1. Introduction – A Safe Transition to Campus
As we start planning for the transition to campus, in addition to ensuring that we follow Public Health Guidance, the following three key tests should also be met before a member of staff returns to campus:
- Is it Essential?
- Is it Safe?
- Is it Agreed?
The current Northern Ireland Executive guidance indicates that work that can be done from home should still be done from home. Staff whose role does not involve or support the direct provision of services to students, staff or research and who can work remotely, should continue to do so. Queen's has a duty of care and a legal obligation to identify and manage risks to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to work. It is vital that there is a clear dialogue between managers and their staff so that personal circumstances, challenges and concerns, including but not limited to health and wellbeing, caring responsibilities, travel, safety in the work place etc. can be raised and taken into account. Flexibility will be required on both sides to accommodate different working times or schedules as ways of managing some of these issues, where possible.
The resources in this document are designed to support managers who are transitioning staff back on campus as lock down measures ease. Even with these measures in place, the return to campus must be structured so that social distancing can be respected and maintained. It is also acknowledged that during the transition there will be a combination of on campus and remote working with managers responsible for virtual teams.
While the Head of School is the Line Manager for academic staff, it is recognised that for the return to campus process, it may not be feasible for the Head of School to deliver on the manager responsibilities set out in this document. The Head of School is therefore responsible for identifying the appropriate member(s) of staff who can carry out this role during the transition and to communicate these arrangements with individual members of staff. The Deputy Head of School, PDR Reviewer, Dean of Education, SWAN Champion or other individuals, will be engaged by the Head of School to provide advice in this process, and to help to organise the work patterns of staff as appropriate. A staff member can raise direct with the Head of School any concerns about the proposed pairing.
2. Principles to Support the Transition
The following principles should underpin decisions and discussions relating to the return to campus:
- Discussions and decisions between managers and their teams in relation to the return to campus should be governed by protecting the health and wellbeing – both physical and mental - of our staff and students. They should be informed by public health and government guidance, our core values ICARE, business need and by an individual’s personal circumstances.
- Decisions about returning to work on campus should be structured, sensitive to individual circumstances and inclusive with particular consideration given to staff with caring responsibilities or other dependants, staff with disabilities and / or pre-existing / long-term medical conditions (including those who are Extremely Clinically Vulnerable / Vulnerable) , pregnant staff, BAME staff and international staff etc. (see Guidance – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Considerations around Staff Returning to Campus)
- Information on the return to campus arrangements should be clearly and regularly communicated by managers to staff throughout and should emphasise that safeguarding the health and wellbeing of all staff is a key priority.
- Every individual should feel that they are returning to a supportive, inclusive and caring work environment. Different groups of staff, and individuals, will have been affected in diverse ways according to their job role and individual circumstances. While restrictions remain in place, a member of staff who can carry out their role remotely, should not be required to return to campus.
- A clear dialogue between managers and individuals is vital to identify and resolve any concerns, or challenges which returning staff might have and/or any other reasonable adjustments which may be required and/or reviewed (where those staff have disabilities and/or long term conditions) to ensure that these are considered, acted on appropriately and the outcomes discussed with the person to ensure concerns are alleviated as far as practicable.
- The return to campus arrangements will involve compromise and mutual trust, with responsibility for identifying, agreeing and maintaining a workable solution being shared by managers and staff.
- The return to campus arrangements will be reviewed regularly in line with up-to-date government and public health guidance in relation to COVID-19.
3. Flexible Ways of Working to Support the Transition
The following are temporary measures, designed to enable work to be undertaken as effectively as possible during the restricted measures of the COVID-19 pandemic while respecting the individual circumstances in terms of social distancing, vulnerabilities and/or caring responsibilities.
These arrangements will be reviewed in line with the easing of the lock down restrictions by the NI Executive.
- Where staff are unable to work remotely, or the work activities that can be carried out remotely are limited, they should return to campus as soon as Public Health guidance allows this and as soon as a safe working environment can be established.
- Where work can be done from home, it should continue to be done from home.
- Where face-to-face teaching is required, in line with the agreed institutional Connected Learning approach, and can be done safely, this should be the norm taking into account individual circumstances.
- Staff should be enabled to work at the fullest possible capacity for their contracted or customary working hours, whether this is on campus, at home, or a combination.
- If working patterns need to be varied, this should be agreed between an individual and manager wherever possible.
- Normal working days and/or working hours may be changed following consultation with those involved and taking into account individual circumstances and preferences as far as possible given operational and safety requirements.
- Staff may be asked to take on different tasks from normal and, provided these are within their capabilities and capacity and, following training where required, these should be accommodated.
