- Issued: June 8, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic and under the directive outlined by Chancellor Mone on March 17, 2020, UWM moved all but essential operations off campus, and transitioned the vast majority of its workforce to remote work. As the university continues to strive toward a return to “normal” operations in preparation for the fall 2021 semester and beyond, university leaders, managers, and employees must work together to determine what positions and employees are best suited for regular or occasional telecommuting/remote work.
UWM recognizes the evolving workforce reflected in the labor marketplace and is committed to a renewed interest in maximizing operational efficiency. The reissued UW System Telecommuting policy is one tool that may be appropriate for some employees in some positions and this guideline is meant to work in tandem with that policy.
However, UW System has asked all institutions to formulate plans for the fall semester and beyond in order to return to in-person instruction and the provision of other services to students and other stakeholders, to the maximum extent possible. The objective is to aim for 75% of courses delivered face-to-face. This goal of 75% face-to-face instruction is close to the roughly 80% of face-to-face courses that UWM offered pre-COVID-19. Meeting this goal will require large numbers of instructional and non-instructional employees to work on-site, many of whom worked entirely or largely from home during fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
In recognition of this directive that some work can only be done on-site, UWM will permit the use of telecommuting and hybrid work options for employees if and where the remote work supports the UW System directive, the overall mission of the university, and the preferences of the individual employee.
In order to meet the needs of UWM, managers, supervisors and employees are asked to begin conversations to establish employee preferences, position requirements, and workplace expectations surrounding on-campus or telecommuting working. These conversations should include:
- Establishing hours of work/schedule. For instance, if an employee is actively caring for a child or family member, any proposed remote work schedule should reflect that time spent in this activity is not considered work time and appropriate leave should be used during those times.
- Balancing employee presence in virtual and on-site meetings. Supervisors should establish clear expectations on how employees should participate in meetings. Microsoft Teams or Zoom should continue to be used to provide all meeting attendees the opportunity to participate.
- Establishing expectations for focused, uninterrupted time for completing job responsibilities and attending meetings. If an employee is unable to set boundaries for work time, then the employee is expected to use leave.
- Establishing/confirming performance management expectations and metrics of monitoring work performance.
This guideline helps university leadership and managers in determining what positions and employees are well-suited for regular or occasional telecommuting/remote work. To the extent that it supports the mission of the university and does not hinder the goal to reestablish a vibrant on-campus population of faculty, staff and students, UWM leadership permits the use of appropriate flexible and alternative work options for employees. Telecommuting is defined as an alternative employment arrangement in which an employee performs their job functions from an approved alternate worksite other than the employee’s primary headquarters location (main office), one or more days per month on a standard and recurring basis.
This guideline does not address instances where employees have a medical condition that places them in a higher risk group, such as caring for someone in a higher risk group, or if they are pregnant. Employees in these situations should consult with the Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP) or Personnel Representative (PREP) who works with their school, college, or division. These employees may seek leave in accordance with the federal and/or Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Act or seek a reasonable accommodation in accordance with SAAP 5-3 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as applicable. Other extenuating circumstances expressed by employees should be evaluated by supervisors and school, college, or division heads on a case-by-case basis.
Furthermore, the approval process is not required of faculty, instructional academic staff, graduate assistants, teaching assistants, and research associates/assistants, who will be working in the State of Wisconsin. These employees working outside the State, including those working internationally, will require an approved telecommuting agreement.
In compliance with the UW System Administrative Policy SYS 1228: Telecommuting this guideline outlines the requirements for supporting telecommuting arrangements (also known as remote work or telework) for limited term, academic staff and university staff members. This guideline is designed to supplement and inform the use of the UW System Telecommuting agreement to support the preferences of the employee while meeting department goals and the needs of our constituents.
Two critical steps must be followed to determine telecommuting suitability:
- Step 1: Determine the suitability of positions based upon job duties and responsibilities.
- Step 2: Determine the suitability of employees based upon past work performance.
Step 1: Determine Which Positions are Conducive to Telecommuting
A position may be considered suitable for telecommuting if some or most of its responsibilities can be performed away from the regular work location. The change in work location should not impact productivity, customer service, operational efficiency, or team collaboration. The determination should be first based upon the type of work, and not just on employee performance. The below table is merely a suggestion and does not comprise an exhaustive list.
Titles conducive to telecommuting may include, but are not limited to: Tasks accomplished by telecommuting may include, but are not limited to:
- Accountant or Financial Specialist
- Administrative Assistant/Specialist
- Artist (Graphic or Technical)
- Attorney/Legal Support Specialist
- Benefit/Payroll Specialist
- Budget Planner
- Communication/Media Specialist
- Editor/Technical Writer
- Information Systems Specialist (Database, Network Administrator, Web Development)
- Marketing Specialist
- Procurement Specialist
- Analyzing Data
- Computer Programming
- Data Analysis and Entry
- Graphics work
- Policy/Procedure Development
- Project Management
- Software/Web Development
Conversely, certain titles and their associated duties and responsibilities may not be conducive to telecommuting. The below table is merely a suggestion and is not intended to be exhaustive.
