I understand that this is a long message, but it contains critical information for updated in-person programming and return to offices guidance and expectations. Please read all of it carefully for clarity and consistent understanding of our next steps.
More than a year ago, we took the important step to close offices and go to 100% telework due to the COVID-19 crisis. We have been and continue to be very intentional about our efforts to achieve a balance between our commitment to the safety and well-being of our Extension staff and our responsibilities and commitment to our communities. We have made adjustments throughout the last year, and expanded and contracted services and programming as necessary and appropriate. We have been leaders in creating safe work and learning environments during COVID-19, and we will continue to pay attention to the public health information at the local levels to ensure we remain healthy.
Now we feel it is time to begin the next level of opening our offices up to the public. We fully understand that the return to offices will, over the next few weeks and months, continue to be an evolution. There are many complexities to getting everyone back to offices for the majority of their work time (e.g., child care, school openings, health considerations); but it is important for us to move in this direction to continue to optimally meet the needs of our stakeholders and the communities we serve. We have learned a lot about how we can build flexibility into our work and how we can use technology to expand our reach and partner more effectively across geographic boundaries. We have succeeded in setting up protocols and strategies for serving our clients while keeping one another safe. Our goal is to maintain many of the benefits of our lessons learned while celebrating our ability to return to our statewide offices. What follows is our guidance for planning and implementing our return-to-office transition between now and Tuesday, June 1, 2021.
- Every position within Extension is valued plays a key role in our mission.
- Office plans need to balance individual, team, organizational, and community needs.
- Each office plan will look different, due to staffing and funding.
- County plans need to be developed as a unit and may change, because the COVID-19 situation remains fluid.
Return to Offices (begin to plan now)
Starting Tuesday, June 1, and continuing forward, people density in Extension offices can be up to 100%, PROVIDED that physical distancing requirements are maintained and all other university and CFAES guidelines for safe and healthy Buckeyes are followed. Note: If your office is ready to increase capacity now, you are not required to wait until June 1; however, you still MUST have an approved plan in place before doing so.
- Effective Tuesday, June 1, 2021, ALL offices are open and accessible to the public equivalent to pre-pandemic hours (five days per week in most offices unless authorized by the director of Operations to be open less due to funding, staffing capacity, etc.).
- No one is 100% telework, effective Tuesday, June 1, 2021.
- If room allows, up to 100% capacity is appropriate (30-foot square distance between staff).
- Plans should reflect local need (inclusive of personnel, clientele, community, etc.).
- Each position has a specific set of duties and responsibilities which need to be taken into consideration when developing the office plans for each unit.
- Support staff should maintain a physical presence within offices during regular (locally established) business hours, because they serve as the first line of engagement for clientele/visitors/stakeholders and play a critical role in supporting the work of the office.
- Program personnel (e.g., program assistants, educators, specialists) are directly responsible for a broad range of programmatic and research activities and may need to have a greater degree of flexibility for physical time in the office and out in the community at program sites, community partner meetings, and area and state team engagements.
- Program personnel and employees serving in administrative leadership roles carry out their work in multiple locations and across varying hours in any given week (i.e., over the course of a year, they are engaged an average of 40 hours per week).
- Office teams will cooperate to ensure the office is covered, when program requirements allow. Office coverage should include at least two people. Proactive scheduling and communication is key!
- Regardless of position and duties, the availability of every employee within workday hours should be known and can be communicated to clientele.
Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs)
Existing Telework Agreements will be replaced with FWAs approved by supervisors, effective June 1, 2021. Requests for telework, compressed work weeks, or other flexible work arrangements MUST be reflected in a formal Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA).
According to guidance from OHR:
"Ohio State supports flexible work arrangements to achieve a reliable and productive work environment that enables staff to balance work and personal needs. The university recognizes the growing demands on staff and the increasing challenge of finding innovative ways to provide service and meet university goals.
“…Workplace flexibility provides a way to successfully manage people, time, space and workload. However, while all staff members are eligible to request flexible work arrangements, not all positions may lend themselves to flexible work."
