New Ways of Working
New Ways of Working supports the needs and circumstances of staff working in different ways, building on our experiences during the pandemic
The New Ways of Working Framework pages have been created to ensure professional services staff can continue to support the University’s academic mission whilst working on site or remotely as we move out of the pandemic.
Here you will find further information on why the Framework was created and the supporting guidance.
If you have any feedback or questions please email the team via the contact details on this page.
Why have we created this Framework?
Work changed dramatically for many staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the requirement for staff to work remotely and communicate virtually. The New Ways of Working Framework aims to support the University to evolve - so that how we work enables individuals and teams to be highly effective and fulfilled - whilst we support the University’s mission.
The University is a complex place and whilst the Framework is intended to ensure consistency of opportunity, no single set of arrangements will suit all areas. Leaders and managers are invited to adopt the Framework in a way that suits their area. The following principles provide a common foundation for the Framework, to which all requirements and recommendations can be linked:
- We work to support the academic mission of the University of Oxford
- We recognise the value and benefits of in-person interaction with colleagues and those to whom we are delivering a service
- We use our insights from the pandemic to optimize the benefits and opportunities associated with remote and online working, and we are open-minded about what work can be delivered remotely
- We support decision-making about New Ways of Working arrangements at a local level to fairly balance the needs of the department with the aspirations of individuals
- We arrive at these decisions through inclusive, open, transparent discussions
- We help people to be fulfilled, balancing their work and home lives, respecting and supporting individual differences
- We learn from our experiences, trial arrangements and evolve our working arrangements, workplaces and support for individuals
Who is the Framework for?
This Framework has been produced to support the needs and circumstances of professional services and support staff. It is anticipated that the Framework may be a helpful tool for other areas across the University. Therefore, the Framework is available for departments to discuss, and decide locally, how else it might be used.
Academic colleagues who would like to know more about how New Ways of Working is being approached in their department, and how they can be involved, should contact their Head of Department or Head of Administration and Finance (or equivalent) for more information.
How was the Framework created?
The Framework is a result of a highly consultative project. Initiated by the Registrar Gill Aitken, it has sought input from across the University, with all staff consulted via a survey, engagement activities, and pilots in both the UAS, GLAM and academic departments.
This project was led by the former Director of HR (Julian Duxfield), and Tracy Gale, MPLS Divisional Registrar, and the Framework has been approved by Personnel Committee. Academic and research staff have been closely consulted to ensure it fully supports the University’s core areas of teaching and research.
The Framework provides four models of working:
- on site
- occasional remote
- regular remote
- primarily remote
Supporting guidance for the Framework
There is also information and guidance on key factors in making decisions about these models of working for teams and individuals. These are:
- Business and operational needs, including impact on service users
- Place of work
- Wellbeing and safety
- Working at our best
- Workspace support
You can follow the full step-by-step below. If you prefer, you can download a PDF of the step-by-step and all the supporting materials for the Framework.
The step-by-step guidance below is summarised in a downloadable flowchart.
It will be clear to line managers if there are roles within their teams that, despite their best intentions, offer no flexibility for remote working, due to the nature of the work. However, staff who need to be on site to carry out their role may nonetheless have views about broader departmental plans for new working arrangements or may be able to identify elements of their own roles which could be done remotely. It will be important, therefore, to include those team members in group and individual discussions, and to take their views into account, although those conversations may be shorter and simpler than with other team members.
Where whole teams need to simply return to their contracted, pre-pandemic on-site working patterns (for example staff who were furloughed as it was not possible to do their job remotely) the conversations outlined under the NWW guidance here may not apply. However, it is recommended that a discussion is held with these teams so that they can think through and discuss the implications for their team, and the department more generally, of greater remote working in other teams.
The guidance does not affect formal, written agreements with staff to work 100% remotely.
The senior management team within the departments will need to understand the principles, aims and scope of the NWW Framework. The first step is for the senior management team to consider the factors that are critical to the successful operation of the department (a template workshop structure is available to help with this which can be customised to suit local arrangements). As part of this stage, senior leaders will want to consider how to:
- gather the views of customers/stakeholders on the working models which they consider best support them in their roles eg through surveys of users or discussions with key individuals, or team meetings within the department;
- communicate the NWW Framework positively in their department so as to:
- engender the culture they wish to promote in the department and ‘set the tone’ for productive, supportive conversations;
- encourage informal decision-making where possible;
- ensure that all teams in the department understand the ‘bigger picture’ of departmental aims and objectives, which will form the context to team and individual discussions;
- explain the rationale for any new norms, parameters or etiquette that will operate in the department, such as core hours or anchor days (when particular groups should be onsite for meetings or to promote teamworking), to make sure that departmental objectives are met and consistency is maximised; and,
- engage with their own reports, supporting them to consider new approaches in an open-minded way and make fair and objective decisions that balance the needs of the team and the individual and enable more flexibility where possible.
Departments will run this stage of the process as works best for them. Some departments will adopt a whole department approach to discussion at this stage whilst others may create a working group or run the workshop at existing departmental leadership groups. Whichever model is followed, the resulting parameters and approach need to be shared with team leaders in preparation for their local discussions. Senior Management teams may also want to consider whether they need to set up local/departmental approval processes such as for cases where primarily remote working models are requested.
Step 2. Team leaders: read the NWW Framework and consider any local parameters set for their department
Think about the work of your team, its objectives and operation and practical issues, as set out in step 1 above. Consider which stakeholders and teams rely on your own, and ways in which you could consult them to ensure any new arrangements meet their needs.
Team leaders should ensure that their teams read the NWW Framework and understand its aims, which include to support the academic mission, whilst building on the positive experiences of remote working during the pandemic, and the principles behind it. It will be important to look carefully at the needs of the department and its local parameters, and other departmental teams and those who rely on services offered by the team. Everyone in the team should be fully aware of these, since they form the context for discussions about individual preferences.
To inform these discussions, team leaders should hold a team workshop to think about their service users and stakeholders’ needs, their own and the department’s objectives, and how these might best be met in future. The team should consider:
- What culture would you like to establish in the team, and how can the team’s working arrangements support that?