4. Review Work Plans and Priorities
As the University plans to transition to work on campus, managers are required to review priorities and workloads for their own areas, recognising these may have changed.
Managers should assess what work can be done safely on campus or continue to be done remotely, recognising that where staff can work remotely, they should do so until government guidance states otherwise. It must also be recognised that we are a campus-based University and that we will be returning to providing all services on campus as soon as we can do this safely, effectively and within government guidance.
5. Take Into Account Individual Circumstances
The current government guidance is that, where work can be done from home it should continue to be. There are however, staff who are unable carry out their work remotely and are able to return to campus providing it is safe to do so. In addition, in cases where a member of staff needs to be on campus to carry out their role, but cannot due to individual circumstances, managers will be required to reallocate work to others who can return to campus.
Managers should discuss with each team member their individual circumstances and concerns to determine whether they are able to work safely and effectively on campus, remotely or a combination of both.
Managers should also be aware that, where remote working is proving difficult or challenging for a team member for whom a return to on campus working may be appropriate, this should be accommodated where possible.
All staff who are currently, or were, previously shielding, should refer our updated guidance document.
Returning to Campus Manager ChecklistThe Returning to Campus Manager Checklist, will support managers in planning for a return to work to identify the measures that should be put in place to protect staff and others from the risk of infection and also for those with caring responsibilities. Guidance – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Considerations around Staff Returning to Campus have been developed setting out specific considerations that managers should be aware of when planning for a Return to Campus.
Planning for a Return to Campus FlowchartThe Planning for a Return to Campus Flowchart sets out the various scenarios that a manager might encounter as return to campus discussions commence with their teams and the next steps required depending on the scenario.
- 6. Redistribute Work Where Appropriate
Once managers understand the work priorities, where the work can be carried out, and individual circumstances, they should consider redistributing work amongst team members where this enables them to match work to an individual’s personal circumstances and where this helps to avoid single points of failure, for example, where only one member of staff can deliver a priority module etc. This may involve breaking jobs down into smaller tasks to help with any redistribution; and individuals undertaking tasks outside their normal area. Managers should take into account the experience, workloads, abilities and grades of individuals, when reallocating tasks.
The Connect Task Portal is available to support managers with specific tasks during the COVID-19 crisis and enabling staff to make the best use of their time, skills and knowledge in contributing to university work.
- 7. Ensure Safe Working Environments and Safe Staff Levels
Managers must take all reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing, both mental and physical, of their team members, whether those individuals are working on campus, remotely or a combination of both, recognising there may be a minimum number of Staff required in any one campus location to operate safely and effectively.
Staff Returning to CampusManager and Member of Staff Discussion
Managers should set up a time and date to have a confidential discussion with the individual about their return to campus. The Returning to Campus Manager Checklist, should be used to guide the discussion with the member of staff to help identify which specific elements of work must be carried out on Campus and likewise which elements can be done effectively from home. If staff are required to work both on campus and remotely, then managers need to ensure appropriate equipment needs are addressed for both locations.
Risk Assessment and Induction
If, following the discussion, it is agreed that is appropriate for a member of staff to return to campus the manager must ensure that a risk assessment for the department/area has been carried out, see the COVID-19 Return to Campus Risk Assessment Guidance and Template for Managers. Risk assessments should be conducted by a trained member of staff. In the event that a trained member of staff is unavailable, the University Safety Service will provide the appropriate support to enable completion of the risk assessment(s).
For information on risk assessment and induction for those returning to world on campus, see the Risk Assessment and Induction Guidance.
Ensure safe staffing levels
Where the numbers of staff needed on campus might conflict with social distancing requirements, and alternative safe working arrangements cannot be put in place, managers should, in consultation with their staff, consider different working patterns where appropriate, including staggering on campus hours. Managers also need to ensure that an appropriate level of fire warden and first-aid provision is in place for the number of staff within their area.
Managing Remote WorkersManagers should arrange an individual (1:1) discussions with team members to ensure that when working remotely they have appropriate support and equipment. In addition, staff working remotely should ensure that they have completed a risk assessment of the home environment, including a DSE Self-Assessment Check-List for their work station. This checklist can help form the basis of the individual (1:1) discussion.
Where staff have pre-existing conditions, the expectation is that Managers will be aware of this. Estates Safety Services will support transport/provision of adaptions to their home office environment, as appropriate.
Where equipment is required for staff working remotely, as a result of an assessment or pre-existing conditions, these should be provided by their respective department.
Managers are also responsible for maintaining an appropriate culture for integrating communication and work. This is important when teams are not working in the same location and have different work patterns and demands than before. See the guidance on Preventing an “Always On Culture”.