Some key aspects of the FWA policy include, but are not limited to:
- All staff members are eligible to request flexible work arrangements, however, not all positions lend themselves to flexible work.
- The request for a flexible work arrangement must meet the needs, requirements, and constraints of both the unit and the staff member.
- Units should be consistent in the decision-making process regarding flexible work arrangement requests.
- A staff member must request a flexible work arrangement from his or her supervisor.
- The staff member and supervisor must discuss the flexible work arrangement request.
- Flexible work arrangements must be documented when they are established, using the Flexible Work Arrangement Proposal at: hr.osu.edu/wp-content/uploads/form-flex-work-proposal.pdf or other appropriate document (e.g., email communication).
- Flexible work arrangements are not guaranteed; they can change or be discontinued.
Supervisors will follow Ohio State’s Flexible Work Policy 6.12 when engaging with employees in flexible work arrangement conversations. Visit hr.osu.edu/policies/flexible-work to see the full policy and process and visit hr.osu.edu/wp-content/uploads/form-flex-work-proposal.pdf to see the flexible work employee guidelines worksheet.
Individual flexibility must be considered within the context of the role for which one was hired, what’s allowable within the policy, and the context of the unit in which one works. There must be a balance between individual, team, community, and organizational needs and expectations. Flexible work schedules are not simply based on a preference for work hours or telework location.
Compressed work weeks and staggered start/stop times will be considered in the context of the unit, reflected in the office plan, and included in a formal FWA. For example, if an individual is requesting a compressed week (four days/10 hours per day), this must be considered by the supervisor in the context of each unit/county and should not impede the overall functioning of the office and/or the quality of programming or services offered to clientele.
- Formal accommodations should be requested asap via the HR process. Qualifying reasons for requesting a modification include certain health conditions, caring for family members, and child-care responsibilities. For more specific human resources and FAQs concerning COVID-19, including work accommodations related to COVID-19, visit safeandhealthy.osu.edu/accommodations.
- Formal accommodations may take a few weeks for review and approval — If you know you will need an accommodation, begin the process now so the accommodation can be worked into the office staffing plan.
Flexible Office Arrangements
- Offices can use staggered start/stop times —The primary responsibility for ensuring the office is open belongs to the office associate. However, when the office associate is off or not scheduled at the time of opening or closing or has a scheduled Zoom meeting or training, other office colleagues will provide that coverage and it will be made clear who is handling coverage for any specific time frame.
- There is an expectation that everyone takes lunch and is not required to cover the front door during his or her lunch break. Offices can be closed for the lunch period, but drop boxes must be available. People are encouraged to take their entire break and not eat at their desk. Don’t forget about using “fiscal volunteers” for additional coverage needs in counties, when needed. Teamwork and communication is key and expected!
- Flexible work arrangement requests are not the same as an occasional need for flexibility. Flexible work arrangements last longer than two months. For instances or situations where shorter flexibility is necessary, professional scheduling is still appropriate – but effective communication is required.
- Professional scheduling is based on trust. As such, communication with colleagues is paramount. Supervisors and offices should be aware of professional scheduling plans. You know when you will be working late; and your office should be aware of your evening or weekend hours and when you plan to professionally flex some hours. Be proactive and highly communicative with your colleagues and local team members.
Ongoing Evaluation of Local Office Plans
As has been standard practice during COVID-19, all offices should be reviewing their office plans on a regular basis and making adjustments as needed and warranted, in conjunction with their area leaders. If we communicate often and collaborate effectively, we can ensure that our offices are staffed appropriately, life/work balance is addressed, and the needs of our clientele and our people are optimally met.
If you have any questions or need more specific information about how to approach planning for the return to offices, please reach out to your area leader or to Jeff McCutcheon (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thank you! I value you and your contributions; and I do not underestimate your continued commitment to one another, OSU Extension, and our communities. FAQs will be coming soon, and I will have some open office hours available starting the first full week of May.