The COVID-19 pandemic required a sudden shift to remote work for the majority of employees at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH). While essential workers continued to perform duties in person on campus and minimized research operations were safely restarted, many employees were fully remote for more than a year, from March 2020 through the summer of 2021.
During this time, members of the university learned many lessons about remote work. In some cases, employees experienced increased productivity and repurposed time due to lack of a commute. Others noted challenges with replicating the type of the spontaneous collaborations and interaction that can occur in a shared physical environment. Some struggled with speed of residential internet services relative to the high-speed internet available on campus.
In contrast to the rapid shift to remote work that was necessary in early 2020, progress in the battle against COVID-19 brings an opportunity to thoughtfully and thoroughly strategize about the continued uses of remote work where appropriate. Using a set of guiding principles, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Office of Human Resources has released a robust Remote Work Policy. The guiding principles — which include a vibrant campus community, equity and inclusion, and the evolving nature of work — provide a framework on which to base decisions about remote work going forward. SMPH and other schools, colleges, and divisions within the university are responsible for creating procedures by which the UW–Madison Remote Work policy is implemented, including identifying specific procedures for evaluating and approving or denying a remote work request in a manner consistent with the policy and the university’s goals of equity, inclusion, and diversity.
SMPH supports the use of appropriate flexible and remote work options for employees. We anticipate the use of multiple work modalities (on-site, hybrid, and fully-remote) in SMPH work units going forward. Some job responsibilities in SMPH are conducive to remote work, and many are most effectively performed in-person. Work arrangements must comply with and align with university policy. Under the policy, hybrid and fully remote work arrangements require approval of a remote work agreement, which is a formal, detailed document that remains on file in the employee’s personnel record. See more information about remote work agreements below in Step 4. An employee whose work cannot be performed at a location away from campus may not be eligible to work remotely. The decision about whether to enter a formal remote work agreement involves consensus between an employee and their supervisor, with agreement by their department and the Dean’s office via SMPH HR, to ensure that the proposed work arrangement is feasible, secure, reliable, effective, and meets the operational and academic goals of SMPH.
SMPH has developed guidance regarding work modalities to inform the transition to increased on-site work, to help supervisors determine what positions and employees are well-suited for regular or occasional remote work, and to communicate the steps necessary for SMPH employees and supervisors requesting, entering into, and maintaining arrangements that involve remote work.
The UW–Madison Remote Work Policy describes employment categories to which the policy applies:
- Academic Staff
- University Staff
- Limited Employees
- Temporary Employees
- Post-Degree Training appointments
- Student Hourly employees
This policy does not apply to zero-dollar appointments.
This SMPH guidance applies to all SMPH individuals in scope for the policy who are interested in being considered for a hybrid or fully remote work set up, and their supervisors. All SMPH faculty in any track — Tenure, CT, CHS, Teaching, Research — working in the state of Wisconsin are exempt from this policy. However, faculty who supervise staff will need to engage with and be familiar with this policy as it relates to their direct reports. Additionally, faculty who wish to pursue regular remote work out of state or internationally are subject to this policy.
The summer of 2021 marks a period of transition that will then give way to the ability to enter a formal remote work agreement and finally a long-term phase where remote work agreements can be entered into or exited from at any time.
- June through August 2021: an interim process called the SMPH Summer 2021 Work Modality and Operations Plan facilitates and streamlines supervisor notifications about employees returning to on-site work through August 1, 2021.
- June through August 2021: If a supervisor and employee anticipate that hybrid or fully remote work arrangements will occur beyond August 2021, they should begin to develop a remote work agreement using the steps described below.
- June 18, 2021: SMPH remote work assessment tools and framework (this guide) are released to help support remote work policy implementation in our school.
- July 2021: Launch of UW–Madison Human Resource System (HRS) form needed for remote work agreement documentation. More information.
- August 1, 2021: The UW–Madison Remote Work policy goes into effect. Official remote work agreements may begin under the new policy on or after August 1, 2021.
