Flexible Work Arrangements

Helping staff to balance personal and professional responsibilities and meet Cornell's sustainability goals...

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Flex Work is an Innovation goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Continue to promote and expand Cornell’s flexible work arrangements, which enable employees to vary their starting/departure times and work place, thereby reducing commuting and associated GHG.

Goal: In partnership with faculty from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR), implement a Remote Work Pilot Program involving staff from two large campus units in order to evaluate and maximize desired outcomes and better inform and support future flexible work initiatives at Cornell.

Flexible work schedules enable Cornell employees to vary their starting and departure times and work place. With large-scale implementation, remote work programs could reduce commuting to and from campus, resulting in reductions in the university’s carbon emissions, and reduce the amount of office space required on campus. The University’s new budget model charges departments/units/colleges for occupied space. Savings on rent and utilities costs could provide an incentive for supervisors to utilize flex work arrangements to reduce the space their unit uses and their lighting and heating bills.

Remote work also has been shown to positively impact employees’ level of engagement by helping them to better balance their work and personal lives. A robust flex work program could help attract new recruits to the university, as flex options increasingly become an expectation for our workforce. Remote work options could also support the university’s goal of recruiting and retaining diverse talent, by allowing employees to live in neighboring communities such as Syracuse, Rochester, Binghamton, but not requiring them to commute to the Ithaca Campus on a daily basis.

Cornell has supported flexible work arrangements since 1998, and flex arrangements are becoming increasingly prevalent on campus. Flex options include flexing standard hours, remote work arrangements, job sharing, partial-year assignments, and more. The Division of Human Resources has a flexible work policy and online resources for employees. Live webinars on “Understanding Flexible Work Arrangements” are available to both employees and supervisors to explain university policies and recommended best practices for requesting and managing flexible work arrangements. In these webinars, employees learn how to draft a proposal for consideration by their supervisor, and supervisors learn how to review these proposals. All participants also learn how to leverage flexible work to help departments and individuals achieve their established goals.

As remote work programs have expanded to work places across the country, academic interest in the topic has also grown. Over the past decade, numerous studies have been conducted to understand how remote work impacts employees, teams, and organizations, as well as to identify the best practices that organizations can utilize to maximize the success of their remote work programs. Bradford S. Bell, Associate Professor in the ILR School, has been engaged in several projects designed to better understand the consequences of remote work.

The Remote Work Pilot Program & Research Study, launched in October 2013, will carefully assess potential benefits to both employees and the university resulting from remote work arrangements. The pilot study is being conducted by Dr. Brad Bell, in partnership with Michelle Artibee, Cornell’s Program Manager for Career/Life, and Dr. Linda Croll Howell, Cornell’s Director of Inclusion and Diversity Metrics. The pilot involves roughly 60 employees from two units on campus, and includes employee and manager training, formal tracking of remote work arrangements, a variety of online resources, and multiple participant surveys conducted throughout the two-year program.

Between October 2013 and March 2015, Cornell has saved about 149,511 Miles, or approximately 51.67 Metric Tons of COe, from not having those employees commute in to Cornell. This was calculated based on the round-trip number of miles each person lives from campus -- by the number of days they each work remotely -- and only included people who indicated they commute via single passenger cars.

The pilot program will closely examine how employees transition to working outside the office, and results will be used to identify strategies for further enhancing the remote work program at Cornell. Lessons learned from the pilot project will be used to create tools and other support systems which ensure that future remote work initiatives at Cornell maximize potential benefits.

Next Steps

  • Implement the Remote Work Pilot Program & Research Study with roughly 60 employees participating in remote work arrangements. Complete the supporting website, initial training, and initial surveys.
  • Continue collecting data on all planned metrics, including engagement, commitment/satisfaction, impacts on sustainability, supervisory feedback on managing remote workers, and work performance.
  • Document outcomes in terms of multiple parameters, including: space reduction (office sharing), reduced vehicle miles traveled, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced energy costs for office space, reduced traffic on local roads, reduced stress on families, enhanced wellness, dollar savings to employees and/or departments, increased organizational commitment, appeal to diverse population, etc.


Apply lessons learned from the pilot program to develop recommendations and best practices that support future remote work initiatives and maximize benefits for employees and Cornell.

For more information visit Human Resource's Flex Work website.