key to avoiding the perception that there is favoritism or that some people are being left out or not treated equitably.
5. What do I do if someone who works for me wants to work differently from the planned way of operating?
- Have a conversation with the employee and work to clearly articulate the “what” of the work that this person and your team needs to do. Then talk about how/when/where that is done best.
- Once you determine the root of why the employee is asking for a different arrangement, consider ways to compromise or make changes.
- You may want to look into a Flexible Work Arrangement for this employee.
- If the model was set by leadership, consider discussing the issues with your leadership.
- If many people have similar concerns, consider re-thinking the overall hybrid model and recalibrating.
6. What should my expectations be regarding the performance of those on my team?
- Performance expectations should not be subject to where the work is performed or how. It should be based on clear and measurable goals and objectives determined in advance.
- As mentioned before, having clear expectations and open communication with your staff is key.
- It is also important to hold employees accountable for their work product by setting milestones to measure progress, reset expectations and adjust as necessary.
- You should also provide consistent and meaningful feedback.
- Unfortunately the pandemic crisis is not yet over, so establishing contingencies will provide employees with ways to adjust and cope with change.
1. Is there a policy on reimbursements for office set-ups for hybrid or 100% remote employees? If so, what kinds of supplies/technology/bills will be covered?
Yes, visit the Remote Work Supplies and Minor Equipment Policy.
2. What technology is available to support hybrid meetings?
Please visit the Working Remotely Toolkit for a list of CU supported tools for hybrid/remote work.
3. Is there a best practice for use of video conferencing during meetings?
In order to make meetings inclusive, it is recommended that a video conferencing option be provided for all scheduled meetings. Be sure that the in-person meeting location can accommodate remote participants and set up the space in such a way that remote attendees are able to actively engage in the meeting.
1. How should we handle interruptions in dependent care, commute disruptions, etc.?
Life happens, and there are often issues with elder care or child care. Care arrangements may fall through or someone may have a child at home unexpectedly due to illness, school closures, or an elder’s caregivers may fall through.
Managers are encouraged to allow for flexibility in accommodating needs of employees who may have difficulty following their set work schedule for short periods of time due to COVID-19. If possible, have open conversations with the people on your team about their care needs so that you know what to expect and so that they don’t feel they need to hide anything from you or from their colleagues.
Example: An employee’s child may need to quarantine at home due to a COVID-19 illness. This employee may need to have greater flexibility in when and where they work for that period of time and managers are encouraged to support that. Use of PTO and NYC Sick Leave may also be beneficial in this instance.
Refer them to University resources such as:
- Back-up Care
- Sitter City
- Parent Connection and Komae Cooperative Child Care
- School and Child Care Search Service
- COVID-related PTO (FAQs Section Time Off/Flex Time) & NYC Safe and Sick Leave
- NYS paid family leave
2. What do I do if someone is afraid to come back to campus or expresses concerns about increasing their on-campus presence?
- There are a variety of concerns related to working on-campus, from sharing office space with colleagues to commuting on public transportation.
- It is important to recognize that person’s fear and not make them feel as if they are over-reacting. Everyone has experienced the pandemic differently and they are comfortable with different levels of risk. The person may be at a higher risk for severe illness or may have high risk or unvaccinated people living in their home.
- It may be helpful to refer the employee to the vaccination and COVID case data for Columbia to reassure them that our campus is considered safe.
- You may also want to have a conversation with the employee about possible changes to their onsite schedule that will allow them to feel safer. For example, they may want to alter their start and stop times in order to avoid busy periods on public transit.
- You could also explore ways to give people more physical space in their offices, even though that is not currently a requirement at Columbia.
- It may also just take time for people to adjust. Whenever possible, we would recommend to allow for a longer transitional period. If you can, let the employee have a slower return to campus or gradually increase their on-campus work so that they can start to feel more comfortable.
3. What are some ways I can support my team’s mental and emotional well-being?
- Everyone has gone through a traumatic experience. COVID-19 will have impacted some more than others, but there is no one who was not affected by the pandemic in some way.
- While it is not a manager’s job or within their ability to eliminate anxiety and stress, there are things you can do to help your team:
- Acknowledge how difficult this time has been for everyone.
- Create opportunities for team members to express concerns and talk openly (if they want) about how they are feeling.
- If you are comfortable, share your own experience and concerns so that others feel safe doing so.
- Encourage employees to engage in activities that may be beneficial to their well-being: workshops/trainings, physical activity, meditation, etc.
- The Office of Work/Life offers a lot of great programs that are live and also has a robust video library people to access.
- Direct people to University resources:
1. My employees have concerns about the safety of their commutes. Can you provide information and data to help them understand that commuting is safe?
Managers should listen and acknowledge the concerns shared. They should highlight the University’s safety measures and policies that have been implemented in order to keep the Columbia community safe. Please also refer to Columbia Public Safety for crime prevention resources. Additionally, Columbia Transportation offers a free shuttle system as well as door to door shuttle service during the evening hours in the area of Morningside Heights and Manhattanville. More details can be found at Columbia Transportation.
2. Are the MTA buses and trains safe to use, and are schedules still reduced due to the pandemic?
Largely, subway, buses, Long Island and Metro North railway service has resumed to a near normal schedule and enhanced cleaning remains in effect. Ridership on MTA service continues to rebound which increases public surveillance, as well as new surveillance cameras which continue to be added to the subway system.
2. Commutes have changed. Does Columbia offer commuter resources and information to help people explore new plans?
Yes, Columbia affiliates can access information and services specific for Columbia commuters, such as Columbia shuttles, carpool arrangements, campus bicycle services and parking. For more information visit the Columbia Transportation website.
3. Can I get a parking space if I’ve never had one? If I have a space but will not be coming into campus full-time, can I pay only for it part-time and/or share my space with someone?
In an effort to reduce emissions and conserve the limited supply of parking, Columbia discourages driving to campus. However, you can find information about parking options, including a list of area garages with daily parking, on the Columbia Parking website.