- Do you want in-person meetings on a regular or occasional basis?
- How can the team best support relationships and communication if some members work remotely?
- What working practices have worked well and given good outcomes during the pandemic and therefore should be retained?
- How can you ensure that the customers of your service are not adversely affected by any changes to team ways of working?
You should involve the team in thinking this through: they will have insights to share with you, and you will all feel more committed to ways of working that you have developed together. You can download advice on how to facilitate a team meeting to discuss this.
Remember to invite all members of the team, including those on leave, including long-term sickness absence and family leave.
The issues that both team leaders and members of staff should think about in advance of individual discussions are set out below. Fuller guidance is available for team leaders on holding individuals meetings and on decision-making after those meetings.
Actions for team leaders
Bearing in mind the outcomes of your discussion about customer/stakeholder and departmental needs, review the working arrangements that each of your team had before the pandemic, and the period since the first lockdown measures began. In the context of any conclusions reached as part of Step 3 above, consider:
- Has the team been able to work effectively and meet objectives, meeting stakeholder needs to a high standard?
- What expectations do colleagues or customers have of the team? How will those change once everyone can return to working on site?
- Are there working practices that you would wish to retain going forwards?
- What has been challenging for individual members of your team?
- If members of your team have a disability, what has been beneficial and what has been detrimental to their work and health? How can any benefits be maintained?
- How have individual members of the team coped with remote working?
- Are there operational requirements that mean some or all of the team need to work on site for part or all of the week?
- Is there a requirement for core hours?
Bear in mind that during the pandemic some temporary measures were introduced which will not form part of normal working post-pandemic. For example, an individual may have had special dispensation to work irregular hours or to have children under their care while working. Under Business as Usual arrangements staff will be expected to work their full contracted hours and may need to return to standard office hours for the team to meet its aims.
You should give particular consideration to the needs of disabled staff (colleagues, or service-users), bearing in mind that the University has a legal obligation to put in place reasonable adjustments to support disabled staff members to carry out their role effectively.
Remember – this is an evolving situation. In planning new arrangements you should be setting up trial periods that allow everyone involved to learn what works well and what needs to be changed in the light of experience. Some things will work better than others and all involved should expect a period of adjustment as teams embark on new ways of working.
Actions for team members
Think about your working arrangement before and during the pandemic:
- What impact does your place of work have on your colleagues or your team’s customers?
- Who else relies on you, and how can their needs be met?
- What working arrangements do you think will be best suited to achieving the objectives of your team?
- If you worked remotely, what worked well for you? What were the challenges?
- If you have experienced any benefits or challenges associated with a disability or long-term health condition, have you discussed this with your team leader?
- Are there any aspects of your role that you can perform better on site or remotely?
- Would you like to return to your previous working arrangements (hours, location)? Or would you prefer to request a new pattern of working? What arrangements do you want, and are there others that might work for you?
Action for team leaders
Following the team discussion and consideration of future working arrangements, invite each member of the team to meet privately and informally to discuss the outcome of the discussions about the operational needs, and their own preferences. This may be a remote meeting or, where the department has returned to on-site working, it could be held face-to-face. This can form part of the regular 1:1 or a separate meeting (a template invite is available). Let the team member know what the meeting is about and remind them to read the framework and to think about the matters listed in Step 4 (above) in advance. No accompaniment or formal record of the meeting is required.
Read the guidance on decision-making before the meetings:
Make sure the discussion covers:
- The requirements of the work/team. Focus on the future, and how the team can operate as effectively as possible - avoid making assumptions based on ways of working in 2020-21
- The potential impact of future working arrangements on working relationships or practices, or career development, and how these might be mitigated
- What working pattern the individual would prefer and why
- Consideration of any disability-related needs, if the individual discloses them
- The individual’s circumstances, such as their caring responsibilities and their ability to establish a suitable work station at home
- If an individual wishes to work remotely for the majority of their hours, how they think interaction with the workplace will work effectively.
NB Do not make assumptions about an individual’s circumstances based on gender, disability, etc but do encourage them to be open about them.
A checklist is available for those who would find it useful.
Things to remember
- Pre-existing remote working agreements should only be reviewed if the staff member wishes to do so. No one will be required to work remotely.
- If you have team members who are currently away from the workplace (eg on family leave or sick leave) ensure that they are given the opportunity to have the same discussion with you and to join team discussions, if they wish.
- If a team member has a disability and working remotely would be a reasonable adjustment to assist them in managing this, it will be a priority to meet this need, where operationally possible. This may have financial implications, eg if the individual would need adaptive equipment both at home and in the office, and the University would be expected to find this.
- Separate authorisation is required if the individual wishes to apply to work from outside the UK.
Actions for team members
Prepare for the meeting as set out in Step 4 above.
If you would like to work remotely for some of your hours and/or to have a different working pattern, explain this and how you think that will work in practice. Explain how you think that will support team objectives, and any challenges you anticipate.
- There may be more than one working arrangement that will meet your needs and aspirations, so explain your circumstances and where you can be flexible. Team leaders will need to balance operational requirements with the preferences of each team member, so be prepared to discuss different possibilities.
- If your request relates to a disability or long-term health condition, make sure your team leader is aware of this.
- Consider whether your proposal might have longer-term impacts on your career development and how these might be mitigated.
- Be honest about any concerns you may have about your future working arrangements or change in the dynamics or working practices of the team.
Team leaders should take a note of the preferences of each team member, to help them in considering how to balance the needs of the team, its operations and customers, and the individual. No formal meeting notes are required; a simple grid is sufficient, for example:
|Name||Date of meeting||Pre-Covid work pattern||Preference for post-Covid work pattern||Notes|
The meeting checklist, includes space for these details to be noted, so where the checklist is being used no separate note needs to be kept.
