Employees Welcome Flexible Working Model
In May 2022, UZH introduced a new working model to enable its employees to organize their work flexibly while continuing to meet the requirements of an on-site university. The model has been well received, a staff survey has shown.
The world of work is changing rapidly, with technological advances opening up many new opportunities – accelerated by the pandemic. In order to take advantage of these opportunities and at the same time meet the requirements of an on-site university, UZH introduced a new working model at the beginning of May 2022. According to the new model, employees must be on site at UZH for at least 60 percent of their weekly working hours. Mobile working is possible for the remaining hours if it is compatible with the operational needs and the tasks of the employees.
What do UZH employees think of the new model? To find out, the UZH Center for Leadership in the Future of Work conducted a survey earlier this year on behalf of the Executive Board of the University. It found that the 60-40 model fits well with employees’ preferences. The respondents were asked about how they organized their work before the pandemic, their experiences with the new working model and any concerns they may have about it, among other things.
Satisfaction has increased
Their answers showed that satisfaction with the working model has increased by an average of seven percentage points compared to before the pandemic. UZH staff welcome flexible arrangements, but they also appreciate the advantages of working on-site.
In the following interview, Executive Board members Christian Schwarzenegger, Stefan Schnyder and François Chapuis discuss the survey results and explain what impact they will have on the ongoing development of UZH’s work culture.
Christian Schwarzenegger, what makes a good work culture?
Schwarzenegger: A good work culture is based on the knowledge, experience, mutual respect and social skills of all employees, as well as on good leadership and appropriate and attractive conditions that need to be adapted to changing needs from time to time. We see the development of the UZH work culture as an ongoing and shared learning process. The introduction of the new working model in May 2022 was one step in this process, with further steps to follow.
Stefan Schnyder, how will UZH go about developing its work culture?
Schnyder: The pandemic greatly accelerated many trends. This presents opportunities, but also the risk of overextending ourselves as an organization. We want to steer this momentum toward developments which can be maintained over the long term and which we will keep reviewing with a critical lens every step of the way. We now know what experiences and expectations our employees had regarding mobile working in the summer of 2022. We will repeat the survey regularly in order to monitor and reflect on developments.
“The survey results show how important it is to find a good balance between working on site and from home.”
What conclusions do you draw from the results?
Schnyder: The survey results show how important it is to find a good balance between working on site and from home. Employees obviously appreciate the opportunity to work flexibly. Many would welcome a solution that goes even further, if compatible with operational requirements and line managers’ expectations. At the same time, however, the survey also clearly shows that in-person attendance is fundamental for a sense of belonging, and that employees feel more valued when they are on site. So it’s important to make sure we spend enough time in our offices and labs – and to deliberately dedicate at least some of that time to cultivating a spirit of cooperation and teamwork with our colleagues.
Schwarzenegger: According to the survey, the most important reason people give for working on site is the social interaction. We can communicate remotely with digital tools, but a true, vibrant sense of community only happens in person. For social interaction to take place at all, enough other people need to be around. The presence of others is vital for team cohesion, spontaneous conversations and an inspiring campus life. The 60-40 model encourages people to be present on site at the same time as their colleagues, thus meeting the human need for interaction.
“The presence of others is vital for team cohesion, spontaneous conversations and an inspiring campus life.”
According to the survey, leaders and managers are somewhat more skeptical about the new working model than other employees. Why is that?
Schnyder: For those in leadership roles, flexible working brings with it more responsibility. It is more complex and requires greater coordination to manage a team in which some members are in different locations some of the time than when all employees are in the same place all the time. If team members rarely see each other face to face, line managers need to take specific measures to ensure a good team spirit is maintained. Finding the optimum combination of on-site and mobile work isn’t easy – but it’s important that the right balance is struck for a flexible working model to be successful. Human Resources offers a consulting and coaching service to support leaders and managers.
Professors at UZH also have leadership responsibilities. What specific challenges do they face?
Schwarzenegger: Our professors reflect the full diversity of UZH. Preferences and challenges vary widely by discipline. In the natural sciences and medicine, the work of researchers and assistants is very different than in the arts and humanities, for example. Activities in the lab or clinic have very different rules and requirements than work in offices and libraries. We have therefore launched a pilot project in which interested professors from all faculties are developing ideas on how to combine a vibrant campus culture with digital technologies and mobile forms of work. (BOX)
François Chapuis, what does the change in work culture mean for space requirements at the university?
