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.