Home-working and wellbeing guidance for staff

These pages offer guidance on everything from setting up your home office and IT, to managing your physical and mental health and keeping your career development on track during the pandemic.

If you have suggestions for improving this guide please email hr-support@admin.ox.ac.uk

IT & physical environment

Whilst many of us are working from home, we need to try to make our new work environment as comfortable and effective as possible.  The following resources may help you

IT guidance for home working

IT Services have collated lots of remote working resources into a COVID-19 specific webpage -  Adjusting to working from home.

Tools include:

The Information Security team have also published guidance on using Zoom.

As well as the resources listed above guidance for employees on working from home, including IT guidance, can be found on the Contingency planning Sharepoint site.

Setting up a home office

  • We recognise that many people do not have a separate home office and that you may have to share your workspace with other family members.  However, try to set up a workspace that is as free as you can make it from household distractions.
  • If you have a home PC set up a new, password protected, work account in Windows and follow the IT Services advice for setting up work remotely
  • Laptops have notoriously bad ergonomics, so add a keyboard and mouse if possible.  A larger screen will also help you.  Your local IT team may be able to help by allowing you to take home a larger screen – get in touch with them to see what local rules apply.  
  • Home tables and chairs are often not best suited for home working, your arms should be angled slightly downwards towards your keyboard not upwards. Try raising your chair if possible and/or using cushions.  If your screen isn't height-adjustable, put books under it to raise it to eye-level.  Have a look at the Display Screen Homeworking Self-assessment worksheet to help you set up your working area well.
  • Take a look at the Occupational Health Service guidance on How to Exercise at home which gives simple stretching exercises you can do through the day
  • Save, save, save your work!  If you don't have remote access to your network drive through the VPN, try using the cloud based OneDrive for back-ups.
  • If you are unable to use the calls functionality in MS Teams or similar software, itemised phone costs may be claimed through expenses. Other costs associated with homeworking (eg broadband, utility bills, etc) may not be claimed.  You may be able to claim tax relief for these costs, details can be found on the HMRC website. Claims can be made retrospectively, and should ideally be made only once per tax year.

Effective homeworking

 

The lockdown in March 2020 required us all to adapt very quickly to new ways of working, and to combine work and home life. As working from home is likely to be with some staff for some time to come, here are some ideas that might help you to work effectively and try to maintain a balance.

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    • Get up and dressed! Changing into work clothes will help you mentally switch to productive work mode. It will also help distinguish between ‘home working’ and ‘home life’.
    • Agree your hours and any flexibility you require (for example to manage caring responsibilities) with your line manager and let your colleagues know when you are working. Share calendars with each other so that everyone in the team knows when you are, and are not, available.
    • Set a schedule each day with start and finish times. Setting parameters for when to work and when to “call it a day” will help you maintain work-life balance.
    • Remember that many colleagues are working flexible hours and different working patterns. Stick to the hours that you have agreed and don’t feel pressured to respond to emails at other times. If you receive work emails on your mobile phone, switch off notifications out of hours.
    • If you are working outside of normal office hours, make it clear that you don’t expect replies from others at these times by including an email footer such as “I am not currently working standard office hours. Please don’t feel you should look at or reply to my emails outside of your own normal working hours.” 
    • Tidy your work space at the end of the day. Put your laptop and any paperwork away to discourage you from returning to your workstation later in the evening when your working day has finished.
    • Find ways that work for you to switch off at the end of your working day.
    • Agree realistic working patterns with your line manager, based on your own personal circumstances.  Don’t feel under pressure to work late into the night to make up time.
    • If you are balancing caring responsibilities and/or sharing your work space with other household members, involve them in decisions. Don’t forget to plan, and take, breaks. For example, agree each morning when you will break for lunch and maybe take a coffee or tea break with members of your household – if can help everyone if there are regular points in the day when you are ‘available’.
    • Accept that things will not always go to plan, for example young children may need your attention during a meeting. Don’t feel bad about this – we are all getting used to family members and pets ‘crashing’ Teams meetings, and there will be times when you need to put your family first.
    • Don’t forget you need to use your annual leave entitlement before the end of the holiday year so you could book leave to help balance work and family demands. The option of requesting a temporary or permanent flexible working arrangement to fit your working hours around your family’s needs is also always available.
    • As lockdown restrictions vary, if childcare is an issue for you, the University works in partnership with a number of childcare providers. Please check the Childcare Services' website for updates.
    • Recognise and accept that you will experience factors that impact on your productivity (such as managing childcare, sleep difficulties, health issues and IT problems). Be kind to yourself – you are doing the best you can.
    • While some people find that home working helps them to concentrate on work tasks, others find it more difficult to maintain focus without other people around them. If you fall into the latter category, do ask others for advice and support and think about what would best support you, for example:
      • Write a daily ‘to do’ list. Set out a list of realistic, achievable tasks to keep you focused, but accept that during these extraordinary times, unpredictable issues will arise that mean you need to switch tack.
      • Request regular 1-2-1s with your line manager; discuss work priorities and agree realistic milestones to keep you on track.
    • If your workload is unmanageable, let your line manager know and ask for support to prioritise tasks..
    • POD have a range of resources that you might find helpful to organise your work and adjust to the demands of working from home – see particularly the resources under ‘Personal Organisation’ and ‘Self-Awareness’.