Titles requiring significant on-campus responsibilities include, but are not limited to: Tasks requiring an on-campus presence may include, but are not limited to:
- Animal Research Technician
- Automotive Equipment Technician
- Baker/Cook/Food Service Assistant
- Buildings/Grounds Supervisor
- Coach/Athletic Trainer
- Custodian/Facility Repair/Gardener
- Electrician/Electronics Technician
- Inventory Control Coordinator
- Laboratory Technician
- Motor Vehicle Operator
- Offset Press Operator
- Power Plant Operator
- Police Officer/Dispatcher/Sergeant
- Shipping & Mailing Associate
- Steamfitter/HVAC Technician
- Cash Handling/Customer Service
- Cleaning/Facility Repair/Remodeling
- CNC Setup and Machining
- Cooking/Food Production/Baking
- Front Office/Reception
- Inspecting Completed Work
- Offset Printing/Bindery Work
- Preventative/Reactive Maintenance
- Research-based Husbandry
- Security/Patrolling/Law Enforcement
- Testing Equipment/Diagnostics
- Tool & Die Manufacturing
Remote Site Tools and Equipment
Individual schools, colleges, and divisions of UWM may be able to provide equipment for telecommuting employees in accordance with their responsibilities. This generally consists of computers (desktop with monitor or laptop), mice, keyboards, and university phone number as accessed through the Microsoft Teams environment. Printers, copiers, scanners, fax machines, shredders, white boards, office chairs, and other traditional office supplies will continue to be located on campus. Telecommuting employees that seek to have these items at their remote site are required to purchase them with their own resources unless a special arrangement is made where specific university-owned equipment is authorized for use at the remote location.
Information technology skills and requirements, such as regular and secure access to Wi-Fi networks also play a large part in determining if telecommuting is possible. Internet access and telephone services are required for telecommuting and interested employees must provide their own connectivity. Some questions to ask include:
- Is the employee able to have access to the needed equipment to perform their job function? Is university-owned equipment available for use remotely?
- Does the employee have access to an internet connection in order to complete their tasks, and communicate with their supervisor and team? This connectivity must be under the control of the employee and not a third-party (e.g., the local library, espresso bar, or the home of a friend).
- Does the employee’s core responsibilities require access to equipment, materials, and files that can only be accessed on site?
- Is the employee required to be on-site for face-to-face meetings with supervisors, other employees, students, or customers? Or can this contact be done electronically?
Some positions may be suited for a certain amount of telecommuting even if many of the responsibilities must be done at the primary headquarters location. These roles could be considered for a limited amount of telecommuting. This is considered a hybrid telecommuting role and is likely to be the model for most teams.
Each position should be considered individually, per the responsibilities of the role, to determine if the work can be done outside of the regular work environment. When discussing suitability of unsuitability of positions for telecommuting, supervisors and managers should consider explaining to employees why the determinations were made. Providing a systematic rationale for the decision will promote understanding and may help limit employee dissatisfaction.
Step 2: Determine the Suitability of Specific Employees Interested in Telecommuting
Once it has been determined that all or some of the role responsibilities can be performed outside of the regular work environment, it must be identified if the employee in this role is compatible to telecommuting. This must be considered on a case-by-case basis for current employees and must also be considered when interviewing candidates for vacancies requiring telecommuting as a condition of employment.
The telecommuting/remote work approval or denial determination is made by the employee’s supervisor. This determination should be made from the employee’s submitted telecommuting request based upon the supervisor’s assessment of their suitability for remote work. If the employee feels that they need a reasonable accommodation which may include telecommuting as an option, supervisors are encouraged to work with their HRBP, their PREP and the Disabilities in Employment Coordinator to explore options and confirm applicability.
The following questions constitute a suitability tool that can be used to support decision-making and may aid in explaining the reasons for or against approving an employee’s telecommuting agreement:
Telecommuting Suitability Tool
- Is the job exempt or non-exempt according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)?
Irrespective of where an employee is working, there is a certain degree of schedule flexibility inherent in positions with titles designated FLSA-exempt. Employees who are not FLSA-exempt must report actual hours worked.
- If the job is non-exempt and subject to the FLSA overtime requirements, can work hours be accurately determined if the employee is telecommuting?
Employees may not work overtime or additional hours that generate night or weekend differentials, without receiving supervisor approval in advance of the overtime work to be performed. Night and weekend differentials are not available when a telecommuting employee chooses to shift their work hours into a night or weekend period for the employee’s benefit or convenience.
- When considering the position description (PD), how many (or what percentage) of the responsibilities are “portable?”
If overall responsibilities do not support a 100% telecommuting agreement, can a partial or hybrid arrangement be considered?
- Could the daily essential duties of a PD be rearranged to support a telecommuting request?
Alternatively, can two PDs be adjusted by replacing tasks requiring on-campus work with portable task of another employee seeking to operate solely on-campus?
