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To support the transition back to the workplace and maintain operations in line with the latest government guidance on capacity within buildings and social distancing measures, institutions will need to think creatively about ways of working.   

When discussing a return to the workplace or as part of your ongoing conversations with staff, you may wish to consider temporary flexible working arrangements alongside other considerations.  

Flexible approaches to work can provide a range of benefits to individual staff, departments and the wider University.  These may induce increased staff wellbeing, improved productivity and innovation, reduced traffic and more control over working hours. 

Practical considerations 

Temporary flexible working options that may be used to facilitate a return to the workplace are described below. Careful consideration must be given to selecting the approach best suited to the relevant working environment, the needs of the individual and the institution concerned.   

Effective communication and consultation is critical to the successful introduction of different ways of working. The reasons behind any suggestions should be explained, the views and input of staff sought and any questions answered. In all cases, changes to working arrangements must be mutually agreed and the timescales clearly defined.  

In line with the Flexible Working Policy, any changes to working arrangements of less than three months, including a change to working location, can be agreed locally in writing between the individual concerned and Head of Institution or comparable authority.  Careful consideration should be given to whether there are any particular requirements or contractual implications under the Staff Guide for Academic and Academic-Related Staff and the Assistant Staff Handbook. Staff continue to have the right to request longer term flexible working arrangements at any time under the Flexible Working Policy.  

Regular reviews should be held during the flexible working period and a final review held towards the end of the period. It may be appropriate at this point to agree a 3-month extension, or alternatively to agree a longer-term arrangement with associated contractual changes. Further guidance can be sought from the relevant HR SchoolTeam.  

It will be important for changes in the working arrangements of team members to be shared with the rest of the team and taken into account when scheduling team meetings and events. For example, staff could be asked to put revised working hours in their email signature, outlook calendar and voicemail for example. It is also important to consider how colleagues on their home working days can participate in meetings with colleagues based in the workplace and any associated equipment needs. 

Individual requests 

Individuals may also wish to consider submitting a temporary flexible working request to enable them to juggle caring and other responsibilities during this time.  Further information and procedural steps can be found under the Flexible Working Procedure

Flexible working options to consider 

Cohorting

Where team members  do not usually work on shift patterns, the manager could consider introducing fixed teams or "cohorting", for example by splitting staff into teams to attend the workplace on alternate days, or staggering processes so that not all teams are at work at the same time. This would make it easier to maintain social distancing as well as minimising the number of people that each individual potentially has contact with. Consideration would need to be given to existing working patterns and the impact on the use of technology and meetings. 

Flexibility on office location

Teams should consider whether work can be done from different buildings, departments or office space to use available space more effectively and enable more people to return safely to work. It may also help with minimising an individual’s journey to work on public transport.  

Blended working between home and office

For those in office-based roles, the return to the workplace could involve a mixture of days in the office and days working from home. Teams will need to discuss the impact on the use of technology and the need for office equipment, especially where individuals took equipment such as chairs and screens home before the University closure.  

Continuation Working from home

The continuation of working at home for those staff that have been working effectively over this period should be considered.  This will also help reduce the amount of people flow in buildings.  Like the above, teams will need to discuss the impact on the use of technology and the need for office equipment at home to enable safe working. 

Staggered hours

Staggered hours are when an employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers. 

Teams may wish to consider staggered hours as they can help reduce the flow of people into buildings at certain times as well as ease traffic congestion and demand on public transport during peak hours. The same principle can be applied to breaks and lunch breaks to support social distancing within rest areas or queues in local shops.  

Flexitime

Flexitime is where teams allow employees to choose, sometimes within certain set limits, when to begin and end work.  

Institutions may wish to refer to the model University flexi-time scheme under the Flexible Working Policy. The amount of flexibility may vary from specifying a window for a start time (e.g. between 7.30am and 9am) but leaving the employee to choose, from day to day, what time they arrive and therefore leave or allowing employees to flex their start and end time as long as core hours in the middle of the day are covered and the hours are covered over the course of their normal working week.

Compressed hours/days

Compressed working arrangements allow employees to work their normal contracted hours over a reduced number of days. A typical pattern would involve working four longer days and not working on the fifth day. 

This pattern could reduce the number of employees in the office on some days. Compressed hours can result in employees working long days, so it is important to reiterate messages about taking breaks to avoid fatigue. It also has an impact on annual leave entitlement (as it is pro-rated according to the number of days worked). Therefore, it is important that changes are recorded on the HR system (CHRIS). 

Adjusted shift rotations

Where teams work in shifts, for example, a rotating shift pattern where one group of employees takes over from another on rotation, processes should be reviewed to reduce contact between different shifts. Where a shift system is already in place, the groups of workers on each shift should be fixed. 

Handovers should be undertaken by the same individuals while observing social distancing. The same teams should rotate in order so that they always follow the same individuals. Groups starting and leaving work should do so on a phased basis to reduce interaction or crowds forming in certain locations.  

Teams should also consider their approach to self-rostering if it has previously been the case that teams had flexibility to swap shifts between themselves or self-roster as it may not be appropriate in the current circumstances. If a temporary change is required to self-rostering, managers need to ensure it is clearly communicated to all team members.