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Flexible Work Strategies

Flexible work strategies allow employees to conduct work outside the traditional weekday work schedule or outside typical office environments. These strategies can be used to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The following outlines conditions when and where flexible work schedules may fit into climate action plans for your research campus.

Flexible Work Strategy Options

Options for research campuses to implement flexible work strategies include:

Photo of a man working on a laptop computer that sits on top of a table. A stack of boxes is shown in the background.

Credit: Jerry Hymer

  • Alternative work schedules: Working hours may vary from day to day or compact into fewer days to reduce operating expenses and energy consumption. Popular options include working four 10-hour days each week or working 9-hour days with a day off every other week. Numerous studies about the productivity benefits and drawbacks of these schedules have been conducted; these must be considered along with climate-neutral impacts.

  • Telecommuting: Allows employees to work from home offices or other alternative spaces. This option typically provides the greatest GHG emission reductions because little or no office space is needed for these employees. They also no longer need to commute, eliminating emissions from vehicles traveling to and from campus.

  • Satellite offices: Similar to telecommuting, satellite offices create central working spaces for employees outside the main research campus. The result typically reduces the amount of commuting-based emissions and provides employees with dedicated offices.

  • Shared offices and hotelling:In most options, research campuses can optimize space and physical resources through shared offices and hotelling. Employees take turns using physical office and lab spaces based on alternating work or travel schedules. The result often reduces the need to expand facilities because of organizational growth.

Flexibility is critical to implementing these strategies. Like traditional work policies, schedules and logistics often change. Employees and managers must bend with these changes to ensure results. In the end, flexible work schedules depend on cultural and behavioral changes rather than on policies.

Considerations for Flexible Works Schedules

Research campuses should evaluate the following before assessing flexible work schedules:

Are flexible work arrangements right for your campus?
  • Are employees commuting long distances?
  • Are you running short on office or laboratory space?
  • Are you competing for employees in the market?

Employees Commuting Long Distances

Commuting has a large impact on overall carbon emissions, which is amplified when employees travel long distances to and from work. Telecommuting, satellite office, alternative work schedules, and other flexible work arrangements reduce these emissions. Reduced commuting also improves the quality of life and saves employees money on fuel and vehicle maintenance.

Limited Office and Laboratory Space

Flexible work schedules, telecommuting, and similar strategies make the most of limited physical space and, in some cases, avoid new construction. Hotelling is a popular option under which employees take turns using physical office and lab spaces based on alternating work schedules.

Competing for Employees

Most employees appreciate flexible work strategies and schedules, often considering them to be additions to benefit packages. Offering these strategies can differentiate research campuses looking for skilled employees and entice valued employees to stay.

Leading Example: University of California Flexible Work Schedule Program

The Flexwork Program at the University of California at Santa Barbara offers an excellent example of flexible work strategies at a research campus. A plan outlines program goals, which are clearly defined to promote better work/life balance for employees. The program goals also map to the campus sustainability plan, allowing it to reduce traffic congestion, vehicle emissions, and climate impact.

Demonstrating that flexible work schedules are cultural changes as much as technological changes, the university created tools and training for supervisors and staff. These tools ensure continued productivity and accountability despite new working conditions.

A pilot study was conducted in 2005 with 139 employees. The study tested a variety of flexible work strategies and sampled staff and supervisors before and after. Results are tailored to the ongoing program.

Additional examples of research campus flexible work programs include:

  • FlexWork Santa Barbara: Provides a list of flexible work strategy case studies implemented over a variety of government and private sector organizations.
  • University of Minnesota: Has a formal flexible work policy that increases worker productivity and other benefits.
  • Syracuse University: Encourages flexible work schedules to support sustainability and employee work/life balance.
  • Purdue University: Incorporates multiple strategies to maintain a well-defined flexible work program.

These resources outline flexible work strategies. Some of the documents are viewable in Adobe PDF format. Download Adobe Reader.