Flexible and Remote Work Arrangements at MSU

As of 4/7/22, MSU Human Resources has launched a remote work policy

A remote team meeting with lots of participants happening on a laptop for work

The university has established new policies for remote work. Providing these policies supports the strategic plan and helps to establish a standard in the workplace. Decisions regarding remote work will be made jointly by unit leadership and supervisors in support of the needs of both the university and the employees. These requests should be evaluated by the approving individual in the context of the work being performed. Position postings can also include language to indicate the position’s “remote friendly” nature when applicable, and applicants will be able to filter for these positions on our Careers website.

The policies are available for both in-state and out-of-state remote work (remote work requests from out of state or internationally will have additional approvals and considerations).

Flexible work arrangements can be a win-win situation for both departments and employees. They can be a useful method to maintain unit service while supporting the personal needs of employees. Over 70% of all businesses offer flexible scheduling as an important factor. 1

How to Decide who Returns to Work: Who vs What

Decisions for remote work arrangements are made within each of the Major Administrative Units (MAUs). To ensure alignment in policy and practices, departments/centers/institutes should first communicate with MAU leadership before moving forward with any workplace decisions. MAUs have the flexibility to determine how their teams work best (in-person or remote), keeping service level needs, equity, and individual circumstances in mind.

Learn about the decision-making protocol used in other settings and how we might apply this idea to returning to campus.

Instructions for Developing a Flexible Work Arrangement

An employee may be ready to propose a flexible work arrangement, but they’re not sure how to begin the process. Below are some tools to help an employee develop a proposal:

As you fill out these worksheets, you should consider:

  • What elements of the job can be performed off-site? Which cannot?
  •  Where will the work be conducted?
  •  What tools, equipment and technology are needed for work to be completed?
  •   Have arrangements been made for dependent care?
  •   How will privacy requirements be met? How will computer software, hardware, databases and other technology be secured and protected from use by other individuals?
  •  How do you intend to resolve any obstacles that arise as a result of your flexible work schedule?
  •  List all goals, work assignments, metrics and/or other issues that will require consideration or change if the Flexible Work request is approved.

It is recommended that overtime be avoided when implementing a flexible schedule.

Resources from WorkLife

Schedule Flexibility

Studies show that work schedule flexibility can yield many benefits, including increased productivity, improved morale, decreased absences and turnover, and improved work quality. Flexible scheduling reduces stress and healthcare costs and creates an environment where employees are more satisfied with their jobs and lives. 2

Flexible work schedules at MSU entail arrangements between a supervisor and employee that allow the employee to complete their employment duties while working nontraditional schedules.

This site was developed as an easy-to-use resource for employees and supervisors when considering flexible work arrangements. The site explains what flexible schedules are, the different types of options, instructions for developing an arrangement, and much more!

Types of Flexible Work Arrangements

Compressed work week →

A program designed to allow eligible full time staff members to work longer scheduled days of work.

Flex-time →

A program designed to allow staff to work “core hours” with either early or late beginning/ending of the workday.

Job-sharing →

A program in which two people share a position, each working part of the week.

Part-time work →

A work schedule that is less than full-time but is at least half of the regularly scheduled full time.

Remote Work

A program designed to allow staff to work a portion of their normally scheduled work hours from a remote location.

What is remote work?

Remote work is a flexible work arrangement that allows for work to be done at an alternate location such as the home, while staying connected with the office through the use of technology. Remote work has many variations and is referred to by several different terms.  For purposes of this guide, the following definitions will be used:

  • Hybrid Work: work is performed both at the office and at an alternate  location for a portion of the scheduled work week.
  • Remote Work: work is performed from an alternate location all of the time.

Potential benefits of hybrid and remote work include:

Increased performance and productivity

Decreased absenteeism and turnover

Improved work / life balance and job satisfaction

Reduced energy / fuel usage and associated greenhouse gases

Increased office space flexibility

Remote work can be a paradigm shift in how the workplace, employees and activities are managed. A successful remote work agreement is supported by a leadership style that is flexible, outcome oriented and relies heavily on effective communication. Remote and hybrid work can be rewarding for the employee, the supervisor and the work unit if thoughtfully implemented and reviewed.