       

    • If you are managing a team, there is guidance to help you.  A  guid for managers on homeworking during the COVID-19 pandemic which is available to download from the right hand side of this page or from the HR Support Working from Home pages.  POD also have dedicated resources on remote working
    • Be kind and patient with each other: recognise that everyone’s home circumstances are different and that we are all dealing with our own issues and concerns, such as underlying health conditions, anxiety, caring for vulnerable family members, childcare or working in uncomfortable surroundings.
    • As a team, agree ‘core hours’ when everyone will be available for meetings and to respond to emails. Share your working patterns with each other and be clear about boundaries and expectations, for example that team members should not feel under pressure to respond to emails outside of their working hours.
    • Talk about individual preferences for keeping in touch, including the frequency with which you want to connect with each other, and try to reach a compromise which suits everyone, recognising that some members of the team may want more regular interaction than others.
    • Discuss any concerns that staff may have about each other’s wellbeing and ways to mitigate this. Some teams are asking everyone to ‘check in’ with a friendly message on a Teams chat channel every morning when they’re working to confirm they’re OK.
    • Discuss how you will use Team Chat (messaging) to communicate with each other. Consider establishing an etiquette / rule about how direct Chat conversations will work within the team, for example, that there is no obligation to respond immediately.
    • Make time for more informal communications. Ask what people are working on and share what you are doing. Being physically separated means you miss the ‘water-cooler moments’ so this is a good way to stay connected and keep informed.
    • Make time for non-work chats as you would in the workplace, for example some teams are using video calling for a coffee and a chat. See the section below for more ideas about using Microsoft Teams to support social interactions.
    • Make telephone or video calls, where practicable, instead of sending an email - though be aware of colleagues’ individual circumstances. Calls may be difficult for people who are sharing a home workspace with a member of their household, whereas other colleagues live alone and may particularly appreciate this sort of interaction with colleagues.
    • Not being in the same room means you don’t have extra information from body language or tone to get the sense of what people are thinking or feeling. Try not to jump to negative assumptions, and ask questions to clarify. 
    • IT Services have produced advice on how to run remote meetings
    • Many of us are experiencing a high volume of remote meetings currently and find online meetings particularly tiring. If you are organising a meeting consider:
      • Beginning at ten minutes past the hour to allow people to move around, get a drink, etc. between calls.
      • Trying not to arrange meetings over lunchtime (particularly bearing in mind that some colleagues may be sharing their work space with other household members).
      • Avoiding meetings longer than 90 minutes wherever possible. Where longer meetings are necessary, build in breaks. If there is a lot of business to discuss consider circulating information well in advance of the meeting so that discussion is well-informed and focussed.
    • Have a Chair – ask everyone else to mute to avoid background noise, and if someone wants to speak  ask them to ‘raise their hand’, or use the Chat function in Teams to deal with questions or incidental issues.
    • To help keep discussions targeted, and to make meetings more accessible for staff with some disabilities:
      • Circulate a clear agenda with specific goals in advance of the meeting.
      • Send papers in good time and have a protocol of expecting that everyone will have read them.
    • If bandwidth allows, have people turn their videos on - it makes it more personal and keeps everyone engaged.

    Try using Microsoft Teams to translate office social activities to an on-line environment. Sustaining a sense of normality and camaraderie might require unconventional activities. IT Services’ Guide to Departments recommends that every unit (department, college, other) sets up an ‘All Staff’ Team which they can populate, create ‘channels’, and run the social activities below (as well as formal activities).

    • Celebrate birthdays, give public praise for goals reached and projects completed
    • Add a separate ‘social’ channel on Teams for non-work chat within the immediate work team, where you might share pictures, jokes, anything of a light-hearted nature. It is helpful to keep morale up, whilst keeping work going.
    • All-staff social Teams channel:  this is aimed at encouraging social interactions across departments rather than for departmental announcements.  It's an opportunity to ‘meet’ together while we are away from the office and maybe take part in some wider social activities. While there might be no moderator staff are expected to behave with the usual etiquette.  
    • Team world news.  Pandemics are scary: some people will want to deal with this by discussing it (perhaps particularly those living alone) and some people will find it a worrying distraction from work. You could have a separate channel for this discussion to make it optional

    The Centre for Teaching and Learning have put together ideas and guidance for teaching and learning remotely.

    CTL has web guidance on how your usual face-to-face teaching can be replicated or adapted to working remotely, using a range of technologies available at Oxford.

