Flexible Work Policy for Benefits-Eligible Staff Employees

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Today we are announcing new Policy 440 [https://policy.rice.edu/440], a Flexible Work Policy for Benefits-Eligible Staff Employees. This is an important addition to the way we work at the university, and poses great potential benefits if we carry it out well, but also risks if we fail to be attentive to what we cherish about our community.

This policy was developed by a task force with members from across the campus. It was then vetted by deans, vice presidents, vice provosts and directors. As is our practice with university policies, we wanted to be sure that the draft was well reviewed before coming to me for signature.

As we have dealt with the challenges of the COVID pandemic over the last 20 months, we have had to find new ways of working and delivering our educational programs. Many employees have worked substantially from home, and many students have received their education remotely, whether from family homes or their own residences here in Houston. We have learned new ways of using and expanding existing technology and discovered and implemented new ones.

We know many have returned full time to on-campus work, and others are eager to do so. But many have also found themselves as productive working from home and able to achieve a better balance among the many demands on their time. Across the United States and around the world, businesses are changing their work policies, and recruiting of talented workers has become extremely competitive. Often, flexible work rules are part of what employees are now looking for.

The details of these new flexible policies at Rice will be primarily implemented by the larger academic and administrative units. These guidelines will be developed in consultation with the Office of Human Resources in order to provide helpful feedback and assure some coherence and consistency across the campus. Requests for alternative work arrangements will first be discussed and agreed on by the unit supervisor, and will then be approved by the responsible unit head, whether a dean, vice president, vice provost or other head of an administrative unit.

As noted above, this policy may enable us to reap great benefits, most of all in retaining and recruiting talented staff. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the importance of maintaining community, providing the full breadth of services we need and assuring that work burdens are equitably distributed. Many employees, because of the nature of their responsibilities, are unable to work remotely. Yet the sense of common purpose and identity is important to the pride we take in working for Rice. We hope those that are allowed to work partly remotely will make extra efforts to assure that others who are on campus, whether or not in the same unit, have your support and encouragement, and vice versa. Equally important, we often achieve our best work because of the productive interactions we have with others, including the exchange of ideas and advice, the personal expressions of encouragement and support, and the sharing of burdens. Thus we ask that all employees working remotely or under alternative arrangements assure that they continue to play that supportive team role that is essential to our success.

A great research university is and must be a community defined by a sense of common purpose and shared aspirations. Historically, that has occurred because we have been working together in a physical space, namely our extraordinary campus. Yet, we know we must continue to evolve in light of new capabilities and possibilities, and we are now at that juncture. Let us aspire to be the best exemplar of a university that maintains its intense sense of community while embracing these new possibilities.

David W. Leebron
Rice University President