If there was any uncertainty or lack of clarity in the meeting about what the individual is seeking, email them to summarise your understanding of what working pattern they want and why, and ask them to confirm that your understanding is accurate
Once you have met with each member of the team, you should review how far the operational needs you have identified might accommodate the preferences your team have expressed. Guidance on decision-making for team leaders is provided.
Individual departments may ask line managers to refer their recommendations to a senior management team before any new arrangements are agreed, to ensure that changes to working practices work well across the whole department, particularly where ‘primarily remote’ arrangement are being considered.
If it is not possible to accommodate the individual preferences of all team members, or if there are conflicting demands, you may wish to seek advice from your local HR contact. It is important that decisions are seen to be fair and non-discriminatory and that any individual circumstances are considered.
It is recommended that any new arrangements are subject to a trial period of 3-6 months. The NWW Framework provides an opportunity to try out new approaches to working practices, as well as new arrangements for individuals, and trial periods will be beneficial during this period of experimentation. They also allow individuals to adjust to new processes and arrangements, and test them over time, when their colleagues are also working in new ways. It will often be appropriate to use trial periods across the team, for a consistent period. Trial periods will be terminable, with reasonable notice, by either party if the arrangement does not prove satisfactory; if this happens, the individual will revert to their pre-pandemic working pattern, unless an alternative arrangement is agreed for a further trial period. It will be important to confirm to the individual in writing what will signify success in the trial period, and how that will be assessed, to ensure a smooth review at the end of the trial.
If it is possible to agree to all the new working patterns that are requested (and, where relevant, the head of departments/senior management team have approved the changes), go to Step 7(c) below.
Step 7(b) All team members: if questions remain about whether new working patterns can be accommodated, hold further individual meetings
It is important for team leaders to be open to discussion and new ideas about how to manage work effectively, and for staff to consider the needs of the work / other team members and to be prepared to compromise. If the initial round of discussions has not led to agreement on all new working arrangement requests, team leaders should have further discussions with team members.
In that meeting, the team leader should:
- Explain the reasons they do not think they can agree the original request, with reference to the team’s objectives, and the desired culture and ways of working in the team.
- Where relevant, ensure that the individual is aware of any changes that may arise due to other members of the team changing their working pattern eg someone who wishes to work primarily remotely may reconsider if most of their colleagues are returning full-time to on-site working.
- Ensure they do not share personal data relating to other members of the team, including why they have certain working arrangements.
- Explore other possibilities, so as to provide as much flexibility as possible to the individual, within the parameters of operational requirements, if their original request cannot be met.
As previously these conversations are not formal meetings; a brief note of the key points of the discussion should be retained.
If you are able to agree a change to working arrangements (and, where appropriate, this is approved by the department’s senior management team), the pro-forma ‘confirmation of change form’ is sufficient to note the agreed changes. Both team leader and employee should sign the form which should be passed to the HR contact to be filed on the individual’s personnel file. A copy should be provided to the individual. As the formal place of work remains the University department referenced in the employment contract, no further contract amendment is required.
Team leaders should monitor the success of the new working arrangements. They should consider the performance of the team as a whole, gain feedback where possible from service users and other stakeholders who might be impacted by the changes, and identify whether any adjustments are required to optimise effectiveness and ensure continued support for the academic mission. Team discussions should be held as part of this process, as a means of ensuring commitment to the team’s preferred culture and ways of working.
Team Leaders should also consider how well the new arrangements are working for individual members of the team, recognising successes where arrangements are working well and discussing any emerging concerns with them so that they can be addressed early. This might include concerns about staff being unavailable, or unproductive whilst working remotely (including, for example, potential conflicting demands of homeworking and caring responsibilities) or working excessive hours or working whilst unwell rather than taking proper sick leave.
The NWW Framework and guidance will be reviewed regularly as we all learn from experience, so team leaders should read any announcements about adjustments to the guidance, and consider how they might apply to their own team.
Trial periods should be reviewed at their specified end date, in one-to-one discussions with the team member. Team Leaders should then decide whether working arrangements need to be adjusted or can be confirmed.
If, after informal discussion, it is not possible to agree a new set of working arrangements (either the original request, or a compromise), the team leader should confirm this in writing, and explain why it is not possible (a template is available). As this is an informal process there is no right of appeal for the team member. Instead, individuals should be advised that they can submit a formal flexible working request, which will be considered through the normal formal routes, at a management level higher than that at which the informal decision was made.
Pulse survey feedback (summer 2022)
In July 2022 Professional Services staff were sent a pulse survey, asking for their experience of New Ways of Working. 1282 staff responded, including 491 line managers. The responses showed a strongly positive picture of how NWW is being perceived by Professional Services staff, as well as some thoughts about the challenges it presents. Read a summary of the key findings. A sample of the free text comments is also available.
This survey was anonymous, therefore divisional and departmental data were not collected.
University HR is taking action to address the following issues raised:
- A small number of line managers indicated that they needed more support with remote/hybrid inductions
- A few responses suggested sub-optimal home workstations
- Clarity is needed on who should fund equipment for homeworking
- We will also consider any EDI implications of the survey results.
University HR will be asking departments about their implementation of NWW in next year’s annual HR audit (planned for January/February 2023), as we did in early 2022. This will enable us to compare the two sets of data and understand how New Ways of Working is progressing across the University. We are also planning a further pulse survey which is likely to run in a year’s time (summer 2023).
If you have any questions about these results, please contact the HR Policy team.
The Department of Physics is part of the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division. It is a large department, with 562 staff, 677 undergraduate and 365 DPhils at the time of this study, and so administrative functions consist of relatively large teams of staff. As a lab-based department, around half of roles have to be conducted on-site due to operational needs.
Physics began implementation of the New Ways of Working Framework by discussing it at the Physics Management Committee to secure buy-in. It was agreed that the Framework would be implemented for Professional and Support Staff, with a Departmental policy which would require a minimum of one day per week spent on-site.
Each administrative function, such as HR, could implement the Framework according to their team’s operational needs, as long as they followed the Departmental policy of one day per week on site. Most teams agreed on a minimum of two to three days per week spent on-site to meet team requirements.