- August 1, 2021: Deadline for SMPH department chairs or department administrators, or equivalent roles if your appointment is outside of an academic department, to submit a business necessity request for international remote work agreements. More information and submission form available here.
- August 31, 2021: Employees engaging in a work modality that includes remote work (either hybrid or fully remote schedule) must have an approved remote work agreement pursuant to the new policy no later than August 31, 2021. Note that this also includes employees who had remote work agreements on file prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- September 1, 2021 and beyond: See Step 5 below for details about requirements for routine review of a remote work agreement after it is implemented.
- September 1, 2021 and beyond: The UW–Madison Remote Work Policy will continue to be in effect. Remote work agreements can be initiated and changed at any time in accordance with the policy.
Throughout much of 2020 and 2021, essential workers continued to perform their duties on site and employees whose positions required some campus work adopted a hybrid modality. Others have been working fully remotely. As fall 2021 approaches, the university is returning to its more standard state, as a primarily residential institution of higher education. The default work modality is on-site for employees, with the use of hybrid or fully remote work modalities where appropriate and in alignment with university policies.
There is a baseline of in-person campus services that are necessary and expected at a residential institution such as UW–Madison. The teaching, service and research missions of UW–Madison are most efficiently realized when we work, learn and connect together in-person. On-campus interactions build connections between employees, facilitate quick exchange of information, and help integrate new staff into office culture and operations. There are many positions at the university that realistically can only be done effectively in person and would have trouble being fully remote, including many jobs that need to be conducted on -site to serve students and conduct research in specialized facilities. Employees in such roles will likely not be eligible for fully remote work and will mostly return to regular on-site work as had been the norm prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, although a hybrid modality could be applicable in some instances.
SMPH supports the use of appropriate flexible and remote work options for employees. To minimize confusion and align with university policy, understanding formal definition of the term “workplace flexibility” is important. Workplace flexibility refers to work that is performed at an off-campus work site on a sporadic basis and that does not follow a regular, repeated schedule. See the policy for the definition of workplace flexibility. A remote work agreement is not required for employees practicing workplace flexibility in consultation with their supervisor. Examples of workplace flexibility, provided supervisor approval is obtained, include:
- working remotely for the remainder of a day after a doctor’s appointment for physical exam or a dental cleaning
- working from home while waiting for a furnace repair service professional
- an employee working remotely during severe weather (see UW–Madison Inclement Weather Policy)
Remote work describes a work modality in which some or all work is performed at an off-campus work site, such as home or in an office space near home. This definition does not include workplace flexibilities, research trips, sabbaticals, or permanent off-campus work sites established by the university. See the policy for the definition of remote work.
A remote work agreement is an agreement that describes the terms and conditions of an employee’s remote work arrangement, including a description of the alternative off-site work proportionate to their time on-site, information about maintaining communication and work engagement, and necessary equipment and services. A remote work agreement is necessary for all work arrangements involving remote work (i.e., for hybrid and fully remote work modalities).
To support operations and maintain the highest quality job function and services while meeting the needs of SMPH employees, the Dean’s office and SMPH HR recommend that when remote work is requested, supervisors evaluate whether remote work is feasible given individual employee job responsibilities.
Please see the campus policy for more information on these remote work modalities. All employees including faculty are subject to the remote work policy if they plan to pursue remote work out of state or internationally on a regular, ongoing basis. The remote work agreements for these modalities are complex and will require multiple levels of approval.
If an employee will be engaging in international remote work, their department chair or department administrator, or equivalent roles if your appointment is outside of an academic department, must submit a business necessity approval form in advance of the employee entering into a remote work agreement to work internationally. See more information here.
If a work unit is considering hybrid or fully remote work modalities, use the following process to evaluate and approve the appropriate remote work arrangement:
Supervisors and employees should thoroughly review the UW-Madison Remote Work Policy prior to beginning the evaluation and approval process for remote work agreements.
Step 1: Consider the work unit/department as a whole and which positions and tasks are conducive to hybrid or fully remote work.
