Types of Job Flexibility

The following types of flexible work arrangements are found at MIT.

Alternative Work Schedules

When employees enter into an alternative work schedule, they are committing to a scheduling arrangement that varies from the regular core hours normally observed in the DLC. Potential benefits of alternative work schedules may include expanded office coverage, extended service hours, a boost in staff morale, or a spike in employee and department productivity.

At MIT, these are the most common types of alternative work schedules:

Compressed workweek

A compressed workweek allows employees to maintain full-time hours with a schedule that is less than five full days per week.

For example, a full-time employee may work four 10-hour days in a week. Another type of compressed workweek is sometimes instituted during the summer months: an employee may work longer hours Monday through Thursday and shorter hours on Friday.

Potential benefits of a compressed workweek
  • Allows the employee to maintain full pay and benefits unless number of hours worked each week decreases, and enables the department to receive full-time productivity.
  • May reduce the employee’s child care or elder care costs.
  • Provides employee with larger blocks of time off.
  • May reduce commuting time and costs.
  • Provides a low-cost benefit to the employee.
  • May enhance productivity due to fewer interruptions during non-traditional office hours.
  • May promote the sharing of facilities or equipment, such as an office, computer, or phone.
  • May increase total staff hours on especially busy days.
Potential challenges of a compressed workweek
  • Employee may not be as productive on a longer-day schedule.
  • Employee may not receive supervision at all hours.
  • Arrangement may cause understaffing at times.
  • Key people may be unavailable at certain times, requiring cross-training to ensure coverage.
  • It may complicate scheduling meetings and coordinating projects.
  • For exempt staff, it may be difficult to define a full workload.
  • For non-exempt staff, attention should be paid to number of hours worked to avoid incurring overtime.
Proposals

An employee's proposal for a compressed workweek should address:

  • How department coverage will be maintained.
  • How schedules will be coordinated.
  • How effective channels of communication will be established.
  • Job expectations during times when the manager/supervisor is absent.
  • Equity for exempt staff, such as justifying a part-week schedule as full-time, particularly if 9-hour or 10-hour workdays are common among 5-day-a-week staff.

Learn more about developing a proposal.

Part-time work

A part-time work schedule consists of fewer work hours than the standard workweek of the department, lab, or center (DLC). Benefits are generally available to MIT employees who are working 50 percent or more of a regular full-time work schedule. See more on eligibility.

Employees considering a part-time work arrangement should evaluate the pros and cons.

A reduced schedule often comes with personal advantages, such as more free time and increased flexibility. But for some employees, working part-time may pose challenges, including the loss of income or possible impact on job assignments or speed of career advancement. In addition, business needs sometimes cannot be met with part-time employees.

What is considered part-time?

At MIT, salaried (exempt) staff are presumed to work at least 40 hours per week, and a regular schedule less than 40 hours is considered part-time. For support staff, part-time work is defined as an arrangement that requires less than 35 hours per week.

Examples include: three or four 8-hour workdays per week; five 4-to-6–hour workdays per week; or two 10-hour workdays per week. Employees working 50% or more of a regular full-time work schedule are entitled to employee benefits; for hourly paid staff, that standard is met if they work at least 17.5 hours per week. 

Employees should discuss questions or concerns with their supervisors to determine if a part-time work arrangement is the right option.

Potential benefits of part-time hours
  • Provides more time for personal responsibilities.
  • Provides flexibility to alter the schedule in response to home or work demands.
  • Can reduce absenteeism and tardiness.
  • Often enhances the employee’s morale, productivity, and commitment.
  • May facilitate recruitment and/or retention.
  • May allow the employer to reduce costs without reducing staff.
  • Can be used for phased-in retirement to reduce the employee’s hours over time and train his or her replacement.
  • May create growth opportunities for other employees on the team.
Potential challenges of part-time hours
  • Reduced income and reduction in pay-based benefits, such as retirement plan benefits based on pay.
  • The task of reassigning some of the employee's job responsibilities.
  • Employee may be viewed as less committed by colleagues or manager/supervisor.
  • May slow down the time to complete work assignments.
  • Possible impact on job assignments or speed of career advancement.
  • May cause understaffing at times.
  • May create scheduling difficulties.
Proposals

An employee's proposal for a regular part-time arrangement should include:

  • The work responsibilities that will be accomplished during reduced hours.
  • How the rest of the employee's work will be handled by other staff or departments.
  • How performance will be evaluated and the employee's goals.
  • The impact on future opportunities, such as career advancement or the ability to increase hours in the future.

Learn more about developing a proposal.

Flexible schedules

A flexible schedule is a work schedule with starting and ending times that differ from the standard work hours for the office, which is approved by a manager/supervisor. Employees work the same number of scheduled hours as they would before the flexible agreement began.

