Returning to the workplace | University of Oxford

Return to on-site working

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

If they are willing to do so and their department can accommodate them, postgraduate research students may be able to return to their laboratories before Michaelmas Term. Student supervisors should confirm this and ensure appropriate protocols are followed.

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

Update 3 September 2020 - The University launched the Return to On-Site Working programme in May, initially through a pilot phase, and then through progressive extension to include other lab-based buildings and library buildings (to support additional remote services to readers). Over the course of the summer, departments occupying other University buildings have been gradually reopening their buildings, as required to support the resumption of key activities in Michaelmas Term.

In order to ensure a measured, phased, and safe return to on-site working in University buildings, departments should not initiate the return to on-site working process until they have been formally advised via the Return to On-site Working Group that they can do so. Once a department has received formal notification, they can contact the new RTOSW Helpdesk with any queries on the reopening of their buildings that are not covered by the guidance documentation.

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 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, all lab-based buildings and selected library buildings were prioritised for re-opening in the extension to the pilot. Over the course of the summer, departments occupying other University buildings have been gradually reopening  their buildings, as required to support the resumption of key activities in Michaelmas Term. The University is now operating at BCP stage 2 and many staff will be returning to on-site working. Government guidance recognises that some staff may still need to work from home in order to ensure that all staff can work safely. Individuals who can work effectively from home may be asked to continue to do so, where this is feasible, for some or all of their contracted hours.

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. 

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

A variety of guidance documents, checklists and templates are provided on a SharePoint site (behind SSO):

  • 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.
  • Laboratory Teaching Space guidance – to support teaching in laboratories.
  • RTOSW Framework - sets out the principles and responsibilities to govern the progressive return to on-site working in University buildings.


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 re-opening. All departments/faculties will have been informed by their Division about their provisional slot in the reopening timetable.

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.

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 am concerned about the risks of returning to site?

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. Your line manager or equivalent will offer to discuss with you any concerns you may have to explore ways of addressing them. If you are concerned about your own health or the safety of returning on site you are encouraged to complete the self-assessment tool. If you remain concerned you may arrange a teleconsultation with an Occupational Health Advisor. See: guidance for staff and the one-page summary of manager guidance (all access) or 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 or equivalent will offer to 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.

If you are concerned about your own health or the safety of returning on site you are encouraged to complete the self-assessment tool. If you remain concerned you may arrange a teleconsultation with an Occupational Health Advisor.

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. Now that the University is moving towards the next stage in its business continuity plan, staff who have not been working on-site since the lockdown began will start to move back towards on-site working, in a carefully managed way, with the safety of staff and students as a key priority. Your department will be in contact with you to let you know the plans for you to return on site, and you should not return until you are advised to do so by your department. Please see our guidance and wellbeing resources for staff continuing to work from home.

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 is being provided in support of the reopening of buildings across the estate. From 1 August 2020, the ONLY peak parking permit recognised as valid by Security Services for enforcement purposes is the new Temporary Permission To Park (TPTP) permit. All other University peak permits and all temporary parking permits issued by departments not using the latest online TPTP permit (including the temporary COVID-19 permit) will no longer be valid. For further information, please see .

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?

Measures taken by the Local Authority’s to enable walking, cycling and public transport. 

In July, Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City proposed to install two temporary bus gates in Oxford city centre: one on St Cross Road near Manor Road and the other on Frideswide Square. Their purpose is to reduce overall general vehicle traffic driving through the city centre and create safer, cleaner streets and liberate road space for reallocation to walking and cycling. Access to the city by car will still be maintained. The public consultation closed in August, returning over 7,000 responses with a significant number opposed to the proposals. County will decide whether to undertake the necessary statutory consultation in October. If so, a decision on whether to proceed with the bus gates would be made in the New Year and the bus gates would not be implemented until spring 2021. 

The County Council received £300k from from Tranche 1 of the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund (EATF) to invest in measures to enable people to return to work on foot and by bike. This has been invested in:

  • additional cycle parking at the Park & Ride sites and city centre,
  • more road space allocated to cyclists on Abingdon Road to create a safer link between Redbridge Park & Ride and the city centre
  • Widened cycle lanes on Magdalen Bridge
  • Improved wayfinding on existing quiet cycle routes linking Thornhill Park & Ride and Old Road Campus and the JR Hospital

County have also submitted a bid for £4.5m from EACTF Tranche 2 which includes improved cycle provision on Oxford’s main roads, new quiet routes, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 2 further bus gates on Old Road and Cowley Road. 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

All bus operators serving Oxford and the surrounding area are now operating pre-lockdown weekday timetables across all routes with only slightly reduced evening services. The Science Transit Shuttle (ST1 and ST2) is also operating at full service levels. Patronage has return to around 40% of pre-lockdown levels, meaning there is still plenty of space on the local bus network to travel whilst maintaining social distancing.   GWR, Chiltern Railways and Cross Country Trains are now operating operating weekday timetables to/from Oxford at pre-lockdown levels.

All public transport operators on the bus and rail networks have comprehensive measures in place to ensure social distancing and minimise transmission of the virus. These include reduced passenger numbers, plastic shields between bus drivers and passengers, enhanced cleaning regimes and the legal requirement for all passengers to wear face coverings.  All operators provide full details of their COVID-19 measures on their websites and social media feeds, for example Thames Travel.

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. Guided cycle rides from the Park & Rides are planned as part of Cycle September.

University operated Park & Stride and Park & Pedal sites

To help staff who live too far away to walk or cycle all the way to work the University will be opening park & stride and park & pedal sites at Iffley Sports, Osney Mead and Ewert House. Details are available here. Estates Services are also in discussion with departments in the north and west Oxford areas, to try and secure further options for park & pedal in readiness for Michaelmas term. Updates will be shared on the travel pages in due course.


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

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 re-opening 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. Before Michaelmas Term, PGR 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.

What are the plans for face-to-face teaching and tutorials?

Planning for teaching space to accommodate any face-to-face teaching that departments are intending to deliver in MT2020 is also taking place over the summer and, in some cases, this planning will be taking place before buildings are formally re-opened. The Teaching Space Coordination Group and Lab Teaching Working Party have issued guidance for departments and faculties to help them with their planning for teaching. The guidance for lecture theatres and seminar rooms, including a timeline of actions required, can be found within Section 4 of the main RTOSW Guidance for Departments document. Guidance relating specifically to lab teaching is available as separate document on the Sharepoint site

Was this page useful?*