Workplace Flexibility: definition and why it matters

The SMPH Remote Work Team is publishing several blog posts to provide information and context to the SMPH community about the UW–Madison Remote Work Policy and SMPH Remote Work Guide. This article is focused on workplace flexibility. See the previous article about remote work setups.  

The UW–Madison Remote Work Policy uses the term “workplace flexibility” to refer to “flexibility in which work is performed at an off-campus work site on a sporadic basis and does not follow a regular, repeated schedule.” To minimize confusion and align with university policy, it’s important to understand this formal definition of the term “workplace flexibility.”

Supervisor approval is needed whenever workplace flexibility is used.

A remote work agreement is not required for employees practicing workplace flexibility in consultation with their supervisor. This means that an employee who is working on site 100% of the time does not need to enter into a remote work agreement to engage in workplace flexibility. It also means that an individual who has entered into a remote work agreement does not need to revise their agreement to account for flexibility that is needed on an irregular, non-repeating basis.

If an employee knows they want to regularly work remotely just a day or two each month (even if they do not know the exact days), they should submit a remote work agreement request using the process described in Step 4 of the SMPH Remote Work Guide.

Examples of workplace flexibility

Where workplace flexibility
may not be appropriate

Working remotely for part of a day before or after a doctor’s appointment for a physical exam or a dental cleaning.


If a doctor or dental appointment consists of out-patient surgery or an operation, perhaps requiring anesthesia, taking sick time for the remainder of the day may be more appropriate than trying to work remotely via workplace flexibility.
Working from home while waiting for a furnace repair service professional. If, for example, an employee just moved and wants to be at home while delivery workers come for several hours to begin unpacking, vacation time would be more appropriate because moving will be a significant distraction from work duties.
Staying at home to work remotely during severe weather (see UW–Madison Inclement Weather Policy).
Working remotely due to loud (but brief) construction or cleaning near an employee’s office, to allow more effective phone calls and video conferencing without being interrupted by noise. If there is routine and repeated construction, maintenance, or cleaning near an employee’s office that impacts effectiveness and alternative space onsite is not available, a remote work agreement may be a better option.
Working from home after picking up a mildly sick child from school – for example, if the child is resting comfortably and an employee wishes to finish a desk work task for the day. If an employee is caring for a family member who is seriously ill, sick leave should be used as outlined in the UW–Madison Sick Leave Policy.
If an employee themselves is sick, they are strongly encouraged to use their sick leave, rather than work remotely, so that they can rest and recover from illness. However, if they have a need to work (e.g., urgent deadline) and they feel well enough to do so, they may work remotely, if they receive approval from their supervisor.

Every situation is different and will require conversations with and approval from an employee’s supervisor. When practicing workplace flexibility, the employee should be able to effectively perform their job function. Not every job function is conducive to workplace flexibility; if an employee must be onsite to perform their work, they will need to take leave time when they are not onsite.

Even if remote work is infrequent, if it will be regular and repeated whether on a percentage basis (such as 5% or 10% of one’s work time) or day-of-week basis (such as the first and third Monday of the month), submit a remote work agreement request. Doing so assures you that you are fully in compliance with campus policy, and that standard risk assessments for cybersecurity have been completed. Having a remote work agreement on file when appropriate is in the best interest of both you and your supervisor.

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