Resources for Managing Remote and Virtual TeamsThe People and Culture website has a resources section which brings together further tips and guidance for staff to support the essential skills required such as communication, engagement and leadership. The section for Leaders and Managers will be updated regularly to aid you to manage teams remotely. Resources include LinkedIn Learning content on managing virtual teams and enhancing your skills in leading virtual meetings and conference calls. A selection of current articles from other sources are also listed.
- 8. Review Work Patterns
It may be necessary to temporarily change the working patterns of staff, whether working on campus or remotely, to facilitate an individual’s personal circumstances, social distancing requirements and operational needs. Staff should be enabled to work at the fullest possible capacity for their contracted or customary working hours, whether this is on campus, at home, or a combination of both. Any changes to working patterns will be temporary while the current restrictions are in force and staff will return to their usual working pattern when all restrictions are lifted, unless agreement is reached for a longer term variation.
In all instances, managers should discuss individual circumstances with the member of staff and agree, where possible, any temporary changes to working time, if needed. It is recognised that any changes may subsequently need to be further altered if an individual’s personal circumstances or organisational needs change.
Remote workingThe working patterns of staff who are working remotely, and who have caring responsibilities or other individual specific circumstances, may need to be temporarily varied to facilitate such circumstances. For example, staff with children may wish to split their working day so that some work is undertaken early in the morning and then completed at night after the children are in bed, allowing time to look after the children in between. Others may wish to start their working day early and finish earlier, while others may prefer to work late. Where staff are flexing their day, there should not be an expectation that they are on call during normal ‘office hours’. Similarly, the allocation of tasks should take into consideration that level of flexibility and allow staff sufficient time to respond.
On Campus workingWhere the numbers of team members needed on campus might conflict with social distancing requirements and alternative safe working arrangements cannot be put in place, managers should consider different attendance models, including staggering work patterns. Staggered work patterns can help ease congestion on public transport and traffic at peak hours, as well as avoiding large groups of people arriving and leaving at the same time of the day. Staggering staff lunch breaks can also help prevent large groups from gathering in rest areas or in queues at local shops / providers. It may also enable staff to maintain social distancing requirements by ensuring that all staff are not on campus at the same time. As far as possible, where staff are working a combination of remote and on campus days, they should be split into fixed teams or “work bubbles” so that where contact is unavoidable, this happens between the same people. The Guidance on Staggered Work Patterns provides examples of different options that could be considered.
Escalation measures if agreement cannot be reached
If the manager and the member of staff cannot agree a revised working pattern that accommodates the individual circumstances of the member of staff and the operational needs of the area, the matter may be escalated to the Head of School or Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor or Professional Services Director as appropriate, for a decision on the matter. If the issue remains unresolved, then it may be further escalated to the Director of People and Culture for a final determination. Staff may be accompanied by a colleague or Trade Union representative in these discussions.
- 9. Monitor Workloads
During this transitionary period staff will be concerned over work pressures. Heads of School and Directors are responsible for working with their leadership teams to identify priorities which are communicated to staff, while being mindful of individual circumstances and the need to support staff health and wellbeing. They should consider these pressures and what mitigations might be put in place, identifying which team members might face particular challenges, requiring additional support and flexibility, including support to postpone particular work streams without any detriment. Equally they should identify any time-critical activities to their team members so that these can be prioritised where appropriate.
Managers are also encouraged to use this period as an opportunity to work with staff to identify and eliminate any inefficiencies in the way that we work.
Managers are encouraged to use the Personal Development Review (PDR) process to set the kinds of priorities that you need and to recognise the impact of the pandemic on those with caring responsibilities and individual circumstances.
Managers should familiarise themselves of the Health and Wellbeing support available to all staff and ensure that they promote this to their teams as appropriate. See the People and Culture website for details on the available support.
- 10. Deal Promptly with Issues
The role of the manager is to provide structure, guidance, support and motivation to their team members, which are essential in these new ways of working. Managers must act quickly to deal with any concerns, issues or complaints raised by staff either in relation to working remotely or returning to campus. Decisive action must be taken particularly where social distance arrangements or other health and safety arrangements are breached or are at risk of being breached.
The principles of having conversations to address issues remain the same whether the individual is working remotely or on campus. Any such conversations should be planned and the meeting take place via video call. See the Difficult Conversation Framework and Tips Guidance, for further details.
- 11. Manage by Agreement
Managers should at all times seek to reach agreement with individuals about the tasks to be done and the location for these tasks, taking into account the person’s concerns and recognising there might be a combination of on campus and remote working which may change over time or at short notice. Flexibility and compromise may be needed on both sides to accommodate different working times or schedules as ways of managing some of these issues.
- 6. Redistribute Work Where Appropriate