If remote work is likely to be used in an SMPH unit, the supervisor should consider the following for their unit:
- A plan for the work unit, including the use of multiple work modalities and how they might be coordinated moving forward. Elements to consider in creating the unit plan:
- Mission of the unit/department
- Equity (giving equal remote work consideration to all individuals with the same or similar duties)
- Employee wellbeing
- Employee safety
- Unit/department organizational culture
- Collaboration within the team, and between the team and other units
- Scheduling and employee availability
- Equipment, supplies, and tools
- On-site space utilization
- Recognition of iterative nature of workforce planning and management of remote work agreements
- The job functions of employees in the work unit and how job tasks might be completed in a remote environment.
An interested employee should let their supervisor know they would like to be considered for remote work and both parties should evaluate the suitability of a remote work arrangement.
Both employee and supervisor should engage in evaluation of the suitability of remote work:
- The employee should conduct a self-assessment of the suitability of their job for remote work. While not required, this assessment tool can help employees think about their job in the context of remote work.
SMPH Remote Work Suitability Assessment for Employees
- The supervisor should assess whether the individual employee’s job functions and job responsibilities can be successfully conducted remotely. While not required, this assessment tool is aimed at helping supervisors contemplate an employee’s role in the context of remote work.
SMPH Remote Work Suitability Assessment for Supervisors
Supervisors and employees should reflect on the results of their individual assessments and meet to discuss the proposed arrangement. These assessments are only tools to assist discussion, they are not formal requests for remote work arrangements. Formal requests for remote work arrangements will be submitted in Step 4.
The supervisor and employee should use their individual assessment results to guide the discussion. The discussion should also include the following items:
- Employee remote work location
- Possible remote work locations: State of Wisconsin, Out-of-State (US), and International.
- Note for employees proposing remote work arrangements outside of the State of Wisconsin (US and international): These remote work arrangements will require additional considerations and review in order to be approved. See the UW–Madison Remote Work Policy. Due to the additional requirements involving multiple levels of review, including department chairs, there is a longer timeline for approval of out-of-state and international work arrangements.
- Work hours/schedule
- Frequency of remote work (g., three days on-site, two days remote)
- Presence in virtual and on-site meetings
- Work and performance expectations
- Metrics of monitoring work performance
- Remote work environment
- Remote work environments should simulate office-like conditions where an individual can ensure productivity levels similar to working on campus. Employees working in a remote environment should be free from regular distractions to their work responsibilities. When discussing confidential matters (e.g., protected health information (PHI), contracts) in virtual meetings, employees should ensure that their immediate remote work environment is separated from non-business activities and individuals and that they are properly safeguarding confidential information, including internal, sensitive, and restricted data. An employee must ensure that their remote workspace has the privacy, physical and technical security, appropriate equipment, software, and internet access to adequately perform their work responsibilities.
- Equipment needs (see the Equipment section of this guidance for more information about recommended allocation of resources for employees working remotely)
- Unit/department plan for remote work
- Employee and supervisor responsibilities outlined in UW–Madison Remote Work Policy
Step 3 is essentially “prework” that can be used for the completion and approval of the remote work agreement submission outlined in Step 4. The employee and supervisor can use this checklist to track relevant information.
Taking the information decided during the supervisor/employee discussion, the employee will initiate the remote work agreement approval process. Remote work agreements will be approved by an employee’s supervisor and any other necessary approvers and submitted to the Dean’s office via SMPH HR.
You will find the Remote Work Agreement in MyUW at https://my.wisc.edu, under Personal Information > Update My Personal Information.
For international remote work agreements, there is a pre-step to completing an agreement. Per UW–Madison’s policy on Remote Work, possible international remote work arrangements must be reviewed and approved by the SMPH Dean’s Office to determine if there is a justified business necessity before an international remote work agreement can be entered. A business necessity request must be requested by a department chair or department administrator, or equivalent roles if your appointment is outside of an academic department. Find more information here.
