Managers guidance during coronavirus

This page is currently being reviewed and will be updated in due course

Everyone has experienced the pandemic differently. There are a whole range of feelings amongst colleagues who have been home-working for over 18 months about coming back to work on campus (some of whom will be working on campus for the first time).

As a manager, you may have team members who cannot wait to return and others who are very anxious and would prefer to work solely from home. Talking to your team members to find out what their concerns may provide you the opportunity to share information about steps the University is taking to keep everyone safe on campus.

You may find the following Skills Booster courses (available through Moodle) beneficial to expand or refresh your knowledge and skills in certain key areas:

In addition, the introduction of hybrid working (and in some areas, agile working), may also present some challenges for managers with creating a working pattern across a team or teams that the majority of staff are happy with.

Here are some resources and training sessions that you might find useful:

From time to time, staff may again be concerned and have worries about how to balance their work and home life, particularly if they have caring responsibilities. Guidance for staff with caring responsibilities has been updated - and many staff may address their concerns to you in the first instance.

Please refer to the guidance below, about managing your team and expectations during this time.

Remember that the University offers a wide range of support for staff wellbeing.

Finally, be realistic and kind to yourself.

Having discussions with your staff

As a reminder, the following information has been shared with colleagues about returning to campus and hybrid working:

Phased return of staff

Staff will return in the following phases. Dates remain provisional and will be contingent on virus prevalence.

PHASE 1 - may return from 1 September: Staff who are required to deliver teaching, research and in-person services. If there is any uncertainty as to whether your role is included in phase 1, please confirm this with your Dean or Director.

PHASE 2 - may return from 27 September: Staff not in phase 1 who do not have appropriate workspace at home or need to return for reasons of health and wellbeing (needs to be agreed with line manager and subject to risk assessments). Professional services staff not in student facing roles and therefore not needed on campus but who have their own, single occupancy offices will be able to return to these if they are not able to work from home. For staff in shared office spaces, we will be asking you to work in a specific, risk assessed and approved area, rather than your usual office space. Further information on this will be provided in the next few weeks.

PHASE 3 - likely to return from 1 November: Professional services staff who are not in student facing roles are likely to return, subject to virus prevalence and any national or local guidance in place at the time. Note, building work to install new Agile work spaces is likely to take place in Buckley building on Headington campus during November - staff based in that building will be kept informed of arrangements.

Most professional services staff will be in phase 3 unless they are in a student facing role. Staff who feel they should be in phase 2 must discuss and agree this with their line manager.

We will still be asking staff across all phase groups to consider returning to campus in a hybrid way, if they can, when the time comes. However this must still be in agreement with their line manager and must fit with business need.

What will hybrid working look like?

If you are a professional services member of staff in a non-student facing role, you may wish to consider dividing your working time between the office and another location that suits you, such as your home, for the whole of Semester 1. As a guideline, you may wish to aim for two days a week on campus. However, the way you choose to divide your time should be in agreement with your line manager/business area (some colleagues may have already agreed arrangements and should continue with those) and must fit with business need. Please remember that there may be occasions when you may be asked to flex your arrangements to suit business needs, as part of ongoing discussions within teams.

If you are a professional services member of staff in a student-facing role, your working arrangements will reflect how that service is being delivered from September. This will be confirmed by your manager/business area (this may have already been agreed in some cases - please continue with those arrangements).

If you are in a teaching role or are a researcher, you will continue to work on campus as planned.

We recognise that this type of arrangement may not suit all staff and may not be possible in all cases - again, we encourage you to discuss your circumstances with your manager.

Line managers who require support with managing hybrid working discussions should contact their HR Link.

Looking after your wellbeing as well as your team

There are many issues to be mindful of during this time, but it is also important to care for your staff and their wellbeing.

As a manager, you have a key role to play. You may be at a distance from your team and this can make it more difficult to identify whether or not an employee is struggling. Despite this, we have a duty of care and your team may look to you to help them. For instance, recognising signs of pressure and stress, talking to them about how you can help, and making them aware of support available to them, including the Employee Assistance Programme and Occupational Health services, so that support is maintained wherever staff are located. Remember it is not always easy for individuals to open up and be honest about their feelings, so being attune, listening and offering help will go a long way.