Teams were canvased for working pattern preferences, while trying to ensure fairness and manage expectations. Working location patterns were then decided in consultation with teams on a trial basis.
The HR team decided to ensure that there was some on-site HR presence every weekday within core hours (9am to 5pm). They agreed to an anchor day, where all HR staff are on-site together to help build and maintain working relationships, have team meetings, and conduct training. Communication has been key, with a chart on the office door showing which days which team member will be on-site. The HR team have discussed that, if a colleague is on annual or sick leave, more on-site presence may be needed to cover this, and that changing days in the office should be rare to ensure adequate coverage.
It has been very useful to stay dynamic, tweaking arrangements quickly if needed rather than waiting until a formal review date of the trial – it has been important to communicate to staff that this might be a possibility. Keeping a record of confirmation of change forms in personnel files has also been invaluable to resolve disputes or provide evidence of agreements when line managers change.
What has gone well
- Teams have been happier when able to work in ways which suit them, and New Ways of Working has been going well within administrative teams.
- Having at least one day per week where a whole team is on site has been very useful.
- A reduction in sickness absence has also been noticed, although it still remains to be seen whether this is due to increased presenteeism.
- Differences between teams and roles have caused difficulties. Some administrative functions are smaller than others, making it difficult to enable on-site presence every weekday, resulting in either an increased pressure on those staff to work on-site more often, or other staff perceiving a lack of service.
- Managers also have different expectations regarding how much on-site working is required for operational needs, causing perceived unfairness.
- Around half of staff also have to work fully on-site due to the operational needs of their roles, causing resentment towards staff whose roles allow for more flexible working patterns.
- It has also been difficult to ensure all staff return a confirmation of change form to record changes to working location.
Formal review dates within teams have been set, and a formal review for the entire Department is set for Trinity Term 2022. There are plans to arrange a day when all administrative staff across functions are on site to encourage interaction across teams.
April 2022 (Information gathered from conversation with Ian Wild, Director of Programme and Project Delivery)
IT Services is part of the University Administration and Services (UAS), with offices based across two sites in central Oxford. It employs around 300 staff as well as a number of freelance consultants, who are split across several main groups including Customer Services, Programme and Project Delivery, Infrastructure Services, Software Solutions, and a central Office of the CIO function. While a number of roles within IT Services need to be conducted fully on-site for operational reasons, covering Desktop Services, Networks, Datacentre Operations and the IT Learning Centre , many roles are able to benefit from hybrid working arrangements.
IT Services have used a relatively informal and flexible approach to New Ways of Working, with no policies implemented at a Departmental level except that fully remote working is not permitted unless under exceptional circumstances. It is anticipated that most staff would come on site for around two days per week. All other arrangements were discussed and agreed within teams.
To implement New Ways of Working, a consultation process was followed: line managers held discussions with their staff to discuss individual preferences, operational needs, and the advantages and disadvantages of working remotely during earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Staff then began trialling their agreed patterns, with the understanding that arrangements would be regularly reviewed.
Example: the Programme and Project Delivery team
The Programme and Project Delivery team, led by Ian Wild, have used the Return to On-Site Working and New Ways of Working to begin trialling hot-desking. The team is quite transitory: most projects last twelve to eighteen months, with team members usually working on multiple projects at once and collaborating with different colleagues within each project. This meant that prior to Covid-19, assigned desks caused difficulties as staff frequently needed to move around the building to liaise with different team members.
Under the current hot-desking trials, hot desks are grouped into zones which can be booked by individuals or teams using an online booking system; multiple zones can be booked for larger meetings and project teams.
Staff in the Programme and Project Delivery team need to come on site on average for two days per week, however these are not on set days – this flexibility has worked to the team’s advantage, as space limitations mean that it would be difficult to accommodate all staff on site on the same day. Staff agree with their manager that if they are asked to come on site for a specific reason, then they should be willing to do this to meet operational needs.
There were some challenges of remote working during the pandemic, and it is still uncertain how these challenges will interact with hybrid working. Concerns around getting to know new colleagues and getting new projects off of the ground, when team members are together in the same room less often and therefore may have less opportunities for ‘spontaneity,’ still remain, and will need further work.
It is anticipated that hybrid working will attract applicants and staff who may have previously avoided the University due to living costs in Oxford and the difficulty of commuting into central Oxford, as hybrid working will enable staff to commute less frequently.
Hybrid working and working remotely during the pandemic has also enabled IT Services to become more adaptable to change.
The work done by the PPDG teams have already allowed IT Services to reduce their office space requirements. They have recently vacated offices in the Gibson Building, leading to a reduction in space charges and FM costs.
Teams within IT Services will continue to review working arrangements on a regular basis to determine whether more or less on-site working is needed. The Programme and Project Delivery team are still in the early stages of trialling hot-desking, and expect to learn from and refine this arrangement as their experience grows.
In the longer term, IT Services expect New Ways of Working to factor into conversations around space: they will determine whether more or less on-site space is needed, depending on levels of hybrid working and hot-desking, to ensure their buildings are meeting the needs of staff and the department
The Blavatnik School of Government was founded in 2010. It sits within the Social Sciences Division and has 180 staff, 141 taught postgraduate students and 30 DPhils. The pandemic showed that most roles could be carried out with hybrid working, but a cluster of roles need to be carried out in-person including reception, facilities, IT/AV support, and some student-facing support.
In summer 2020, following the end of the first lockdown, the School began considering a return to on-site working from September 2020, with a focus on health and safety, wellbeing, and logistics. Staff were surveyed to understand how they felt about returning to the building and to raise any potential barriers, such as caring commitments, underlying health conditions, or commuting arrangements. This data was useful but further lockdowns prevented a full RTOSW as intended at this time.
Once the School became aware of the New Ways of Working Framework in 2021, a working group was established (comprising the School’s COO, the Director of Finance, and the HR Manager) to consider a consultation and implementation process for the School in light of the School’s operational and business needs. They looked at the advantages and disadvantages of remote working during the pandemic: new starters in particular were felt to have lost a sense of community and development and networking opportunities when fully remote.
