Return to on-site working (pilot scheme) | University of Oxford

Return to on-site working (pilot scheme)

15 May 2020 - more information will be added to this page as the pilot scheme develops.

Only a very small fraction of activity has continued in University buildings during the coronavirus lockdown period. Following the recent government statement on the limited relaxation of the lockdown and the subsequent publication of government guidance on a return to work, the University is planning for a measured, phased, and safe return to on-site working in University buildings. In line with government guidance, the current focus of these plans is on activity that cannot be performed by working remotely.

In the meantime, staff should continue to work as they currently do. The safety and well-being of staff and students remains the University’s first priority.

A framework of principles and operational guidance for a safe return to on-site working are currently being tested in a pilot scheme with a number of departments over the next 2-3 weeks. Following the successful completion of the pilot, it is anticipated that on-site activity will gradually increase from June onwards, in those areas where work cannot be conducted remotely. The University has a complex estate and it will be important to ensure that operational guidelines developed in consultation with staff during the pilot can be applied fairly and with appropriate consistency across the University.

FAQs for staff

More FAQs will be added after the pilot.
Students should refer to the travel and visas section of the student coronavirus advice page.

How will I know when I can return to on-site working?

Following the completion of the pilot, and as progressive extension of on-site working continues, your department will contact you formally with information on any changes that are being made locally, and what that might mean for where and how you work. If you are asked to return to work on-site, your department will provide you with induction and information to support safe on-site working.

What if I have caring responsibilities or need to shield?

Personal circumstances (including personal risk, risk to other household members, and caring responsibilities relating to the current situation) will be taken into account in any discussion with staff about the return to on-site working. More detailed guidance and support for staff and line managers in this area will be developed during the pilot. No one who is shielding on advice from a medical practitioner or who has substantial caring responsibilities that require them to be at home will be required to return to the workplace.

I cannot conduct my work remotely but what if I’m concerned about returning to on-site working?

The government recently announced that all workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. However, the re-opening of University buildings will be complex and there will be a range of considerations to take into account in determining how the space can be made safe for the resumption of activity. A full risk assessment will be undertaken by any departments seeking to reopen, and your line manager will discuss any concerns that you have with you.

How soon will my department reopen?

This will depend on the type and scale of proposed activity, the outcome of the risk assessment, and the feasibility of implementing changes required to achieve social distancing and other measures. Given that the overall capacity of buildings will be significantly affected by social distancing requirements, the return to on-site working will be complex and will require careful consideration in every case. Some departments may be faced with difficult choices about the prioritisation of particular activities.

The intention in the medium term is to increase gradually the building occupancy for staff who cannot work remotely, so long as it is safe, and consistent with any further changes in government guidelines.

I can undertake my work remotely, but what if I want to return to on-site working?

We understand that many staff are eager to return to on-site working for a range of reasons. Government guidance currently states that all workers should continue to work from home wherever possible, and staff who can work remotely should continue to do so. Please see our guidance for welfare support and working from home for further details.

How will I keep safe if I’m required to work on-site?

Before work on site is resumed, your department will complete a risk assessment and develop a work plan for you and others to work on-site.  The assessment will consider government guidelines on social distancing and identify those measures needed to keep you and your colleagues safe.  This will include setting up the workplace in such a way so as to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and identifying specific ways of working or protective equipment needed for certain areas or activities. 

Your department will have put in place appropriate physical measures before you return. These safe working procedures will include keeping your on-site work to a minimum, making sure you are free from experiencing symptoms, maintaining good hygiene practices and keeping a 2m distance from others wherever possible.  You will be  briefed on these safe working procedures and provided with information on what you need to do to stay safe when working in and around the building, so if you have any questions or concerns, these can be discussed with your line manager. 

If I return to on-site working, will I be able to bring my car to work and park locally?
I don’t have a car and live too far away to walk or cycle to work. Will I have to use public transport?

Options for the provision of additional local parking are being explored while the pilot is underway, and discussions are ongoing with the city and county councils. Further information will follow in due course. It is understood that not all staff have a car and that many rely on public transport. Options to minimise the use of public transport for staff at peak times are being explored. 

How were the pilot departments identified?

Pilot departments were identified following discussion with the academic divisions, and represent a wide range of buildings and activities. This will enable us to develop comprehensive guidance for the reopening of buildings, risk assessments, social distancing, and working patterns, and to develop guidance documents for staff and line managers. Staff participating in the pilot phase have volunteered to do so.

What consultation is taking place about these plans?

Discussions are underway with Trade Union representatives and the relevant draft guidance will also be discussed at the staff Consultative Committee for Health and Safety. Consultation will also take place with OUSU. Staff in departments, divisions, and central services involved in the pilot will also provide feedback.

What are the governance arrangements for the Return to On-Site Working (RTOSW) programme?

The programme is overseen by the RTOSW Sub-Group of Bronze under the University's crisis management framework. The RTOSW Sub-Group is chaired by Dr Stephen Conway, Director of Research Services. Sponsors of the programme are the PVC (Research), Professor Patrick Grant and the Registrar, Gill Aitken. The sub-group reports through Bronze to the University’s Silver Group which is chaired by the Vice-Chancellor.

Silver has approved the initiation of the pilot programme, and the principles and responsibilities for a subsequent gradual return to on-site working (the ‘framework’), which will be published following Trade Union consultation and once the pilot is complete.

How does this affect students? When will they return on-site?

All teaching, learning and assessment for taught courses will be conducted remotely for the duration of Trinity term, including for those students still in residence in Oxford. It is possible that some postgraduate research students who are currently living in Oxford may be able to return to labs and research facilities as and when they reopen later in Trinity term, as part of the University’s plans for returning to onsite working. Further information will follow from departments about this as and when any restrictions are lifted.

Can I ask postgraduate research students to return and what is the process for doing so?

If you are in a department that is reopening on-site research facilities under the Return to Onsite Working programme, your Head of Department will confirm the local process for asking whether a postgraduate research student can return. Students may only return if they are already living within safe daily commuting distance of the University, they are willing and able to do so, and the department can accommodate them safely. Divisions are now developing protocols for managing this process at the local level. These protocols must be followed in all cases.

What will happen if government guidance changes?

Silver will consider any change to government guidance and the impact on the University’s business continuity plans, including the return to on-site working programme. It is recognised that the government restrictions that have recently been relaxed might be tightened again in the future. The University will continue to comply with government and Public Health England guidance.

Are college buildings included in the pilot or return to on-site working programme?

This programme does not cover the colleges and only relates to University buildings.

Guidance under development and consultation

Detailed draft guidance is being developed in the following areas during the pilot scheme, and will be updated in the light of feedback from pilot departments and staff. The final versions will be published once available.

  • Guidance on social distancing, working practices, risk assessment, and safety
  • Guidance on re-opening buildings
  • Guidance for staff
  • Guidance for line managers