Coronavirus has highlighted the important need to support employees with their mental health. Many may be experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety, isolation and/or loneliness as well as concerns for their physical health and that of their families and friends. For those juggling work with child/elder care commitments, the added pressure can feel overwhelming.

Look after yourself first

It is always critical to prioritise your own health and safety and wellbeing first so that you are better equipped to help others. This includes setting clear boundaries for your own circumstances and making it clear when you are available via your Google Calendar or similar. This will provide a positive example for people in your team. Be open to sharing ways in which you are looking after your own wellbeing and your strategies for coping in your team meetings etc.

Be kind

In some cases, these extraordinary circumstances are prompting many people to question what really matters in life. Most are realising that relationships, kindness, compassion and care are more important than to-do lists. We are all facing our own challenges, so listen to your team about what theirs are. Some may need more support than others, but be careful that your support is not seen as micromanaging.  

  • Be considerate and realistic when setting expectations.
  • Consider flexibility for staff with caring responsibilities.
  • Consider any requests for adjustments in duties, support needs etc.
  • Some staff are likely to be feeling very anxious and may be feeling lonely, even though they may or may not be living alone.
  • Staff may suffer from being ill, or friends and family being ill, whether Covid related or not, and/or the loss of a loved one.
  • Encourage teams to support each other, and provide informal settings to meet eg, virtual lunch together, or organise a team quiz or similar. Humour can also be a great antidote to stress and anxiety.
  • Encourage your team to connect socially, e.g. for coffee breaks, either within the team or with colleagues in the wider Brookes community.
  • Remind staff to have regular breaks from the screen and encourage them to move regularly - it doesn’t have to be formal exercise. Dancing to a favourite track or doing some gardening are all beneficial. 

Facilitated conversation to support staff working remotely

If you would like to have a facilitated conversation with your remote working team to work out the best ways of supporting their wellbeing and motivation throughout the pandemic, please contact your HR link team.

Brookes Staff 1:1 Connect scheme

The 1:1 Connect scheme (formerly known as Brookes Buddies) is available to any member of staff, at any level, who may be feeling isolated and wishes to connect with a colleague for an informal chat and coffee.

Visit the Brookes Staff Connect Google site for more information on 1:1 Connect and staff chatrooms.

Wellbeing resources

The University offers a wide range of support for staff wellbeing for you and all members of staff.

Communicate and then communicate some more

Managers are strongly encouraged to make time for regular contact with their staff and to remember that for many this is a stressful time. Be mindful of your own feelings and try not to add to individual concerns and worries: however, make sure you look after yourself first.

Communication is essential even when there is nothing to say. This will include team meetings and 1:1s. During one-to-ones it is important to recognise people’s unique contribution to the work of the university, even if it has been affected due to circumstances around the pandemic. Take the opportunity also to ask about, and respond with empathy to, their pandemic challenges inside and outside work. You may find that members of your team would appreciate meeting more regularly during this time than would normally be the case. The greatest protective factor for our mental and emotional wellbeing is a sense of connectedness: that we matter, that others care about us. For many people their sense of identity is derived from the working environment.

Remember, communication is a two-way process and as well as passing on information and updating the team, it is important to listen carefully to what is not being said as well as what is being said. It might be hard for your team members to be honest about how they are feeling, especially if they feel like they might be letting the team down, so encourage use of the video chats so you will be better able to pick up on facial expressions and body language. Remember to update team members who are unable to attend a team meeting.

You may wish to discuss and agree with your team the best methods/platforms for communications, frequency and timing bearing in mind that some team members may be flexing their hours around caring responsibilities.

Covid return to work guidance for Managers

A huge amount of work has been undertaken to help keep colleagues, students and visitors safe on campus ensuring it is Covid-secure.

Information about returning to campus and hybrid working is available on the Hybrid Working webpage (coming soon).

Managers' Guidance FAQs