Chapuis: In the longer term, we need spaces that can be used in more diverse ways. The pandemic increased our awareness of this need. What makes on-site presence so important, and what we missed so much while we were working from home, is social interaction. This interaction is only possible in suitable spaces. On the other hand, in the survey many employees clearly expressed their need for space where they can concentrate and work in peace. We will take these needs into account when constructing and remodeling buildings as well as when organizing and furnishing them.
“We need more diversely usable spaces in the longer term.“
How do you think things will progress from here?
Chapuis: We are moving in the direction of greater differentiation of available spaces. Until now, we probably considered our own desks as our home base at work. In the future, we may also consider places in which we meet others and network as our home base. This idea is also alluded to in the name of the planned FORUM UZH.
Does greater flexibility in the choice of work location mean that we pay more attention to how we work on site than we did before?
Chapuis: Many employees tell me that they now structure their time on site more consciously than before. I think that’s a positive development. Most employees’ time on site involves a variety of different forms of activity. Roughly speaking, there is a mix of concentrated individual work, collaborative work, routine tasks, confidential tasks, and breaks. Ideally, all UZH employees would be able to choose a suitable environment for each of the aforementioned categories of activity, e.g. disturbance-free areas for quiet work and more open areas for exchanging ideas with colleagues. In the long term, we plan to use this concept when planning new buildings or premises at UZH. This is already partially the case in the UZI 5 building, in the Functional Genomics Center and in the Westpark office building. However, given the size and diversity of UZH, this process will take years. We will proceed carefully and try to find the most suitable solution in each case in consultation with the employees concerned.
You have often described the development of the work culture at UZH as a shared learning process. What is the aim of this process?
Schwarzenegger: The aim is to have motivated and happy employees who can give their best and develop their skills at UZH.
Schnyder: Pleasant and modern working conditions are a prerequisite for this. Good leadership is needed at all levels so that staff feel appreciated, have a sense of connection with their teammates, and see perspectives for development. Up-to-date technical infrastructure and modern workspaces in which the rich diversity of campus life can flourish are equally necessary.
Survey on mobile working
The Future of Work @ UZH: Mobile Working survey was conducted in June and July 2022, independently of the broader UZH employee survey of May 2022. It was conducted by the UZH Center for Leadership in the Future of Work under the direction of Professor Jochen Menges. “Overall, UZH’s new working model can be considered a success,” he says. “Employees expect it will have a positive impact on UZH’s appeal as an employer, on job satisfaction and on productivity.”
Pilot project: best practices for future-oriented work design
The implementation of mobile working policies will require different approaches for different academic disciplines. This is why the Executive Board of the University launched a pilot project earlier this semester. Under the guidance of the UZH Center for Leadership in the Future of Work, 11 professors from all faculties have been discussing and examining the possibilities, challenges and practicalities of the new working model. Together with their teams, they are exploring and developing best practices for a forward-looking workplace and trying out various strategies. The findings of the pilot project are expected to be available in mid-March 2023 and will be shared with UZH members. Some initial findings are presented below:
· Teams that work remotely as well as on site benefit from having structured coordination measures. It is vital that team members know when their colleagues are working on site or from home, and agree on when they are reachable (and when not). Simple measures such as keeping calendars up to date and sharing them, or defining times when meetings and team activities will take place on campus, can help.
· For on-site work to be enjoyable and fruitful, teams need shared spaces where they can talk and interact without disturbing others. It seems that the more people one is likely to encounter in the workplace, the more appealing it is to come into the office. However, people also need quiet spaces where they can focus on individual work, sometimes over long periods of time. Scholars need designated offices to enable them to concentrate on intellectual work. A solution that combines both sets of needs and has a motivating factor can be to agree as a team on set periods of time for focused work on-site.
· Not all teams at UZH can or want to work from home 40 percent of the time. For lab research in particular, the proportion of work done off site is significantly lower. However, the flexibility of mobile working can still be useful for certain tasks, such as writing papers.
· The combination of presence and mobile work presents a challenge for line managers and their teams. It cannot be solved with one-size-fits-all measures, but requires ongoing exchange and evolving approaches to meet the needs of the team as a whole and its individual members.
· Simply taking the time as a team to reflect on how best to design a flexible working model is a valuable process that leads to better mutual understanding and increased transparency. More flexibility and a stronger focus on results make it possible to balance individual and common goals.