The future of flexible working

Ian Wright, Director of Human Resources, explains how we aim to balance on-campus working and remote working in the future and the steps the University is taking to establish more flexible working principles.

Following the recent government announcement, which provided a roadmap for the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions, we are now in a better position to plan how and when we may expect to welcome more staff and students back to our campus. In doing so, we have the unique opportunity to carefully consider how we might be able to balance on-campus working and remote working in the future.

Throughout the pandemic the majority of our staff have been working remotely and have often done so flexibly around other commitments, such as home schooling or caring responsibilities. To facilitate this we developed new guidance on how to work flexibly and advice on remote working.

We know from our recent pulse surveys that many of you have valued the flexibility that remote working has offered you and in last year’s return to the workplace survey many of you told us that you are keen to maintain elements of flexible working in future. We also recognise that many roles have been undertaken efficiently and effectively in a home working environment.

As we consider how we manage the return to campus for colleagues, we want to look at ways we can build in elements of flexibility into a wider range of roles – flexibility over when, where and how people work. We think that building more flexibility into our working arrangements will help support our inclusive agenda, enabling those with disabilities, or caring responsibilities for example to better balance work and home. In fact, as part of our gender pay gap actions, we are committed to provide a working environment that recognises the additional pressures that both impact exclusively on or traditionally disproportionately on female colleagues through improved opportunities for flexible working.

Whatever approach we take, it is of course vital to ensure we are still able to deliver our education, research and innovation and so we will need to balance our personal preferences with the needs of the University. It is also important that our campus remains a vibrant place for our students and staff and that they continue to get access to support and facilities.

We also know and understand that some colleagues find working remotely challenging and are keen to get back to working on campus, and we are committed to offering this opportunity as soon as it is safe to do so. If you are struggling to work remotely, bookable spaces are already available on Solly Street, please speak to your line manager in the first instance who will be able to provide you with further information.

Next steps

In order to progress this work, we are establishing a project board to look into how we can strike the balance between on-campus and remote working.

In the first instance the project will consider those staff who are able to work in a flexible/hybrid way. We will look to agree some parameters within which we can deploy a greater range of flexibility. We also need to think about practical elements, including, for example, whether we want to have core hours, how colleagues would engage with meetings, what would be needed in terms of future policy and process change, and what implication this has for our digital infrastructure needs.

We want to make sure that we develop a good understanding of how flexible/hybrid working may work in practice, so we will initially be focussing on trying out approaches and refining guidance before we make any formal policy changes or changes to our estate. We recognise that the past year has brought so many changes and whilst some people are keen to explore further flexibility beyond lockdown, others will be seeking a return to normality. Therefore, it’s important that to begin with we provide colleagues with the opportunity to return to campus in a similar way as before if they wish to.

Further down the line we will use what we have learnt to explore the potential for a professional services hub in the Arts Tower, bringing together a range of services into a single location. The social sciences building is already being redesigned to accommodate more flexibility and hybrid ways of working to support this programme of work too.

As part of the project, there will be opportunities for colleagues to offer feedback and we will update you in due course on how you can input and share your views.

Whilst the government roadmap provides us with a potential timeframe to work to, it is important to note that currently the guidance remains the same, and that if you can work from home, you should continue to do so. We aim to repopulate the campus in a managed way, and only when it is safe to do so and when government guidance allows.

We will continue to keep you updated.