Types of flexible schedules at MIT
Fixed alternative work schedule

The employee and supervisor agree upon and establish starting and ending times that differ from the department's norm, but keep the same schedule each day or each week, such as 8 am – 4 pm every day, or 8 am – 4 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and 9:30 am – 5:30 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Midday flextime

Employees may take a longer scheduled break at midday (or in the middle of their usual working time) if they make up the lost time by starting work earlier or staying at the office later.

Core hours within a variable schedule

The employee is present during specified core hours agreed upon and established by his or her supervisor, but may adjust arrival and departure times each day. Despite this variability, the employee is expected to work a set number of hours each week.

Variable schedule

Employees may work variable hours so long as they achieve the expected number of hours within the week. For example, an employee may work for 10 hours on Monday and Wednesday, 8 hours on Tuesday and Friday, and 4 hours on Thursday to accumulate 40 hours.

Potential benefits of a flexible schedule
  • Employee keeps full pay and benefits, unless the number of hours worked each week decreases.
  • Working and time-off hours more closely meet the employee's needs.
  • May ease commuting stress.
  • Often enhances employee productivity.
  • May facilitate recruiting and retention.
  • May reduce absenteeism and tardiness.
  • May improve coverage or extend hours.
Potential challenges of a flexible schedule
  • May create difficulty in scheduling meetings and coordinating projects.
  • Supervision may not be available at all hours.
  • May cause understaffing at times.
  • Employee may be unavailable at certain times, requiring cross-training to ensure coverage.
  • May not free as much time as employee needs.
  • May make it harder for the supervisor to track or measure time worked.
Proposals

An employee's proposal should address:

  • How department or office coverage will be maintained (possibly establish core hours).
  • How channels of communication will be established and effectively maintained.
  • How work hours will be tracked or measured.
  • Definition of tasks during times when supervisor is absent.

Learn more about developing a proposal.

Job sharing

In this arrangement, two or more part-time employees share the responsibilities of one full-time job at a prorated salary based on time (for hourly employees) or percent effort (for exempt employees).

Employees can explore different job-sharing scenarios with their supervisors. For example, two employees may work half of a regularly scheduled full-time job—or two-and-a-half days each per week—with or without overlap; or each employee may work three days per week with one day overlapping (leaving one, less busy day uncovered each week).

Potential benefits of job sharing
  • Employees have the advantage of part-time work in a position that requires full-time coverage.
  • Both job-sharing partners receive health coverage if working at least 50% of their regular schedules.
  • Each job-sharing employee shares ideas and responsibilities with a partner.
  • Job sharing can facilitate the retention of valued employees.
  • May increase the breadth of skills and experience as it includes two parties.
  • May increase productivity and morale.
  • May decrease departmental absenteeism, since partners might cover for each other.
  • May provide coverage by two people during peak hours or when two projects or activities demand simultaneous attention.
  • Creates a talent pool that may fill future full-time openings.
  • Can be used for phased-in retirement to reduce the employee’s hours over time and train his or her replacement.
Potential challenges of job sharing
  • Finding and maintaining the relationship with a compatible partner.
  • Replacing a partner who leaves.
  • Dividing the work equitably to achieve a balanced team.
  • Added effort to supervise job-sharers as individuals and as a team.
  • Additional systems for communication may be needed with managers/supervisors, coworkers, and clients.
  • Difficulty in reversing the arrangement.
  • Additional space may be required if overlap days are chosen.
  • Loss of benefits to any employee working less than 50%.
Proposals

An employee's proposal for job sharing should address:

  • Division of responsibilities between partners.
  • Plan for days and hours of work for each partner, including possible overlap.
  • Clearly defined responsibilities for each partner.
  • How job-sharers will communicate with each other, their supervisors, coworkers, and clients.
  • How each partner will be evaluated, both individually and as a team member.
  • A plan for when a job-share partner leaves.
  • A plan for when the trial job-share arrangement doesn’t work.

Learn more about developing a proposal.

Off-Site Work

Also known as "telecommuting," this is a work arrangement in which an employee regularly works at home or at an alternative worksite during part or all of his or her work schedule.

Telecommuting

Whether it's instant messaging with colleagues across campus, collaborating with partners via a videoconference, or using a tablet to send email from anywhere, telecommuting has become commonplace across industries and functional areas.

A State of the American Workplace report indicates that employees who work remotely at least one day per week are more engaged than co-workers who work full-time on-site. In fact, many studies show that telecommuting can actually boost productivity while reducing turnover, improving employee morale, and promoting sustainability. The belief that employees are likely to slack off when out of sight is a common misconception.