An initial proposal was considered at three virtual consultation meetings (attended by 90 staff) which aimed to learn more from individual experiences and seek buy-in from colleagues. Feedback from the meetings led to a revised proposal which was approved by the School’s Strategy and Resources Group.
The School’s Policy was to allow staff to work remotely for a maximum of 40% FTE (pro rata) with effect from 6 September 2021 (subject to any further government guidance). The Policy was circulated to all staff via email and in a Whole School meeting. Practical implementation was delegated to team leaders.
A Q&A session for team leaders was held in June 2021 to answer queries about implementation but low attendance suggested that managers already felt confident about the process. Line managers were asked to use June to August 2021 to have conversations with individual team members. The School’s annual PDR process was also revised to include consideration of New Ways of Working, so that all work patterns had been discussed and agreed, on a trial basis, ahead of the new academic year (again subject to changing circumstances).
As the implementation date approached, there was some anxiety across all staff groups regarding on-site working and concerns around Covid case numbers, with children returning to schools and international students arriving in the building. The School responded by focusing on leading with kindness, recognising that some staff had not been on site for 18 months, and that September 2021 was a transitional month for colleagues to build up to their longer-term New Ways of Working pattern and get used to commuting again.
Example: the HR team
The HR team agreed among themselves that:
- their on-site office would always be staffed (minimum 1 team member) Monday to Friday within core hours;
- they would have one anchor day where the full team is on site to bring about team spirit. This has worked well and made the team feel more connected and improved efficiency as fewer Teams messages are needed when you can discuss topics in person!
- on-site working may sometimes be needed outside of typical working arrangements, for example to induct a new starter.
Team members have otherwise been able to manage their 40% flexibility as they wish, with most falling into a fairly regular work pattern meeting both operational needs and personal preferences.
In general, New Ways of Working has worked very well and very collaboratively for professional services teams. Academic colleagues and researchers have been using New Ways of Working but many benefitted from more flexibility pre-pandemic than professional support colleagues, so there has not been as significant a change in these groups.
- Colleagues have been happier working in a way that both suits them and meets team needs.
- The School always referred to central University and government guidance when communicating New Ways of Working, as well as ongoing uncertainty regarding Covid-19. A focus on how processes would be rolled out, rather than specific timelines, has proved helpful, and worked on managing expectations sensitively.
Challenges and reflections
- Not all teams are big enough to enable an on-site ‘office’ to be open every day which has in some cases resulted in a perceived lack of service, or pressure on staff to come on-site more often leading to a sense of unfairness.
- Delegating implementation to team level has meant some difficulty in ensuring equity across teams. However trusting the judgement of team leaders to understand operational requirements and agree New Ways of Working patterns accordingly has still been the fairest and most practical approach.
- Keeping a written record of agreed New Ways of Working changes has been important for resolving disputes or responding to changes in line manager.
The School has used ‘Leading with Kindness’ as a guiding principle in implementing New Ways of Working. Following the government’s December 2021 working from home guidance, another RTOSW exercise was needed, using February 2022 as another transitional month for colleagues to once again return to their New Ways of Working patterns.
A formal review date for New Ways of Working across the School has been planned for the end of Trinity term 2022. The details are still to be determined but it is expected that this will involve consultation with staff and consideration of feedback by the team leaders.
The History of Science Museum (HSM) is part of Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM). It is one of the smallest departments, with 30 staff across a number of teams including Front of House, Operations, Administration and Research, Teaching and Collections. As the Museum is open to the public, the Front of House team is required to work on site. This is the same for a number of the Collections staff as their roles directly involve caring for the objects.
With agreement across GLAM, HSM was one of the pilot departments for New Ways of Working. The pilot was introduced in April 2021 when staff were still being encouraged to work from home wherever possible due to the ongoing pandemic. Briefings on the New Ways of Working project were given to the Executive Team (Senior Management Team within HSM) and to the wider HSM colleagues at the April staff meeting. HSM then hosted several workshops between the local teams within the department, taking the project in stages before full implementation.
To kick-start the pilot, a survey was sent to staff and line managers. The staff survey included initial research on the current levels of knowledge around New Ways of Working and it gauged the appetite for the project. Line Managers were sent a survey to comment on their current feelings around New Ways of Working and any support that could be offered. At HSM, there was positive engagement with these surveys which helped discussions further down the line when implementing work patterns.
Implementation Leads at HSM were invited to weekly meetings with the New Ways of Working Project Team and other pilot departments. In these meetings, opportunities and challenges were discussed between the departments which helped those involved come to a solution.
At HSM, it was agreed that using the New Ways of Working briefing slides provided an excellent outline of how decisions will be made. For instance, the slides helpfully clarified that the overarching priority is the fulfilment of the University’s mission. This provided a useful context within which decisions would be made. The New Ways of Working documentation also helped managers to shape conversations with their teams.
For some of the Museum’s smaller teams, the amount of time needed to conduct the conversations was less than suggested. However, managers of larger teams need to be aware that this process can take time and they will need to plan.
What has gone well
There has been a positive approach to the New Ways of Working Project within HSM. Adopting a flexible approach has supported colleagues to achieve a better balance between work life and home life. It has also demonstrated that the employer trusts and respects its employees to use their time working from home constructively and productively. This has helped to build staff morale. New Ways of Working has also enabled HSM to employ senior colleagues of a calibre that we simply wouldn't have attracted had it meant they needed to relocate. For a small museum like HSM this is a huge advantage.
One of the main challenges we faced as a department was ensuring the Museum was correctly and safely staffed at all times. This meant the Museum had to ensure there was a keyholder and a trained first-aider on site whilst the Museum was open to staff. A rota was devised between the two Operations Managers to ensure support with these key duties throughout the week days. HSM doesn’t have reception or security staffing, so these roles are absorbed into everyday working at the Museum.
