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

Return to on-site working (RTOSW)

The guidance on this site is provided for University staff. College staff should refer to their own colleges for specific guidance.

Postgraduate research students may be able to return to their laboratories if willing to do so and their department can accommodate this. Student supervisors should confirm this and ensure appropriate protocols are followed.

All students should refer to the student webpages for more detailed guidance.

Update 22 June 2020

Following an initial pilot of the Return to On-site Working programme in May, we are now progressively extending the programme to other lab-based buildings and library buildings (to support additional remote services to readers) over the next 6-8 weeks, in order to ensure 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 to support a return to activity that cannot be performed by working remotely.

In the coming weeks, departments operating other University buildings will be asked to begin preparations for gradual reopening later over the summer, in line with government guidance, and as required to support the resumption of key activities in Michaelmas Term. Further information will follow on the timescale for reopening of these buildings in due course, following consultation with the academic and service divisions, and after the 6-8 week programme for lab-based buildings and library buildings referenced above.

Principles of the Return to On-Site Working Programme

The following principles underpin all planning activities:

  • The safety of staff and students is paramount
  • In line with current government restrictions, any restarted activity in University buildings
    • will be limited strictly to that which cannot be performed remotely or via working from home
    • must be feasible to be undertaken safely in line with appropriate social distancing
  • The schedule of building openings will be coordinated at divisional level and departments will be advised by divisions as to when they can begin preparations for re-opening.
  • Once the division has confirmed the timetable for the initiation of the re-opening process for a building, the Head of Department will ensure that the building is safe to occupy and that activities can be conducted safely. Experience from the pilot suggests that this can be a complex process and detailed guidance has been produced for departments.
  • Staff will be consulted by their department about any potential return to on-site working, and personal circumstances will be taken into account.

Phases of operation for returning to on-site working

After an initial pilot phase, we are now extending our operational plans for RTOSW over the next 6-8 weeks. These plans prioritise all lab-based buildings and selected library buildings in order to provide remote services to readers. After the reopening of labs, prioritised library and other facilities, other University buildings will begin to reopen. Some staff will continue to work from home, since in line with government advice, only work that cannot be progressed remotely is currently within scope. 

Outline of processes and responsibilities

Divisions hold responsibility for scheduling the opening of departmental buildings, and departments undertake preparations, including risk assessments, workspace arrangements and communications with staff. Individuals should also review the guidance provided to understand what is expected of them. View an operational diagram, which illustrates the levels and processes of responsibility for returning to University buildings.

10-step guide for your safe return to on-site working

  1. Permission for a return to on-site work will come from your head of department. You may not return to your building or laboratory until your head of department has formally confirmed that on-site working may resume.
  2. Discuss your return to work plans, including travel options and risk assessments for workplans, with your line manager or supervisor. Review any specific guidance from your department.
  3. Arrive at the time arranged with your manager. (Some buildings may operate a rota system or scheduled arrival/departure times, which are necessary for social distancing.) It is important to adhere to local guidance established by your department.
  4. When you arrive at your workplace, there will be new directional guidance (including one-way systems etc) in place. Note and follow all new instructions.
  5. New cleaning and hygiene regimes will be required. Note and follow all new instructions.
  6. Wash your hands regularly throughout the day with soap and water or hand sanitiser, especially before using touchpoints such as door handles, stairs, printers and other appliances.
  7. Maintain a social distance of at least 2 metres whenever possible and observe departmentally risk-assessed guidelines for circumstances where this is not feasible
  8. When moving around the building, observe the wait and pass rule. Be patient.
  9. If you or anyone in your household shows coronavirus symptoms, you must stay at home and follow the government’s advice on self-isolating.
  10. Review latest updates and general guidance provided on this page and the links below.

Full guidance for staff

You must not return to working in your normal place of work (‘on-site working’) unless you have been formally notified that you can do so by your department. All staff who can work remotely should continue to do so, in line with government guidance.

General guidance on returning to on-site working is available for all staff. If/when you do return to on-site working, your department will provide you with additional instructions, specific to your work location.

Full guidance for managers

Detailed guidance is provided on the HR Support site for line managers and supervisors, and covers how to work with staff to manage the return to on-site working.