Once a remote work agreement has been implemented, it is important to ensure the work modality arrangements stay on track. Means of doing so include:
- Regular check points (e.g., bi-weekly employee/supervisor one-on-one meetings)
- Performance evaluation meetings (e.g., mid-point conversation, summary evaluation)
- Remote work agreements should be reviewed and updated at a minimum annually.
- Remote work agreements must designate the employee’s onsite and remote work locations effective throughout the remote work period. Any changes in remote work location during a remote work agreement require the approval of a new remote work agreement.
Remote work agreements can be updated or canceled as warranted due to changes in factors such as evolving work responsibilities, availability of equipment, and business needs. Some updates may require the approval of a new remote work agreement.
A remote work agreement may be denied, modified, or revoked. The supervisor must discuss the reasons for the denial, modification or revocation with the employee and provide a reasonable notice period before the revocation or modification goes into effect. Denials, modifications, and revocations of remote work agreements may be reviewed. (See sections III.6 and X of the UW–Madison Remote Work Policy).
If an SMPH employee requests a remote work arrangement and the request is denied at any level of the approval process, or if a supervisor modifies or revokes an established remote work agreement, the employee may request a review of the decision by the SMPH Dean’s Office using the following process:
- Requests for review should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and include the subject line “Review Request.”
- Components of review requests:
- The employee should outline the details of the denial, modification, or revocation decision, including the supervisor’s stated reasons for the denial, modification, or revocation
- In cases of revocation or modification of an approved remote work agreement, the employee should cite the notice period provided before the revocation or modification goes into effect.
- The employee should submit their request within 7 working days of the employee being notified of the denial, modification, or revocation.
- The SMPH Dean’s Office will issue a decision within 7 working days of the employee’s submission of the request for review or prior to the revocation or modification effective date, whichever is sooner.
- The timelines outlined here may be extended by mutual agreement.
- The decision from the SMPH Dean’s Office is final and cannot be appealed.
The SMPH department must decide what university equipment will be provided to the remote employee within these parameters. See section V of the UW–Madison Remote Work Policy for further reference on equipment, materials, and supplies.
- SMPH departments will provide only the equipment that is necessary and appropriate to enable remote employees to perform the functions of their positions in the remote location. SMPH departments will not fully replicate space and equipment at on-campus and off-campus workspaces unless there is significant business need. Any reimbursable expenditures will be identified in remote work agreements.
- SMPH departments and remote employees can utilize the following resources to provide the most appropriate IT equipment to meet university standards for the particular remote work arrangement and to ensure that the remote employee is informed about the broadband and other resources needed to perform all of the essential functions of the position from off-campus locations. Tech Resources for Working & Learning Remotely
- Remote employees should use only SMPH-owned IT devices that have been reviewed by departmental IT support staff for compliance with IT policies and standards including UW–Madison Endpoint Management and Security Policy and UW–Madison IT Asset Reporting Policy. If SMPH-owned IT devices are not available, users must exclusively use remote access tools approved by the SMPH department.
- Remote employees are responsible for ensuring that their data plan from their internet service provider is adequate to support remote work and for any cost incurred for that data plan. Unless required by law, SMPH will likely not provide or reimburse a phone (landline or cell) or data plan.
- SMPH departments will make the determination, in consultation with employees who are less than 100% remote, whether the SMPH-provided equipment will be located at their on- or off-campus location.
- Employees who wish to supplement their secondary workspace may make personally funded purchases not eligible for reimbursement from their SMPH department. The remote employee should consult with their SMPH departmental IT staff before making a purchase to ensure compatibility with SMPH provided resources.
- Remote employees should consider including business service warranties in their personal purchases such that, in the event of a failure, the equipment will be serviced within one business day so that university work can continue with minimal disruption.
- Specialized or high-value equipment may not be appropriate for a remote work arrangement.
- SMPH departments must comply with IT asset inventory requirements laid out in the UW–Madison IT Asset Reporting Policy for any IT equipment that is removed from the campus location.
- The SMPH department must plan for servicing, repair, and replacement of university-owned equipment.
- SMPH departmental leaders will make arrangements for the return of equipment upon the separation of a remote employee.