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

SUMMARY

Despite the significant upheaval caused by coronavirus, the University continues its vital role of delivering world-class teaching and research. As we welcome students back to Oxford, and all adjust to new ways of delivering teaching and undertaking research, the number one priority remains the health, safety, and well-being of our people. Whether you have been working onsite throughout the pandemic, are about to return, or are continuing to work from home, please take a few minutes to:

  • familiarise yourself with the important staff guidance factsheet (SSO required) to help you stay safe
  • watch our video about the University-wide Health Campaign, which promotes the behaviours we must all display to reduce the risk of COVID-19
  • download the NHS COVID-19 app which is available on smartphones from Google Play and the Apple App Store. We encourage you to use the app as it includes a number of tools to protect you, including contact tracing, local area alerts and venue check-in. Tracing recent close contacts of anyone who has tested positive is important to contain the virus
  • pay a visit to one of our many mental health services if you’re feeling anxious for example, the Department of Experimental Psychology’s Oxford Anxiety disorders and trauma group resources,  or register for free with the anonymous on-line support community togetherall (select “I’m from a university or college” when you sign up) or find out about the staff telephone counselling service Care First
  • discover TalkingSpace PLUS an Oxford based NHS mental health self-referral service, offering free therapy courses, including how to manage worries around COVID-19, and how to connect with others if you are feeling alone as a result of having to isolate yourself
  • read how to develop effective work routines and maintain your well-being if you are working remotely
  • visit the University’s Testing Service if you have primary COVID-19 symptoms. Consult this flowchart (SSO required) for the process you need to follow. Rapid identification, and isolation, of positive cases is essential to slow the spread of the virus. Anyone with one of the main symptoms of COVID-19 should stay at home/immediately return home and book a test
  • understand if you are unable to access the University service and receive a positive test result via another route (e.g. the NHS), you must complete the form for reporting external COVID-19 positive results
  • read the latest iteration of the case response guidance (SSO required) if you are a line manager or a departmental contact. It includes ‘action cards’ which explain the process to be followed if a student or staff member informs you of symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test result. A full list is available of Department and College COVID-19 single points of contact 

The University will continue to review the measures to keep our community safe and  its COVID-19 emergency response status in light of Government and local health authority advice.

Thank you for your ongoing cooperation and understanding during this challenging and uncertain time.

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 eyelevel.  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 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, read the guidance 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
    • 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 deparments 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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    • Take a lunch break 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.
    • As is the case when you are in the office, try not to remain seated at your computer for long periods of time. 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.

    • If you have a garden make use of it, or even just open your windows for some fresh air and a slight change of scenery.

    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 My Family Care package (also known as Work + Family Space) provided by Bright Horizons for tips and advice on managing 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). They have 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
    • The University's Equality and Diversity Unit website has resources for staff with pre-existing mental health conditions and for those in the neurodivergent community in light of COVID-19
    • Employees can access free telephone counselling through Carefirst, full details are available on the Occupational Health website
    • The University subscribes to togetherall (previously known as 'Big White Wall') which is an online peer-to-peer support community offering discussions mediated by mental health professionals, as well as self-learning courses and resources. Anyone with a University email address can register for free with togetherall (select “I’m from a University or College”)
    • The Department of Experimental Psychology are running a series of online lectures titled "Our Mental Wellness".  The series aims to inform, dispel myths and generate discussion on a range of mental health topics. This is a great opportunity for students, staff and alumni to hear world-leading researchers from the University of Oxford share their expertise about mental health conditions and effective evidence-based treatments. It is a chance to have your questions answered about how we can look after each other’s mental wellness in our community. Talks will run twice termly and are open to all staff, students and alumni at the University.
      • The next lecture, on 29 October from 10-11am is Overcoming Sleep Problems presented by Professor Colin Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine.  You can register via the Our Mental Wellness website.  
      • Future lectures will include Managing Depression and Low Mood, Overcoming Mistrust and Paranoia, Understanding and Managing Eating Disorders, Coping with Trauma, Bullying and Anxiety. Visit the Our Mental Wellness website for further information
    • TalkingSpace PLUS is an Oxford based NHS mental health self-referral service, offering free therapy courses, including how to manage worries around COVID-19, and how to connect with others if you are feeling alone as a result of having to isolate yourself.

    Keeping physically active is vital to your wellbeing, here are some sources of ideas for how to get some exercise whilst sport options are limited:

    Whilst some cultural centres are starting to reopen, 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.  The government has responded with sources of support for victims of domestic abuse.
    • Respect is an anonymous and confidential helpline for male victims of domestic violence, families where young people are abusive to close family members, and also advice and support for perpetrators of domestic abuse who wish to stop being abusive.
    • 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
    • The NSPCC has advice for parents on online safety.
    • 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