SharePoint site with detailed guidance and checklists

The following guidance documents, checklists and templates are provided on a SharePoint site (behind SSO):

  • RTOSW Framework - sets out the principles and responsibilities to govern the progressive return to on-site working in University buildings.
  • Overview of guidance - a summary of processes and requirements 
  • Full consolidated guidance for departments - details of processes and checklists to support implementation
  • Ventilation record - a spreadsheet to support tracking of opening ventilation systems


Governance arrangements

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 rollout of the RTOSW programme beyond the pilot phase, and the plans to gradually reopen all university buildings as appropriate, and in line with government guidance, in the run up to Michaelmas Term.

What consultation is taking place about these plans?

The University continues to seek the views of Trade Union representatives, and the relevant guidance has been 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 have also provided feedback and we will continue to seek feedback as the RTOSW programme is rolled out.

What will happen if government guidance changes?

The Silver Group chaired by the Vice Chancellor 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.

Opening buildings

How soon will my building/department reopen?

This will depend on where your building sits in the schedule for reopening. As noted above, lab-based buildings and some library buildings will be prioritised for reopening in the first instance. Information about the likely timing for other buildings will become available over the next few weeks after discussion with the academic and service divisions.

How long does it take to reopen a building?

The amount of time that it takes to re-open a building will depend on the complexity of the building, 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 over the summer months is to gradually reopen buildings, so long as it is safe, and consistent with any further changes in government guidelines.

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

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

Returning to buildings

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

As progressive extension of the Return to On-site Working Programme 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 it is agreed that you will 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.  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. See: guidance for staff and the one-page summary of manager guidance (all access) of the full guidance for line managers (behind SSO).

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

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, including your personal circumstances and any concerns about transport, etc. If you prefer not to discuss your personal circumstances with your ,manager you may speak to your local HR contact.

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.

I cannot undertake my work remotely and I am keen to return onsite. Why can’t I return immediately?

We understand that some staff will be frustrated about the timescale for gradually reopening all University buildings. As noted above, this is a complex process, staff safety is paramount, and the timetable has been agreed to ensure that the programme is conducted in a safe and considered way, ensuring that the capacity of key staff to support reopening is not exceeded.

How will I keep safe if I’m returning 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?

Additional temporary local parking will be provided in the coming weeks in support of the reopening of buildings across the estate. This will include the reallocation of spaces around closed buildings, for use by staff who are returning to work, and opening additional car parks. Existing parking permits will continue to be valid and additional temporary parking permits will also be available through your University department.

As more buildings reopen, a new online booking system for parking spaces will be provided which will ensure that spaces are used effectively and demand and capacity can be managed.

As well as increasing local parking capacity, we are working on a range of initiatives to facilitate staff returning to site and to reduce the impact of car travel into the city centre. This includes the development of ‘Park and Stride’, located on University sites, which are a little further away from the city centre but within walking or cycling distance, as an alternative to public transport. We are also working with the city and county to improve cycling and walking from the Park and Ride sites.

I don't have a car. What are my transport options, and how do I travel safely?

Oxfordshire County Council has received a provisional allocation £2.984m funding from the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund to invest in measures to enable people to return to work on foot and by bike. Details of the measures for Oxford and connections to surrounding towns are expected to be announced by the end of June 2020. In the meantime, the University continues to lobby for the measures needed to support commuting by bike and on foot, especially from the Park and Rides.

Public transport

In line with the government instruction to bus operators to resume full services from 15th June, Thames Travel and Oxford Bus Company are now operating according to normal pre-lockdown timetables across all routes with only slightly reduced evening services. The Science Transit Shuttle (ST1 and ST2) is also operating at full service levels.

All public transport options have measures in place to ensure social distancing and minimise transmission of the virus. These include reduced passenger numbers, enhanced cleaning regimes and the requirement for all passengers to wear face coverings. The Thames Travel website provides full details of their safety measures.

Cycling safely

The University's Travel Team have put together some updated guidance and useful resources to support cycling as a form of commuting for staff and students. These include safety training, discounted safety and security gear and partnerships with local bike shops to provide access free labour for cycle repairs (for staff). Visit the cycling webpage for further details.


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

All teaching, learning and assessment for taught courses (undergraduate and postgraduate) will be conducted remotely for the duration of Trinity term, including for those students still in residence in Oxford. The student advice pages provide further information. Plans are currently being developed for a full re-opening of the University, with health and safety measures in place, in Michaelmas Term. These arrangements are being made through the Michaelmas Coordination Group

I supervise a postgraduate research student. Can I ask them to return?

If you are in a department that is reopening on-site research facilities under the Return to On-site Working (RTOSW) 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 willing and able to do so, and the department can accommodate them safely in the workspace. Divisions have developed protocols for managing this process at the local level. These protocols must be followed in all cases.

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