    Working from home has quickly become 'the new normal' and so too have online events. To help colleagues, the Events Office has highlighted some of the resources available for hosting virtual conferences. View the toolkit on the communications hub. 

    Wellbeing

     

    COVID-19 has disrupted all of our work and personal lives and some of us will feel the need for some additional support.  We've signposted some sources of help below and hope you will find something here if you are need of support.  If you have other suggestions for resources you think we should add, please get in touch.

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    • As is the case when you are in the office, try not to remain seated at your computer for long periods of time. Take regular breaks and stand up and move around every hour, if only for a few minutes. Occupational Health have some easy to follow exercises for desk-based workers.
    • Take breaks and move away from your work area, if possible.
    • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals and drink plenty of water.
    • Try to get outside in your lunch break or before or after work while following guidance on social distancing.

    Accept that your family need you and you may have to prioritise them over work, many of us will be in the same boat.

    • Take your annual leave as you had planned even if you can’t go away, and use the time for family activities closer to home
    • Make use of the Work+Family Space (previously known as My Family Care)  for tips and advice on combining work with children and other dependants.  Registration is free for employees: you’ll just need your SSO and your employee number (from your payslip or HR Self Service NB this is different to your University card number). The Work+Family Space hosts many dedicated resources to help you manage this unique work-life challenge including webinars, downloadable guides and a phoneline where you can speak to an expert on the family issue that is concerning you.

    Other useful resources:

    • HomeLearningUK is a curated resource being led by educators who have come together to offer time and expertise to support colleagues, parents and students in the UK and beyond
    • Young minds is an excellent resource to support the mental health of young people and has produced a set of resources to help young people manage their mental health during the pandemic.

    This is a difficult period for all of us, and particularly for colleagues with existing mental ill-health: the following sources of support may help protect your mental health. The Occupational Health Service’s mental health web pages signpost a wide range of resources and sources of support

    Keeping physically active is vital to your wellbeing, Check out the Occupational Health Service resources page for lots of ideas about how to get or keep active whilst our activities are limited.

     

    There’s lots of fascinating and stimulating virtual theatre, music, museum visitors or other activities to be found online. Here are some suggested virtual activities to explore around the University:

    • Keeping the University Reading – digital resources from the Bodleian Libraries
    • Curious Minds - compiled by academics and staff of Oxford Continuing Education, these freely available educational resources  allow you to visit the world’s museums, libraries, language centres and more from your own home.  
    • Join others in the Ashmolean Museum's #isolationcreations community campaign which is encouraging creative responses to one object from the collection each day.

    Find out about volunteering opportunities in Oxfordshire (staff who are furloughed are encouraged to look for volunteering opportunities).

    • There has been much concern about the potential increase in domestic violence during this period of isolation. Find out about sources of support.   
    • If  a member of your team discloses domestic abuse, particularly in the context of COVID-19, you can seek advice from the new Everybody's business helpline
    • Mercer, a global consultancy with whom the University has occasionally engaged with on reward and benefits, have compiled some resources to help with financial matters during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is generic guidance and not specifically for University employees but may offer useful practical advice.  Mercer will be adding to the content in the coming weeks.
    • A COVID-19 Staff hardship fund has been set up.  Read more about the fund.
    Career development
    Whilst personal and career development opportunities might look different during the period that many staff are working remotely, there are still development activities you can engage with. Staff who have been furloughed might be particularly interested in the training and development opportunities and should discuss these with their line managers.

    Research Staff 

    • Research Services have put together a Webpage for externally-funded research staff which answers the most pressing questions asked by research staff with respect to funding in the current situation.
    • The Careers Service are continuing in a virtual capacity – book an appointment to talk through any aspect of your career development via Career Connect; and look out for our online Researcher-specific support.
    • Keep connected with other researchers through Oxford Research Staff Society
    • The Thriving Researcher is a programme of meet-ups on line, including social coffee mornings and sessions for people who want to start to think about the impact of COVID-19 on their research plans. It is free and open to all research staff at all universities. 
    • Ask colleagues if they might like to join you in writing partnerships or virtual boot camps

    Personal development

    • If the nature of your job means it’s hard to work from home or you have less work than usual, use the opportunity while you can to develop your skills. Staff who are on furlough are allowed to take up personal development opportunities. Talk to your line manager about what skills development would be good to do.
    • There are lots of online courses available on the People and Organisational Development website as well as a personal development toolkit
    • Molly is the IT Learning Centre's collection of online courses and resources and includes the University's subscription to LinkedIn Learning and the IT Learning Portfolio
    • The Oxford Department for Continuing Education are offering freely available educational resources through Curious Minds

    Job opportunities

    • if you are interested in changing your jobs you may be interested to explore the new internal jobs board.   ‘Internal Only’ vacancies are now only visible to employees but in order to see them you need to log into the VPN and then access them through HR Self-Service
    • If you are an employee with a fixed term contract which is nearing its end you may be interested to find out more about the Priority Candidate Support Scheme