Guidance on Return to Work

Below are some brief guidance notes to help members returning to work tomorrow. In putting together the notes we have tried to balance the desire to do the right thing by colleagues and students and the need to look after your own welfare and that of your families.

There is a huge variety of expertise and experience with remote working. And almost no experience of working on campus during a pandemic. As we return to work tomorrow, no doubt more questions that we will need to address together.

The headline guidance is:

  • Look after your own health and wellbeing. Do not commute into campus unless absolutely necessary. Do not let work overtake everything else.
  • Use university systems for university ‘business’. Use Microsoft Outlook and Teams, Blackboard and QMPlus to do your work. Do not give out your personal phone number/skype. Log out at the end of the working shift.
  • If you need to make calls to the public and other institutions or agencies, contact your line manager for ways of communicating without using your personal numbers and devices. If you incur costs, get clearance first, so that you can claim expenses.
  • Look after each other, and use your union networks for mutual support. Use departmental reps and departmental union groups to support each other
  • Set realistic goals with your line manager about what is possible and in what time frames. 
  • For teaching, have modest ambitions and deliver, using techniques and technology you understand. Keep it simple and manageable.
  • Your home is now your workplace, employers have obligations to ensure your working from home is safe.

We have a short section on these key themes. Reply to this email if you have questions and suggestions over the next few days.

Attendance, expectations and and solidarity

  • Only commute and visit campuses if absolutely needed. Unnecessary travel adds risk to you and to others through direct and indirect transfer.
  • If you are aware of another member of staff going in, can they carry out activities on your behalf? You might ask them to redirect post and/or scan the documents you.
  • Use your departmental reps and departmental union groups to coordinate and support each other
  • Make use of Zoom or similar technology to keep union solidarity in your schools and departments. Scheduling regular video chats or virtual coffee sessions might help overcome the sense of isolation.
  • Have discussions with your line manager about what work is expected to be completed at a distance, what is reasonable to expect and be clear about the learning curve and your working conditions. Do not over-promise and be explicit about the support and training you need.

General Communications

  • Even more than usual communications will take place electronically, with all the attendant 24/7 pressure and ambiguity.
  • Be thoughtful, patient and try to develop systems and practices that separate work and private life, for you and your colleagues.
  • Use university systems to communicate as much as possible (email, Microsoft Teams, school and departmental QMPlus forums). Be careful to avoid personal data in non-QMUL systems. If you need to copy files, use the OneDrive provided by QMUL, not a personal one, especially if they contain personal information.
  • Streamline messages to students, they’re likely to get numerous emails from various members of teaching and professional services staff at Queen Mary, as well as from management. They cannot be expected to stay on top of all of them.
  • You may be happy for your team to have your personal telephone numbers and other staff may be able to contact you through Microsoft Teams. If you need to make calls to the public and other institutions or agencies, contact your line manager for a SIM, virtual number, VoIP or other means of separating your work and personal communications. If you incur costs, get clearance first, so that you can claim expenses.

Health and safety at work (when work is at home)

  • Your kitchen table, study corner, living room will now likely be your workplace. Review the guidance issued by the Health and Safety Directorate, which has been updated for home working due to COVID-19: http://www.hsd.qmul.ac.uk/a-z/dse_eye-care/ 
  • If you need additional equipment to ensure that you can work safely, ask your line manager to arrange for this. If you have any concerns, please contact us.

Managing working technology at home

  • There is no need to give colleagues and students your home number and mobile phone, you will need these kept free to know if friends or family need you.
  • Use Microsoft Teams for work messages, voice and video calls. This will allow you to log off and not have colleagues and students break into your very necessary private time.
  • Try to create spaces (times and places) where work stops. If at all possible, have places in your home that are free of Covid-19 news, social media, work communications, etc. If not possible, try to create routines and times that give you time for yourself and your family (e.g., a separate user account on your home computer for work where you can keep material separate and confidential and that you can logout of when not ‘at work’).

Brief advice for teaching staff

Academics have been known to obsess about things. It will be tempting to dream of amazing things but then not deliver because you have underestimated the time required, or overestimated your students’ abilities and resources to adapt. The secret is to keep things simple. Forgive us for labouring the point below.

  • We have been asked to move onto online teaching without adequate training and with no recognition that many staff are on strike. Management has given us no assurance as to how this material will be used in future so it makes sense to make your time investments sensibly, sticking as much as possible techniques and methods that you and your students know.
  • Staff and students will have varied tech facilities and capabilities, so keep your online materials simple. You will need to take the time to learn some new techniques, but kick things off with what you know. Do not develop your “lectures” into multimedia extravaganzas. Keep things simple. Use as many techniques as possible that are familiar to you and them, such as notes, links to readings, slides and forums on QMPlus.
  • PowerPoint slides and lecture notes might be a reasonable substitute for a lecture. Readings with leading questions for students to complete (including in groups), where responses can be anonymised and circulated on a QMPlus forum enables peer learning. A short paragraph outlining some point of misunderstanding and some positives can substitute for feedback in seminars. Think simple, works with minimal technology and internet access, can be completed in smaller chunks of time.
  • ASOS continues, and your physical and mental health depends on this. Do not work more work than the teaching workload hours you have already been given in order to prepare module material, unless you are given a managerial instruction to reallocate research and admin time. Fractional staff should expect extra hours if the work is going to take more time. If you have lecture capture from last year, just replay those. 
  • If you wish to provide more substantial support for anxious students, remind students that they will only be assessed on what has been taught. You can then also host individual skype meetings (or group, but this can be problematic – see below) but it will not be possible to replicate the “in the room” experience of a seminar. Not least because students will often no longer be in the same time zone, so live group work may disadvantage many. Think carefully about how to ensure activities are accessible. Re-arranging office hours to have a morning and afternoon session might be helpful to students and fit with your family responsibilities.

Finally, remember that your students can help. Ask them (e.g., in a QMPlus forum) for some suggestions on what you could do to help. Be honest and open about listening and the reasons for the decisions you make.

Stay tuned for a separate document focused on managing teaching.

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