Return to on-site working

Last updated 16 June 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 June) for departments about a further return to on-site working from 19 July

The University remains at BCP Stage 2 of its emergency response framework and in Tier 1 of the Department for Education’s 'tiers of restrictions'. The Government continues to advise individuals to ‘work from home where you can’. Many staff are currently working on site where this is required for their role. As per previous communications, there may 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. This should follow Return to Onsite Working (RTOSW) guidance. It is likely that a wider return to on-site working will take place from 19 July, and we expect the New Ways of Working framework to be available by that point. Further information will follow about this in the near future.

We are, of course, hoping that the situation will have evolved to the point where home working is no longer a requirement and departments can increase the number and range of staff able to resume on-site working. We hope that in general people will feel confident returning to some time spent in offices once restrictions are lifted and departments have communicated how their return is to be managed.

However, it is not expected that there will be an immediate return to the workplace after 19 July for all staff currently working from home. 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. Departments are asked to bear in mind the need for a progressive return when starting to plan. 

The safety and wellbeing of our staff and students will continue to be our core focus. Therefore the University’s Return to On-Site Working guidance, which sets out how to maintain COVID-secure workplaces and how to manage the practicalities of the safe return of staff to on-site working, will continue to apply so long as Government restrictions or extra health measures are in force during this pandemic. The Return to On-Site Working guidance will, as noted above, be updated as Government guidance changes.

New Ways of Working update (1 June)

Whilst the University’s Return to On-Site Working guidance will continue to govern how people should return and work safely on site, towards the end of June departments will also have access to 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.

The framework is being updated following a pilot and will be discussed further at Personnel Committee in June. It will be for departments to decide how and when they use the framework to support appropriate conversations with staff.

A number of FAQs have now been added to the New Ways of Working webpage, to provide further information about the framework following the pilots. Further information will be made available in the near future.

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.

Phases of operation for returning to on-site working

The University is now operating a Business Continuity Plan (BCP), Stage 2. Under the Government roadmap to reopening, most individuals continue to be advised to work from home where they can until 21 June. However, in line with the University's move to BCP Level 2 and the return of further students, Silver Group agreed there should 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 end to consider whether and how this might apply for their staff. Further advice can be found in the guidance documentation

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.

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 we are starting to see a loosening of restrictions around social engagements, there have been no changes to Government guidance about how we should operate in the workplace, so all the usual measures remain in place. The controls of social distancing (the two-metre rule), use of face coverings (unless exempt), and regular hand washing continue to be the way that we keep our workplaces safe.

The Government continues to advise social distancing of 2 metres in workplace buildings, and all staff and students working and living on site should continue to follow the 2 metre rule.

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. 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 development of a framework for New Ways of Working which is being piloted in five areas of the University to the middle of May. We expect the framework will be ready for wider sharing across the University during the first half of June to support conversations about future working arrangements once the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted and a return to on-site working becomes possible for all staff.

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

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.

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 Government restrictions allow, 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 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 measures before you return. These safe working procedures will include making sure you are free from symptoms, maintaining effective hygiene practices, keeping a 2m distance from others wherever possible 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. 


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 help staff start cycling.

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 and this will continue through Hilary term. 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. 

The County Council received £300k 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

The 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 returned 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 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. 

To get regular updates about travel, sign up to the Travel team's newsletter. Contact

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