As a small museum with limited resources, we often need to call on colleagues from across our teams to help with activities that don’t necessarily fall within their usual remit. This could become more challenging with fewer colleagues on site and could lead to some colleagues bearing the brunt of these extra ad hoc duties. This is an important consideration when considering staffing requirements.
Conducting online meetings (via Teams, Zoom or hybrid) has had its challenges. For instance, if there are several people in one relatively small office attending different Teams meetings, it is difficult to concentrate. HSM’s office spaces are small and compact due to the age of the building which causes issues when sharing these spaces. Also, for those joining a hybrid meeting digitally, the experience can be compromised and as such cannot be described as a consistently equal and inclusive experience. In a building like HSM, it is particularly difficult to hold larger meetings as hybrid. The Museum doesn’t have adequate hybrid equipment or the correct spaces to support this. We have large spaces with high ceilings which are acoustically challenging for both in-person and digital attendees.
HSM will continue to monitor the situation regarding New Ways of Working, listening to new opportunities and testing out new technologies to help support ‘hybrid working’ at home and in the office. As new staff are recruited, working arrangements will be discussed in more detail to cater for hybrid working allowing flexibility for staff.
Quotes from staff
‘Personally, I would say that being able to work from home has enabled me to change my working life for the better and has greatly improved the sense of well-being. I would not consider future employment that couldn't offer a flexible approach to working.’
‘In a building like the History of Science Museum which is challenging to work in for numerous reasons - inadequate office environment (too hot, too cold, too few desks for the number of staff, inaccessible, a long way from toilet facilities and kitchen facilities and so many stairs) - the opportunity to work from home is greatly appreciated because for many it is much more comfortable and convenient.’
Administration and Finance Manager
The Faculty of English is part of the Humanities Division. It is one of the largest faculties in the Division, with 110 academic and research staff, 853 undergraduate students, 92 taught postgraduates and 140 postgraduate research students. The Faculty has a relatively small administrative team for its size (14 members of staff), and while the pandemic demonstrated that much of the team’s work could be carried out remotely, as the lockdown eased there was an increasing need for in-person support for academics and students teaching and working on-site.
We began by consulting with academics via the Faculty’s Planning, Personnel and Resources Committee and Faculty Board in Trinity Term 2021. It was agreed that, particularly during term time, it was important to ensure that there was sufficient on-site support for graduate students and early career researchers to feel comfortable working in the building, and that at least one and possibly two members of key teams such as the Faculty Office (responsible for general administration and teaching support) would need to be on site every day during term.
Following this, the Head of Administration and Finance (HAF) held discussions first with the senior members of the admin team, and then in a full team meeting where the team considered the advantages and disadvantages of remote working and agreed a set of parameters for implementing New Ways of Working:
There should be a core day each week when all staff were on-site, to facilitate communication (this was dropped in Hilary term due to concerns about Omicron and a desire to minimise close contact, and has not yet been re-established).
The majority of staff could choose to work from home for up to two days per week. During term, the Faculty Office staff would only be able to work from home for one day per week, due to the high level of in-person support provided by the office team.
Staff should normally choose a regular pattern of in-office and remote working, and update a shared Outlook calendar with the days they would be working from home. Some flexibility might be needed to cover sick leave and other absences; it was also recognised that staff might occasionally need to change their working pattern or work from home on an ad hoc basis to accommodate personal commitments or work requirements.
All staff would continue to have an assigned desk in the office and there would be no move to hotdesking.
Individual working arrangements were agreed between team members, their line managers and the HAF, and the new working arrangements were implemented from the start of Michaelmas term. Initially this was for a trial basis of three months; as no serious problems arose during this period, it was agreed that the arrangement should continue indefinitely.
What has gone well
So far, we have been able to agree parameters and individual working arrangements largely by consensus.
Staff have been happy to be able to work in ways which suit them. For many staff, reduced commutes have been a significant benefit.
Normalising remote working has been particularly beneficial in supporting staff with disabilities and long-term health conditions to balance work with managing their health. Because all members of the team are now set up to work remotely it is easy for staff with fluctuating health conditions to work from home at short notice, while making hybrid working available to everyone means that individual accommodations are no longer so visible to other members of the team.
Using MS Teams has enabled the team to keep in touch even when not everyone is on site.
Because we are a small team, covering absences is always difficult and hybrid working has exacerbated this, as by the time we are aware a member of the team is going to be off it’s frequently too late to ask someone who is due to work from home to come in instead. This has led to perceptions of unfairness among staff who have been called upon to help out with supporting on-site activities outside their normal areas of responsibility and a perceived lack of service among academics and students.
Managers have commented that it’s sometimes harder to identify where additional support is needed when they aren’t working alongside their teams on a daily basis.
We expect to continue with hybrid working for the admin team, but are looking at ways to improve the robustness of the on-site service we provide to academics and students. We are reviewing the IT requirements for the team in the light of New Ways of Working and considering how we could make use of desk-sharing arrangements to address space issues while still ensuring that staff have a permanent base to work in the office and are located with the colleagues they work most closely with. This feeds into our preparations for moving to the Schwarzman Institute in a few years’ time and considering how we will use the space there. Finally, we are considering whether it is possible to offer more flexibility in matters other than work location, for instance around working hours.
Head of Administration and Finance
The Nuffield Department of Women's & Reproductive Health (NDWRH) is in the Medical Sciences Division and has approximately 120 staff including clinicians, and 50 postgraduate research students. The department is spread across multiple sites, including embedded space in the John Radcliffe Hospital, the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, the Big Data Institute, the Institute of Reproductive Sciences, Hayes House, and Begbroke Science Park.
Many staff and students in the department need to spend the majority of their time on site, due to either working in the departmental wet labs or in clinical areas. Most of these people returned to on-site working in October 2021.
In March and April 2021, the Administration Team undertook a ‘light touch’ approach to considering New Ways of Working.
The Administration Team rolled out a team agreement that everyone would, as a general rule, work on-site for at least two days per week from October 2021, but this would be kept under review each term to ensure that this was meeting departmental needs. The team mapped out preferences for days in the office so that there was some admin presence on-site every day, whilst keeping to restrictions on office space due to social distancing. They also tried to implement patterns so that the same people were not always in on the same days, enabling as much crossover between different people being on site as possible.
