Last week the Vice-Chancellor shared a video message about the importance of being as flexible as possible over the coming challenging weeks.

University Executive Board (UEB) colleagues will be working with heads of department to identify core priorities for all our departments, and in his message the Vice-Chancellor encouraged us all to speak with our managers and teams about the pressures we’re facing to find solutions together.

This practical guide to working flexibly is intended to support this approach and help us find sustainable ways of working that allow us to look after ourselves, especially during the latest national lockdown. This guide has been prepared to help you build flexibility into your working day, balance work and home life and give you more time to look after your wellbeing and the wellbeing of those you care for.

We have also shared guidance with managers, so they have the information they need to support you with these ideas should you wish to take them forward. Please do speak to your manager and your colleagues to discuss which ideas most suit you as individuals and as teams.

We are also continuing to explore how we take a different approach to balancing on-campus and remote working in the future to ensure we can harness some of the benefits of flexibility that you have told us about in previous surveys.

Thank you to everyone who completed the short survey in last week’s Staff Update about how we can better support you. UEB will be discussing the results later this week and we will share the next steps with you as soon as possible.

A practical guide to working flexibly

#1 Where you work

It’s important to remember that flexible working and home working are not the same. Working from home is about location whereas flexible working allows for working hours to be scheduled in a way that suits your personal, family, caring and wellbeing needs whilst ensuring we continue to work effectively and deliver our core priorities.

For those of you who are working from home, you can find guidance on a range of topics on our remote working web pages including advice on how to look after your musculoskeletal health. Please remember that if you are facing risk from physical or mental harm by working from home, you can speak to your manager about using the dedicated office space at 3 Solly Street (Velocity Building).

#2 When you work

You may need to be available for specific meetings or for timetabled teaching. Outside of these times you may want to think flexibly about when you work to accommodate responsibilities such as homeschooling and other caring responsibilities.

Remember to give yourself permission to set boundaries within your working day to support the need for self care. Where your role allows, take breaks at a time to suit your needs and, where possible, make time to take exercise and get outside in daylight hours.

Use your calendar to support flexible working
  • Take ownership of your working week and calendar to protect time for your individual needs
  • Add your working hours to your calendar
  • Flex your working hours to suit your circumstances and the demands on your time, ie working earlier or later in the day than you might usually
  • Block out home schooling time / time for other caring responsibility / lunch breaks or exercise time in daylight hours
  • Utilise a ‘no meetings please’ indicator. Other indicators could include, Open Door I’m working at my desk and can be available for you to call; Please Do not Disturb, I need to concentrate on a piece of work.
  • As a department or a team consider a meeting free day per week in the calendar. Be mindful of any part-time working patterns in your team when determining your meeting free day.
  • Switch off, when you are scheduled to switch off
  • Use these how to videos to make the most of the Google calendar functionality
Flexible working and annual leave

If it would be helpful for you to use annual leave to help balance responsibilities at this time, of course you can look to book this in the usual way. However, it’s important you don’t feel you should have to use your leave in this way.

Do remember to use leave to ensure you get rest and recuperation when you need it most or to do what is best for you and your family, and reserve some leave to take throughout the course of the working year. If you would benefit from purchasing additional leave for this calendar year, please visit our additional leave web pages for further information.

#3 How you work

Now more than ever we need to be output focussed rather than focussed on attendance and visibility – and this requires us to work flexibly.

Be clear about your priority tasks

Speak to your manager about your priority tasks, about what can be stopped, paused, delayed, or delivered differently.

Manage meetings flexibly
  • Keep meeting agendas, concise and relevant to the most important matters to make best use of time. This will ensure meetings are kept as short as possible. Remember that meetings are also an important way of providing time for connection with others.
  • Consider enabling Speedy Meetings in your Google calendar to automatically reduce your meetings times to allow time for breaks. Go to Settings > Event Settings and then click the checkbox for speedy meetings. This shortens whichever preset meeting time that you've designated by 5 or 10 minutes.
  • Agree with your team members that no apologies are needed if children, pets, partners, door bells, deliveries interrupt a call.
Use emails to support flexible working
  • Consider adding one of the suggested University email signatures if you haven’t already to let others know about your flexible working pattern and when you are available.
  • If you are working flexibly around other commitments, you may also want to schedule your emails using the inbuilt function at the bottom left of the email editor, to ensure your emails arrive at the right time.
  • Be clear in your email headers if actions are required, this is especially important if an urgent response is required and helps others to manage their time.
  • Minimise the number of unnecessary emails by copying in only those who need the information. If you need to share lengthy email chains, include a summary of the situation and of any action required.
  • Consider having agreed email free days, where colleagues will talk via google hangout/telephone instead.
  • Enable flexible connections
  • Working flexibly needn’t be a barrier to connection or communication. Maintain the connection activities you have already in place in your teams wherever possible, but know it’s ok if you can’t always make it due to other commitments.
  • Look out for colleagues in your conversations. Take some time at the start of each connection to ask, ‘how are you today?’ or, ‘on a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling? What would help you to get closer to 10’? Wait and listen to the answer.
  • Consider using a phone call where you need to talk with just one other individual. This can save time, encourage regular but swift connection and can give you a break from some of the frustration and fatigue that can be associated with online meetings.
  • Be kind and consider the diverse needs and challenges that your colleagues might be experiencing. Challenging times call for greater sensitivity and kindness.
  • Consider creating Wellbeing Hub in your department to provide a mechanism for social interaction and connection.

#4 Your preferences

It is important that you have the opportunity to talk about any concerns you may have about the latest lockdown and any other challenges you are facing. Try to be open in 1:1s and team meetings about workload and flexibility and discuss your preferences with your manager. Keep talking as your needs are likely to change over time.

Video: Flexible working during the pandemic

We are exploring how we can continue to benefit from more flexibility in our roles in the future as we emerge from the pandemic, but we know this period is particularly challenging and we hope these top tips and guidance will offer some help.