Consider the potential remote worker – remote work does not suit everyone. Employees with the following characteristics generally make effective remote workers:

  • Self-motivated
  • Satisfactory performance
  • History of dependability
  • Functions effectively independent of direct supervision
  • Can deal with isolation
  • Organized with good time management skills
  • Has an adequate level of job skills and knowledge
  • Proven good work habits
  • Is enthusiastic about the potential remote work agreement (RWA)

Consider the supervisor – Remote work does not work with every management style.  Supervisors with the following characteristics may feel more comfortable supervising in a remote work situation:

  • Open to alternative and creative ways of getting work done
  • A strong communicator, able to coach and lead from a distance when necessary
  • Sensitive to the needs of the telecommuter and their co-workers
  • Willing to learn and adjust their management style if necessary
  • Fosters work relationships built on mutual trust
  • Willing to take steps to maintain group cohesiveness
  • Willing to self-critique
  • Willing to honestly consider a remote work agreement
  • Willing to provide honest, clear feedback to their employees

Consider the impact on the rest of the team – The supervisor should always seek input from other employees in the unit since any type of flexible work arrangement for one individual will impact all team members.

  • Know the limits of remote work in your operation
  • Be prepared to explain why remote work may be successful for some individuals or positions and not others
  • Know what motivates and discourages your team members
  • Would a remote work agreement impact other schedules or create overtime considerations?
  • Do your team members support the remote work agreement?  If not, what can be done to earn their support?
  • Will the remote work agreement help, hurt or have no impact on work relationships and outcomes?

Consider the work – Some positions and/or duties do not lend themselves to being done in alternate work locations.

  • Are there tasks that can or should be done without interruption?
  • Are there tasks that do not require face-to-face input or information from others?
  • Can the technology needs of the position be met at the alternate worksite?
  • Will social/team interactions suffer?
  • Will the work suffer if there are delays in information sharing?

Beginning the discussion –

Most often, it is the employee who approaches the supervisor to consider a remote work agreement (RWA).  It is recommended that the employee be prepared to discuss the following key items.  Doing so will demonstrate that the employee has tried to view his/her request from the point of view of the department as well as his/her own interests:       

  • Schedule/location requested
  • Tasks that will be completed during remote work days, tasks that would need to be reassigned
  • A suggestion on how to establish deadlines
  • Assessment of communications: type, frequency, timing, who
  • Evaluation of impact on team dynamic, ways to create the best possible impact on the team
  • Technological needs
  • Analysis of how interruptions at the alternate work location will be minimized, or how the alternate work location reduces interruptions
  • Recommended trial period begin and end date
  • Frequency and type of feedback needed from the supervisor to help make the potential telecommuter successful
  • Anything else that may be relevant to the success of the potential arrangement

Directions for Current Support Staff Employees

  1. Read through the Remote Work Policy (In-Michigan or Out of State) and the Remote Work Agreement details below. Identify any questions you may have. The page, Understanding the Remote Work Agreement, walks through the RWA and provides additional information.
  2. Clarify working days, times, location, expectations, on-camera presence, in-office locations, communication plans, etc. You should have a position description that details these duties and responsibilities.
  3. Ensure that you understand your performance and development goals. Know how you will be evaluated on your work, team goals and unit values. 
  4. Initiate the RWA in EBS (link coming soon) as directed by your supervisor. Written instructions for EBS can be found here. A visual map with instructions can be found here
  5. Employees who move to different units or departments will need to complete a new RWA. This discussion should be completed prior to confirming the transfer or promotion.

Directions for new Support Staff Employees

  1. Read through the Remote Work Policy (In-Michigan or Out of State) and the Remote Work Agreement details below. Identify any questions you may have.
  2. Clarify working days, times, location, expectations, on-camera presence, in-office locations, communication plans, etc. You should have a position description that details these duties and responsibilities.
  3. Ensure that you understand your performance and development goals. Know how you will be evaluated on your work, team goals and unit values. 

Trial Period, Review and Follow-up – It is important that the supervisor and remote worker touch base at regular intervals  to assess the effectiveness of the agreement, and possibly adjust terms and conditions as needed. 