At MIT, telework opportunities include:

  • Regularly scheduled work at home part of the week, as negotiated with the employee's supervisor.
  • Regularly scheduled work at another work location, designated by the employee’s supervisor, part of the week.
  • Occasional work at home to address a personal need, such as a home repair or transportation issues.
  • Occasional work at home to focus on a specific project, such as writing a final report.
Potential benefits of off-site work
  • Employee keeps full pay and benefits.
  • Employee saves commuting time and costs.
  • May enhance task productivity due to less interruption.
  • May promote the sharing of facilities or equipment.
  • May promote environmental sustainability measures, such as the reduction of pollution.
  • May ease parking demands on the Institute.
  • May provide extended hours of service as supervisor may approve an alternative work schedule from home.
  • May provide a heightened sense of autonomy and enhance capacity for the employee to work more effectively.
Potential challenges of off-site work
  • Not all tasks are performed easily off-site.
  • Supervisors may experience challenges overseeing and evaluating off-site employees.
  • Employees may be unable to stay motivated in the telecommuting arrangement.
  • Employees may overwork since they are unable to delineate work hours from non-work hours.
  • May create difficulty in scheduling meetings or coordinating projects, requiring changes in team practices.
  • Telecommuting employees may experience fewer networking opportunities with coworkers.
  • Employees must designate an organized workspace at home and may incur additional expenses, such as increased heating or electric bills.
  • May require purchases of equipment and supplies, such as a telephone or computer.
  • May require equipment or software purchases and training in order to support effective communication among the employee, supervisor, and team—such as a conference call, Skype, or instant messaging.
  • May require employees to adapt their work environment in order to be ergonomic and free from hazards. See this Occupational Safety & Health Administration checklist for more information.
Proposals

An employee's proposal for off-site work should address:

  • The on-site/off-site weekly schedule, including the amount of time that will be spent in the office per week and when.
  • The equipment required to accommodate this arrangement and who will provide it, keeping in mind that the Institute does not typically cover such expenses.
  • How meetings, joint projects, and other team activities will be accomplished, including recommendations for software or hardware purchase.
  • How communication with coworkers, managers/supervisors, and clients will continue without interruption, including recommendations for changes in team practices.
  • How a flexible work arrangement will be supervised and evaluated.
  • The kind of technical support required, if needed.
  • An understanding that child care, elder care, and other significant responsibilities cannot be performed while working off-site.

Learn more about developing a proposal.

Team-Based Flexibility

Flexibility is evolving in today's workplace as technology improves and many employees and managers try new ways of working to meet the needs of employees and organizations alike. A team-based approach to flexibility is one that focuses on using flexibility across the team to create the desired work environment, reduce inefficiencies, and achieve desired results.

Team-based approach

Organizations take different approaches to flexibility and will fall somewhere between those that view flexibility as an individual accommodation and those that have integrated flexible work practices into their culture as a tool for achieving business outcomes.

At MIT, we find departments at each point on the flexibility spectrum, and recognize that some may not be ready for this approach, or that it may not be a good fit. Implementing a team-based approach, however, begins by understanding where the DLC is on the flexibility spectrum and helping them to participate in creating an approach that will meet their needs.

Research shows that a team-based approach often results in greater communication and collaboration, increased productivity and engagement, more transparency, and fewer stigmas associated with flexible work arrangements. As with any approach to flexibility, team-based practices come with their own set of challenges.

For those managers/supervisors who oversee many flexible workers, or who are considering a team-based approach to flexibility, here are additional factors to consider. See also The Role of the Manager/Supervisor section.

  • Be informed and flexible: Considering new ways of working can be intimidating. Be open to learning new management strategies, be informed about best practices by reading through the information on this website, and make use of training resources to build your skills in managing a flexible team.
  • Build team culture: When flexible workers are part of your team, the entire team becomes "flexible," including those who work a more traditional schedule in the office. Adjusting how team members connect and communicate can provide clear understanding of roles and goals, and help to ensure that the team is grounded in trust, and each team member's needs are met. 
  • Support effective team communication: It is important to include all employees in a conversation about how the team will communicate and collaborate with one another when members of the team are working a flexible schedule or working off-site.
  • Develop customized "guiding principles": Building on MIT’s Flexibility Guidelines, work with your team to identify and adopt protocols around job flexibility to support positive communication and team effectiveness. Guiding principles should address shared expectations and requirements for all team members around availability, communication, and performance. The core hours, guiding principles, and criteria for accepting a request should be created collaboratively and clearly communicated to employees. See examples below.

    Examples of Guiding Principles (these are samples only; you may customize your own)

    • Phones must be covered from 9 am – 5 pm, Monday – Friday.
    • All employees must be physically present on Wednesdays for staff meetings.
    • All employees must be reachable during core hours (for example, from 11 am – 3 pm every day).
    • All meetings should be accessible virtually, and meeting materials should be distributed electronically in advance to all team members. 
    • Team members may work from home one day per week, provided that their flexibility proposal fully addresses other requirements identified in the guiding principles.