Return to on-site working

Last updated 16 July 2021

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

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

The University's Return to On-Site Working programme has completed, but links to general information and guidance, which continue to be updated in line with government guidance, can be found on these pages. 

Departments should continually review and update their risk assessments and working practices so they are in line with Government and University guidance. The RTOSW Helpdesk can help you with any queries that are not covered by the guidance documentation. Contact them on +44 (0)1865 276916 /

Latest Updates

**UPDATE 16 July 2021** The government has announced that it will move to Step 4 of its reopening roadmap in England from 19 July, with national guidance on social distancing lifted and the use of face coverings in certain settings no longer required by law (although they continue to be recommended in crowded, enclosed spaces).

At its meeting on 12 July, Council agreed a recommendation by the University’s Silver Group that, in light of the very high infection rate in Oxford – currently 70% above the national average – we would not change our current Return to On-Site Working guidance for the moment. This means the University’s current policies on social distancing and face coverings will continue beyond 19 July. 

Silver will keep this position under constant review in the coming weeks and will adapt as the local and national situation evolves.

Current Status (16 July)

The University continues to operate at Business Continuity Plan (BCP) Stage 2. Many staff are working on site where this is required for their role, whilst others continue to be advised to work from home where they can. Silver Group agreed in May that there could be a gradual move to further, limited on-site working for a broader range of staff where considered necessary for staff health and well-being, and for team engagement and effectiveness. University departments, faculties and services will need to consider whether and how this might apply for their staff. On-site working arrangements should be in line with the COVID-secure measures set out in the University’s Return to On-Site Working guidance, and further advice can be found in the guidance documentation.

We are, of course, hoping that past the 19 July the situation will evolve to the point where University guidance can be updated in a way that will enable departments to increase the number and range of staff able to resume on-site working. We expect that departments will at that point follow the government recommendation to adopt a gradual return, since we know that increasing the number of staff working on site after such a long period will require careful management by departments. And some staff may still be cautious about returning, particularly those reliant on public transport or those who have not been (fully) vaccinated. 

We hope that in general people will feel confident returning to some time spent in offices and other on-site spaces once University guidance is updated, and agreed by Silver, and departments have communicated how their return is to be managed.

New Ways of Working update (5 July)

Whilst the University’s Return to On-Site Working guidance will continue to govern how people should return and work safely on site, departments can also now access our New Ways of Working framework. This has been developed to support professional services across the wider University find an appropriate balance between remote and on-site working in the longer term, in a way that meets academic and research needs as well as local team and building requirements. It is also available for other colleagues and teams if they wish.

It will be for departments to decide how and when they use the framework to support appropriate conversations with staff.

Further Guidance

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 and follow the University's health campaign guidance.

Outline of processes and responsibilities

Divisions and departments hold responsibility for undertaking 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.

**Updated 16 July** Full guidance for staff

Staff should only return to their normal place of work after agreeing it with their manager or supervisor, and subject to any restrictions that their department may still have in place. They should also receive a communication containing information on safe working in their particular location before returning, and be provided with information on the COVID-secure measures in place. If they require further information they should ask to see the risk assessment which includes consideration of factors such as building ventilation and any spaces adapted to support social distancing etc.

Please be aware that although the government is lifting legal restrictions on 19 July, there have been no changes to the University’s guidance about how we should operate in the workplace, so the existing health measures remain in place. The controls of social distancing (the two-metre guidance), use of face coverings (unless exempt), effective ventilation of workspaces, twice-weekly Lateral Flow Device testing and regular hand washing continue to be the way that we keep our workplaces safe.

In some limited cases, it may be possible for departments to reduce social distancing to 1 metre where 2 metres is not viable, and rigorous safety protocols have been followed. This is sometimes referred to as ‘1m+’. Your department will inform you if 1m+ distancing is permitted and in which spaces. Otherwise, you should continue to socially distance at 2 metres or more at all other times.

This limited return to on-site working is separate to the New Ways of Working framework which has been developed to support professional services across the wider University find an appropriate balance between remote and on-site working in the longer term. 

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.


Dealing with changing guidance

**NEW 16 July** Why has the University not yet changed its health guidance when the government is lifting COVID-19 restrictions on 19 July?

The safety and wellbeing of staff and students continues to be our primary concern. In light of the very high infection rate in Oxford – currently 70% above the national average – and the need to review our own guidance in light of updated government advice, we have decided for the time being to retain the University’s current policies on social distancing and face coverings and not to change our Return to On-Site Working guidance.

Many staff are already working on-site where this is required for their role. As per previous communications, there may also be limited on-site working for a broader range of staff where there are clear benefits to enabling staff and teams to work effectively and productively. Our general guidance, however, remains ‘work from home where you can’.

We will keep this position under constant review in the coming weeks and will adapt as the local and national situation evolves.

**NEW 16 July** Do I still have to wear a face covering and maintain social distance in University buildings after 19 July?

Yes – for the time being, the University’s health measures remain unchanged. For more information, please see our Health page and face coverings policy.

Please note that face coverings continue to be mandated in areas of the libraries where there are readers. Our health and safety mitigations remain and we are continuing with the same COVID controls; meaning that staff and Bodleian card-holders need to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing.

We will keep this position under constant review in coming weeks and will adapt as the local and national situation evolves.

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. The University will continue to comply with government and Public Health England guidance.

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 have also provided feedback through the RTOSW programme.

Returning to buildings

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

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 currently working from home and 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.

**NEW 16 July** Does the University require its staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19?

No – although in line with government policy, we would strongly encourage all staff and students to be fully vaccinated to protect their own health and the health of others. The government’s proposed change to self-isolation rules on 16 August also means that there will be a benefit to those who are fully vaccinated in that they will no longer be legally required to isolate if identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case.

Information about the COVID-19 vaccination and how to book appointments can be found on the NHS website.

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 tele consultation 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?

A full risk assessment will have been undertaken by all departments prior to reopening. 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. Your department will be in contact with you to let you know the plans for you to return on site when University guidance changes, 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.

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

Before work on site is resumed, your department will have completed a risk assessment and developed a work plan for you and others to work on site. The assessment will consider any government and University 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 measures needed for certain areas or activities.

Your department will have put in place appropriate measures before you return. These safe working procedures will include making sure you are free from symptoms, regular Lateral Flow Device testing, maintaining effective hygiene practices, keeping a 2 metre distance from others wherever possible, ensuring effective ventilation of workspaces and wearing face coverings in line with the University’s face coverings policy. 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.

Are risk assessments for each building shared and available to relevant staff?

The Head(s) of Department responsible for each building must formally consult with staff and student representatives (ensuring that disabled staff are consulted to ensure their particular needs are not inadvertently overlooked), including and also with their departmental safety advisory committee members, as building risk assessments are developed. This is to ensure that the reasoning behind the identified control measures are understood and that staff and student views feed in to help identify workable solutions. Final approval of risk assessments rest with the Head of Department. These should be shared with staff and students who use the building and published on the internal website/intranet. 

What are my transport options, and how do I travel safely?

The University has a dedicated travel web page with practical support on bus and rail travel as well as car parking (updated weekly), as well as a number of schemes to support cyclists and help staff start cycling.

To receive regular updates about travel, sign up to the Travel team's newsletter by contacting

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