The Location A woman working from home in her home office. A clean, bright space with a solid wooden desk where she is on the phone, writing notes, and has her laptop open. There is a bookshelf behind her and an orchid.

Identify a designated space at the alternate location as workspace. There is no need to devote an entire room in many cases, although it should be away from distractions. The remote worker will need to consider the following criteria when identifying the alternate location’s workspace: 

  • An environment free of fire and other safety hazards.
  • Ergonomically correct furniture and lighting that are appropriate for the work being performed. Information about occupational health can be found on the Office of the University Physician’s website.
  • Broadband connectivity if the work requires use of a computer.
  • Adequate work space.
  • Access to electrical outlets.
  • Security for work related materials.


Consider the technology needed to perform the work (hardware, software, communication devices, etc.). With approval of the supervisor, the telecommuter may be provided with University-owned equipment to use at the alternate work location.

Liability / Cost

The employer is not liable for damages to the alternate work location that results from participation in a remote work agreement. The employer is also not responsible for the cost of utilities or maintenance unless the employer specifically elects to provide this compensation.

To be an effective, successful remote worker, it is necessary to work with less structure and more freedom in completing job activities. It requires careful planning and discipline. Below are some suggestions for how to be an effective remote worker:

  • Set a routine – Establish a work schedule for remote work days that is based on the arrangement agreed to with the supervisor and documented in the remote work agreement. Begin and finish work at the same time on remote work days, if possible. This helps set a routine.
  • Replace the ritual of getting ready for work – Remote workers will no longer have the traditional office rituals of morning conversations over coffee. Even the drive to work that symbolizes the beginning of the work day is missing. It is important to establish new rituals for remote work days. Some will leave their house, go around the block, return and begin the workday when the alternate location is their home. Others play specific music or begin working after a morning exercise session or bicycle ride. Each remote worker should find a ritual that works best for them.
  • Make a daily “to do” list – Develop a prioritized list of objectives for remote work days. At the end of the workday, review the list to determine how much has been accomplished. It may be helpful to prepare the list a couple of days before working remotely. This helps to plan for all the resources needed to support the activities that will be performed at the alternate location.
  • Have an end of the day ritual – It is important to establish a ritual to indicate the end of the workday such as:
    • Turn off the computer and lights
    • Close the door
    • Turn on the television
    • Walk around the block
    • Pick up the children from daycare or school
    • Change clothes
  • Managing the work – It’s important to manage work efficiently to be an effective remote worker. There is no one else on remote work days to help keep activities on track.
  • Maintain contact with the office – Be sure to stay in touch with the office during remote work days by checking in several times each day. It may be helpful to establish a process for doing so with a colleague in the office who can be called one or more times each day.
  • Telephone calls – Decide how to handle work related telephone calls before the first remote work day. Options include; letting them go to voicemail at the office, forwarding calls to a cell or other phone at the alternate location, or making arrangements for a colleague at the office to answer them. If voicemail is the option chosen, be sure to check messages several times per day and return calls.
  • Establish a system – Develop a system for organizing the work that will be done at the alternate location. It will enhance the effectiveness of the remote worker.
  • Deadlines / Milestones – While working remotely, be sure to complete work on time. Don’t miss deadlines. For large activities it may be helpful to establish interim milestones to help stay on track.
  • Keep the supervisor informed – It is critical that the remote worker stay in touch with their supervisor. Keep her/him informed about the status of projects and activities, and any obstacles encountered. Supervisors are an internal customer of the remote worker that need information on a timely basis.
  • Attend office activities / gatherings – Be sure to attend office activities and team meetings. Don’t become “invisible” because of the remote work agreement.
  • Interruptions – Determine what questions, favors and needs may cause interruptions to the work being performed. If the alternate work location is the remote worker’s home, establish ground rules with family and friends to be used when working. Remain flexible, because an errand may be the perfect break needed that day.
  • A male supervisor smiling, a group of 3 workers are out of focus behind him looking at a laptop together thoughtfully.