- Considering the purpose of the position and the nature of the work performed in the PD, are they primarily information-based or service-based?
Information-based positions requiring infrequent in-person (versus virtual or telephonic) contact between the employee and those served may warrant a telecommuting agreement.
- Do the essential functions of the PD require extensive face-to-face contact with supervisors, other employees, or (especially) students that can only be accomplished on campus?
A Food Service Supervisor responsible for meals prepared by a staff of Cooks 2 will likely be required to perform this in-person. The frequency and duration of these essential functions may inform whether a telecommuting agreement is possible.
- Do the essential functions of the PD require access to equipment, tools, materials or files that can only be accessed on campus?
Digital photo production and editing is likely easier to perform remotely versus traditional film developing, enlarging, and printing. Conversely, pick-up and delivery of catered foods would likely be difficult without dedicated university vehicles.
- Do the essential functions of the PD require the work to be performed on campus?
An Environmental Health Specialist responsible for testing and analyzing the atmosphere of chemistry laboratories must do so on campus. Custodians responsible for the cleanliness and disinfection of university buildings must be on campus to perform these tasks.
- Do security concerns require the essential responsibilities to be conducted on campus?
Are there strategies, tools or procedures available that can mitigate security risks such as Virtual Private Networks or enhanced firewall protections for university-owned computers?
- Does the nature of the work require the employee to be self-directed and resolve routine problems independently?
How often and in what manner must the employee seek the assistance or input from colleagues or other stakeholders? How will sharing of information/learning be accomplished if remote work is approved?
- Do employees requesting approval of a telecommuting agreement have a complete understanding of the job and the performance expectations?
Employees serving a probation period or aperiod of evaluation may benefit from completing the initial period of employment while on campus.
- Do employees seeking approval of telecommuting agreements demonstrate dependability, organizational skills, and the ability to meet deadlines?
Consider the performance of employee over the previous 12 months. The employee actions during the mandatory remote work directive resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic may inform and predict future performance.
- Have employees seeking approval of telecommuting agreements met or exceeded performance standards in previous evaluative periods?
Again, consider the performance of employee over the previous 12 months.
- Can the performance or work output of a telecommuting employee be accurately measured?
Previously used assessment tools or procedures may not be applicable and may need to be modified. Consideration should be given to leveraging the suggestions of employees seeking to telecommute.
- How will employees be given fair and equitable consideration without favoritism?
Denial of a telecommuting request of a poorly performing employee, if remote supervision is deemed insufficient, should not be considered favoritism or unfair. Furthermore, the denial of a telecommuting request for employees whose job responsibilities cannot be adequately performed from home should also not be considered favoritism.
Requests to work remotely must be carefully reviewed before approving. All approved agreements will not be automatically extended and will require annual reviewal. In general, higher levels of scrutiny and justification are required for approval of fully remote work.
UW System Administration is asking institutions to require those with earlier (pre-pandemic) telecommuting agreements, both informal and formal, to submit new requests using the system form. UWM further requests that all employees submit requests for telecommuting on or before June 18, 2021.
Finally, telecommuting is not an employee “right” or benefit. Participation in telecommuting is voluntary in nature and employees are not required to participate as a condition of employment.1 The existence of a telecommuting agreement in no way alters an individual’s employment relationship with UWM or alters the employee’s obligation to observe all applicable rules, policies, and procedures. All existing terms and conditions of employment including, but not limited to, the position description, performance expectations, hourly wage/salary, benefits, leave allocation, and overtime reporting requirements remain the same as if the employee was working on campus.
Exceptions include appointments for which telecommuting is integral to the successful performance of the position (e.g., Recruiter/Advisor for the counties of northern Illinois)
- Telecommuting Suitability Checklist
Yes No Question Employee has submitted a Telecommuting Agreement via UWS Workflow Can the core duties and responsibilities of the employee be performed remotely? Will departmental operational needs be met if the employee is approved to work remotely? Will the needs of stakeholders, especially students, be met if remote work request is approved? Will the employee be able to establish, maintain, and strengthen interpersonal/collegial relationships if remote work is approved? It is possible (or provisions can be made) to ensure timely and effective sharing of information/learning if remote work is approved? Does the employee have access to the necessary equipment and technology to ensure successful remote work? Has the employee consistently demonstrated an ability to accept the responsibility of working in a remote location? Has the employee seeking the remote agreement consistently met or exceeded performance expectations? Will the supervisor be able to monitor and measure efficient and effective performance if the employee is approved for remote work? Does the proposed work schedule of the employee seeking approval for remote work align with the needs of the department? Has a plan or schedule for regular “check-ins” been established or has the supervisor identified a method to ensure regular communication with the telecommuting employee during the established work schedule? Has the supervisor identified a method to ensure effective participation in team meetings if the employee is approved for remote work? In light of similar staff performing similar functions, has the employee being given fair and equitable consideration under the above criteria, without discrimination or favoritism?
The preponderance of boxes checked “Yes” will likely indicate support for approval of a telecommuting agreement.
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