Overall, these arrangements have remained flexible, responding to changing needs coming from both individuals and the department. For example, the team needed to change some days around once in-person departmental seminars resumed earlier in 2022 to ensure that appropriate support was in place.
For other professional staff based within research groups, the HR Manager spoke to PIs to ensure that they understood the provisions around the NWW framework as it applied to their own staff, and supported them with putting individual arrangements in place as suited the needs of the team and the individual, usually depending on whether they were lab-based or office-based.
What went well
For the most part, NDWRH have been able to accommodate needs within the Administration Team to enable staff to get the benefits of both home and office working, and staff have been willing to be flexible to help this happen. Prior to the pandemic, the team had an existing culture that allowed a good deal of flexibility in working patterns and location, although this was often on an ad hoc rather than a regular basis. This, however, provided a good foundation to build on for the more formal ‘New Ways of Working’ scheme. Having the framework and broader culture of flexibility within the team was also really helpful in enabling particular provisions to be put in place when individuals needed it, for example in the case of temporary full-time remote working due to health issues, with minimal impact on the rest of the team.
One of the key challenges has been working in hospital-embedded space where NHS Trust guidelines must be followed. In the context of returning to on-site working, social distancing requirements were maintained at 2m distancing until April 2022, when they were dropped to 1m. These restrictions have largely dictated what can be offered to staff and students in terms of where they are able to work. Within the Administration Team, for example, it was necessary to maintain a hybrid arrangement as it was not possible to use the offices at full capacity until April 2022. This involved careful planning around work locations to ensure departmental needs could be met, but also had a knock-on effect whenever one person needed to change the days they were in the office to ensure office capacities were not exceeded.
With two new members of the team starting in early 2022, including a new apprentice, arrangements had to be reviewed again to ensure that these staff members were integrated into the team and had the support they needed for settling into their roles. It has been much easier now the admin team offices can be used at full capacity, which means that, for example, all members of the HR team are in together one day a week.
During the lockdown, it was particularly difficult for clinical academics who remained working on-site throughout, and the slowness with which we have been able to bring people back has been understandably frustrating.
Over summer 2022, the Department will be formulating an overarching strategy for bringing people back together. As part of this, the strategy will look at ways of working which balance the advantages of some home working with the general keenness for having more people back on-site for in-person interaction, as well as navigating the hospital restrictions that are still in place. The Department are keen to set times and days when everyone is on site, but limitations on space may mean that this is not possible.
Central support is available to HAFs and implementation leads via email@example.com
- NWW Framework - summary (PDF)
- Downloadable version of full NWW Framework and guidance (PDF)
- Flowchart showing the step-by-step process (PDF)
- Workshop guidance and materials:
- Checklist for managers to use when holding individual meetings (DOC)
- Equality Impact Assessment
- Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)
- Email from senior management to line managers introducing NWW
- Email from senior management to line managers asking them to start workshop stage with their teams
- Email from senior management to line managers asking them to start individual meetings with their team
- Email from line manager to employee who cannot work remotely at all
- Confirmation of change form to record agreed changes to place of work patterns (DOC)
- Template letter to reject a place of work change application (DOC)
Further guidance and resources
The step-by-step guide provides an overview of the process you should follow to familiarise yourself with the New Ways of Working Framework, and any local parameters within your area of work. It also encourages you to discuss with your team as a whole the sort of culture and working practices you want to build, before you discuss individual preferences with your team members.
This guidance builds on that briefer overview, giving you more detailed advice on what issues you should think through when preparing for those conversations, talking to your team members, and making decisions afterwards.
If members of your team simply wish to return to their pre-pandemic contracted working pattern this should be facilitated wherever possible. However, in light of the changed circumstances and the current exercise, you will need to review working practices across the team, and this may mean reviewing even well-established arrangements. You should include everyone in the team in your discussions, even if they don’t want to change their current working arrangements.
You should include everyone in the team in your discussions, even if they don’t want to change their current working arrangements, are on sickness or family leave or furlough, or you judge that there is no or little opportunity for flexibility in their role.
1. Departmental and team objectives
Operational needs will be paramount, and you will need to consider the impact of any proposed changes on departmental and team objectives. During the pandemic, some duties have been carried out in a way that is ‘good enough’. In future, all professional services staff must work in a way that maximises the service levels provided in support of the academic mission of the University. There may also be local parameters set by the Head of Department and guidance on how to think through working practices is available. Don’t forget that happy and healthy employees are generally more productive, and that supporting individuals and maximising performance are not necessarily incompatible.
2. Team culture
The success of a team depends on its culture – day-to-day working habits, social and work interactions, norms and approaches – and this will be impacted by how much time members of the team spend together face-to-face or on-line, and how they communicate. Although individual arrangements may differ, you should be mindful of the need to build and maintain the team’s preferred culture. It is recommended that you discuss this in a team meeting early on in this process: there is guidance on how to do that.
3. Supporting work / life balance
Within these parameters, the University wishes to maximise the flexibility available to staff to manage their time and place of work to best balance with other aspects of their lives. This will promote engagement, satisfaction and effectiveness, and is a way in which the University wishes to support the wellbeing of its staff.
You may need to consider new ideas about how to manage the team’s time and its work (using trial periods where appropriate to try new things). Equally, it may be that you can't accommodate everyone and have to make choices. You may need to ask members of your team to compromise and/or take turns at different patterns of work. Everyone involved needs to be open to new ideas, and as flexible as they can.
5. Supporting individual needs
Team leaders must be mindful of the needs of individuals in their teams, particularly those that relate to a disability or caring responsibilities; these needs may need to take precedence over the preferences of other team members. The University has a legal obligation to put in place reasonable adjustments to support disabled staff and it is not unlawful to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person.
6. Balancing short and longer-term impacts
Decisions made now about working arrangements may seem attractive in terms of supporting work / life balance but have longer-term impacts on career development, eg through the erosion of social capital. Team leaders should encourage staff to think holistically about their needs and aspirations and how these are best supported.