    Be educated – if you are uncomfortable or inexperienced with remote work arrangements, take the time you need to become informed.  Don’t feel rushed to make a decision before you are ready.
  • Give the request fair consideration – that’s all that you have to do.  Ask questions, stretch beyond your comfort zone if you can, seek a win-win, look for creative solutions, but don’t feel pressured to accept an alternative that doesn’t support your departmental mission.
  • Address concerns – whenever they arise, in the planning process or during the remote work agreement, be sure to make any concerns known quickly, so that they don’t magnify and interfere with the remote work agreement unnecessarily.
  • Pick up the phone – don’t fall into the trap of using email for all of your communications.  Beyond basic communication, calling the remote worker allows you to assess his/her mood, including being able to identify any stressors that could impact his/her work performance and work satisfaction.  Remember, you may be the only person he/she has had a chance to talk to that day.  Help him/her feel connected to the outside world and to the department.
  • Initiate communication – be proactive and reach out to the remote worker rather than expecting him/her to initiate contact.  Like direct phone calls, initiating contact on your timeline helps keep the remote worker orientated to the workplace routine and deadlines.
  • Encourage inclusion – is it time for birthday treats, or the office luncheon?  Did a colleague just make a big announcement?  Make sure to share the news with your telecommuter.
  • Schedule face-to-face time – make sure you are meeting together on a regular basis.  If you know the remote worker is coming into the office, do what you can to set aside time on your calendar to meet – even if you don’t have a formal agenda.  Ask the remote worker to let you know in advance if he/she is going to stop into the office so you (and others) can be there to reconnect.

Telecommuting can be helpful in accommodating employees with a disability, such as those covered by the ADA or other related laws, depending on the specifics of the employee’s role and job responsibilities. Employees who wish to request a reasonable accommodation (such as a telecommuting arrangement) must register with the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD) and submit a formal request.  Information regarding the reasonable accommodation process and other disability resources can be found on the RCPD website.

Remote Work in Action

Sample Letters and Forms

After a supervisor and an employee discuss a flexible work arrangement proposal and come to an agreement, the supervisor should summarize the discussion and the decision in a letter to the employee. The memorandum needs to include: 

  • A detailed description of the schedule the employee will follow
  • A description of the work expectations
  • A time frame for the pilot test of the new arrangement
  • An indication of when the arrangement will be reviewed and evaluated
  • If there is a change of status, such as the employee no longer working a full-time or part-time schedule, you need to complete a personnel action notice form.

Examples of memos from supervisors to employees:

Evaluation Suggestions

Supervisors should evaluate each flexible work arrangement periodically and have regular discussions with the employee. A pilot agreement is suggested, with a timeline around three months.

Things to consider:

Effective communication

Effective customer service

Other employees and how they’ve been affected

Successful work assignments

Safety of employee and maintenance of company equipment

Timely problem solving

Arrangement beneficial to workplace

Outside Resource Links

 A national leader in helping organizations create effective workplaces that support and develop healthy and productive employees.

 CUWFA provides information on work/family issues within the specialized environment of higher education; a membership organization that focuses attention on the importance of work/family issues for students, staff and faculty.

 FWI is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that studies the changing workplace, the changing family and the changing community.

 The Labor Project for Working Families partners with unions to advocate for family-friendly workplaces because no one should have to choose between work and family.

 WFC Resources has been the nation’s #1 partner for employees wanting a healthier, more flexible, effective and supportive workplace and service providers who help them.

 WFD helps create an inspired and supportive work environment through innovative work-life, diversity and flexibility strategies

 WFRN is a membership organization for academic work and family researchers from a broad range of fields. WFRN hopes to become an international membership organization that seeks to advance, promote and disseminate interdisciplinary research on work and family.

 World at Work is a non-profit organization providing education, conferences and research focused on global human resources issues including compensation, benefits, work/life and integrated total rewards to attract and retain a talented workforce.

Resources are available to guide your units in implementing the remote work policies for positions identified as remote-friendly within each unit. A great starting point is on the MSU HR website, Remote Work: Guidance for Employees and Supervisors. This web page will provide access to the policies as well as the following:

If you’d like to talk about remote work or flex work arrangements, please contact worklife@msu.edu

1Hewitt Associates Work/Life Survey, 2003-2004.

Casey, J. and Chase, P. Boston College Center for Work & Family, Creating a Culture of Flexibility, 2003.