Where a member of staff who previously worked wholly, or largely, on-site now requests to work from home on a regular or majority basis under the NWW definitions of ‘occasional / regular / primarily remote working’ team leaders should consider the following:
Departmental and team objectives, including the needs of ‘customers’
- How does this post contribute to departmental and team objectives? How does it support the academic mission?
- Does the post provide a service to students, colleagues or other ‘customers’? Can that service be provided as effectively remotely? Will those customers be working remotely and will that effect the way the postholder communicates with them?
- What is the optimum way of working to ensure the team meets those objectives and provides a high level of service in support of the academic mission?
- Could additional equipment be provided to enable the individual to work remotely more effectively?
Some of our ways of working during the pandemic were ‘good enough’ – for the future we must return to providing the best level of service possible for all those who rely on our support. In many instances, this can be maintained while individuals, or whole teams, spend part of their time working remotely; in others it will mean a presence on-site.
The needs of colleagues
- How will the individual’s proposed working pattern impact on others? For example, if they provide support (eg coaching, expert advice, supervision) to staff who will be working on-site, how effectively can this support be provided remotely?
- What impact will the proposed working pattern have on the culture of the team? How will team-working / effective work relationships be maintained?
- How do you intend to work yourself? How will the proposed working pattern impact on your ability to manage the individual, and to ensure their welfare?
- Are there facilities in place to hold team meetings with some staff working remotely and some on-site? Or will team meetings be held on-line?
- How will you cover absences such as holiday, sickness etc? If you agree that some staff can work remotely will you need them to work on-site to cover absences?
In many teams, one of the greatest challenges in managing an increased level of remote-working will be balancing the needs and preferences of all the different individuals, especially where some already have established working patterns including an element of remote working. Where existing arrangements are contractual, they will normally only be changed by agreement with the individual. Other arrangements should be reviewed if that will assist in balancing needs across the team. Seek advice from your HR contact if you wish to change an existing arrangement.
There is no single way to ensure that arrangements are ‘fair’ for all. Some team members will need to compromise. It may be difficult to ‘take turns’, particularly if people need to buy season tickets or make other permanent arrangements around their working pattern, but this may be an option. However, do ensure that you give all requests equal consideration and that decision-making is based on fact, rather assumptions or implicit bias.
Any needs relating to a disability should take precedence over the preferences of other team members and, where possible, requests to facilitate caring responsibilities towards a dependent family member should be prioritised.
The needs of the individual
We have demonstrated during the pandemic that there are advantages to working remotely, in terms of work / life balance and environmental sustainability. For some staff, working remotely has contributed to greater wellbeing. As an employer, we would wish to celebrate and support that. For these staff, we would wish to enable continued remote working, where that can be balanced with operational requirements and the needs of the team.
Others have found remote working to be a less positive experience, and they may wish to return to on-site working, when that can be safely achieved.
In either case, the views of the individual staff member will be an important factor in determining future working arrangements, and the role of the team leader is to ensure that the staff member has thought through short- and long-term consequences of their request. Factors to consider include:
- If staff were working remotely during the pandemic, how did they cope with this? Were they effective at home? (Discount any issues which were outside their control, such as the need to home-school.)
- Does the individual have any needs that will take precedence over other factors?
- Would remote working constitute a reasonable adjustment for them?
- Will remote working support their caring responsibilities for dependent family members (NB no one should supervise small children while working)?
- Would continued remote working support the wellbeing of the individual? Do not make assumptions: staff who experienced mental health challenges associated with isolation during the pandemic may not experience the same issues when they can return to a normal pattern of social activities and in-person support outside the workplace. The individual is best placed to assess this.
- Is the individual new to the team or University? Consider whether working regularly on-site during the probation period may be advisable so that there is support available and the individual has a chance to meet new colleagues in person.
- Will working from home have any impact on their short- or long-term development?
- If the individual wants to work from home how suitable is their home environment for this? Do they have a dedicated space? If they work with sensitive information can they work without being overlooked/overheard?
- Do they need special equipment to work remotely, or maximise their effectiveness? Can this be provided? Guidance on this can be found in the ‘enablers’ theme.
If you are considering multiple requests within one team, it will be important to consider how the on-site element of the roles will be managed:
- Will you need all staff to come into the workplace on the same day each week/fortnight?
- How does that fit with part-time working patterns?
- What about the availability of suitable workspace in the office?
The balancing exercise
There is no magic formula to balancing the needs of the department, team and individual. Nor can an order of priorities be given. All of these factors are important. Remember to seek advice if you need it, from your line manager or your HR contact, and to use trial periods where you are not sure if an arrangement will work.
Delivering the team’s objectives to a high standard is of primary importance, as is supporting colleagues who have needs relating to a disability. Facilitating caring responsibilities, and ensuring fairness across the team (as far as job roles and responsibilities, and the needs of others allow) are also important guiding principles.
Fully remote working/working overseas
The New Ways of Working project does not address issues of staff wishing to work completely remotely. If this issue is raised, staff can submit a formal flexible working request through the normal channels.
Working overseas involves a separate authorisation process since amongst other issues there are legal, tax, and social security issues which need to be explored.
Defining business and operational needs
Place of work
- Workshop guidance and materials for facilitating team discussions
- Working from outside of the UK
Health, safety and wellbeing
- IT security training
- Protect my computer
- Recommended AV equipment
- Digital skills website
- IT help site
- Guidance on hybrid committee meetings
- University miscellaneous expenses guide
- HMRC guide to tax relief on work expenses
- University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy
- Green Impact
Working at our best
- Organisational Development Adviser
- New Managers’ Toolkit guides
- Creating an Inclusive Workplace
- Managing remote workers
- Having difficult conversations
- People Managers’ MS Teams group
- Workshop to develop skills managing dispersed teams
- The Leadership Framework
- Courses and learning resources
- Focus toolkit (problem solving and continuous improvement)
- People and Organisational Development