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Future ways of working for Professional Services: our evolving approach

Find out about the guidance developed for ways of working in the 2021-2022 academic year for Professional Services staff with office-based roles.

The next academic year, 2021-2022, is likely to be one of transition. More of us will spend more time on University premises, with our students and with one another, than has been the case this year, whilst continuing to prioritise the health, safety and wellbeing of our community.

The year is also one of opportunity, to ensure we are supporting our students and one another in the best possible way, open to new and more effective ways of operating.

We have therefore developed guidance for Professional Services staff with office-based roles to provide a framework for ways of working in the 2021-2022 academic year.

We acknowledge that the next academic year will not be a case of going back to ‘business as usual’. As we further build the range of activities based at University premises to ensure that we provide the best University experience within our mission, this is in the context of ongoing uncertainty created by the Covid pandemic. As a result, we will need to keep adapting to evolving circumstances.

What are our guiding principles?

  • We want to enable a thriving and caring University campus community, in which every staff member is able to work as successfully as possible in a safe and secure way.
  • We seek to develop ways of working to deliver our strategy as successfully as possible for the benefit of all students and staff.
  • We want to support sustainable and productive staff working practices that make maximum use of our learning from the pandemic.
  • Future ways of working will look different for different teams and departments, so we will adopt a flexible framework, from which we will learn and iterate.

What is changing and why?

For the academic year 2021-22, there is an opportunity to try new ways of working, particularly with our Professional Services office-based staff.

We set out below what we are planning, working closely with Heads of Department. We acknowledge that we may need to modify arrangements as the year progresses and we learn more about what works and what does not.

There are a number of reasons we are trying some new ways of working. Three of the main reasons include:

  • Working effectively: the Covid pandemic has shown that we can work in different ways. Where these can be shown to be as productive or even more so than in previous years, there is an opportunity to keep these innovations, where they are of benefit.
  • Staff satisfaction and wellbeing: we know from the Work and Wellbeing surveys that there is real variation in how colleagues want to work: some want to work from the University estate, some want more remote working and others a hybrid model. By introducing a new framework, we hope to test whether we can work in more flexible ways to reflect this.
  • Using space more effectively: Physical space is a real constraint for our University. If we can introduce elements of hybrid or flexible working, we may be able to repurpose space for research, education, student experience, community activity or other priorities in our University Strategy.

There is also the potential to contribute to the University’s carbon emissions reductions targets, depending on the circumstances in which remote working is carried out, though the detail of this needs to be carefully considered.

What changes are we trying in the 2021-22 academic year?

Heads of Department will be responsible for determining the detailed of ways of working in their departments for the 2021-22 year, working with their teams. This reflects the need for those closest to the delivery of functions to plan and adapt the detail, particularly as the activities of the Department/Service may change if restrictions reduce.

To support Heads of Departments in their planning and to help ensure clarity and consistency across teams, we have developed a framework that sets out how Professional Services teams should usually work this year.

To reflect the wide variety of operations even within the Professional Services teams, we have created three categories of working pattern with high, medium and low in-person on-site presence.

  • High: A high in-person campus presence means working on campus/in University buildings for 80% or more of your working hours.
  • Medium: A medium in-person presence means working on campus/in University buildings 60% or more your working hours.
  • Low: A low in-person presence means working on campus/in University buildings 40% or more of your working hours.

Each Head of Department is being asked to focus on how to deliver the services and functions of their department in the most effective way possible, including any activity that had to be paused during the pandemic. Any plans will need to ensure that the department is able to perform as successfully as possible, both in light of any remaining restrictions and also when Covid restrictions are relaxed. Heads of Department will need to work out how to make best use of the campus space available to them, using these categories as guidance.

Where teams need to provide effective in-person cover, team members will be asked to work together to ensure the service is delivered across the hours or days needed. A team rota may be required and colleagues are asked to be flexible wherever possible, including with service innovation and enhancement. Through these discussions, colleagues will have one of the three working patterns above agreed for the next academic year.

When does this new way of working begin?

The exact date may vary depending on your Department, and any prevailing restrictions, but these ways of working will begin in the month of September 2021.

Who does this new way of working apply to?

These new ways of working apply to colleagues working in Professional Services in office-based roles across the University.

How do I have my say about the new ways of working?

We hope you have already let us know what you think through our Work and Wellbeing surveys, which have helped inform our plans.

As outlined above, you will also have discussions with your line manager or Head of Department about these ways of working in order that your team can operate as effectively as possible over the next academic year. The Head of Department is ultimately responsible for determining the best working arrangements to support a successful academic year.

Why are there any categories with ‘maximum’ thresholds for working on campus or in University buildings? What if I want to work in-person all the time?

The ‘high’ in-person presence category does allow working on University premises for up to 100% of your time. Where space and team working patterns allow, this is a welcome option. We also encourage colleagues to talk to their line managers if they want to work on University premises for wellbeing reasons and we will do everything possible to facilitate this.

The reason we are setting other thresholds is to reflect different operational needs, and to make improved use of space. Space constraints can be a limiting factor on our success. New ways of working may enable space to be used in different ways, or to be repurposed for other requirements including education, research or student experience. However, identifying whether we can reuse space and how is complex, especially over such a varied estate like ours. Therefore, we want to explore this at an appropriate pace.

Exploring whether hybrid working patterns are effective and what space this may free up will be a key question over the next academic year. Ultimately, this may mean we need to ask some teams to move offices or to free up some areas, or it may mean no change for a team in the foreseeable future. We will ensure we keep engaging effectively as we learn from this work.

Why is there a ‘minimum’ threshold for working on campus or in University buildings? What if I want to work remotely full time?

Our vibrant campus community is one of the things that makes Bath special.

The needs of our staff and students cannot be wholly met through remote and distributed working. Our academic mission is often best served by having colleagues working together, in person. Our University estate is a real asset and by coming together physically we can improve wellbeing, community spirit and cohesion, collaboration and creativity.

We know that chance conversations and catch ups over coffee can spark new ideas and forge stronger connections. In fact, our campus was designed around this very concept. This year will help us rebuild but also reimagine how we work, and part of this will be enabling those unplanned encounters, social interactions and shared experiences.

So, whilst we want to pilot more flexible ways of working, we don’t want this to be at the expense of the sense of community and connection we cherish so highly.

If there are exceptional circumstances that affect you, for example related to health or caring responsibilities, please discuss these with your line manager.

Will my contract need to change?

For the 2021-22 academic year, as we explore new ways of working, we do not plan to change work contracts. We will review this at the end of the academic year.

How does this affect me if I work part-time?

The principles of working part of the week on University premises, depending on the needs of the role and the individual apply equally to those who work part-time. However, we expect Heads of Department to interpret the guidance pragmatically to ensure that, particularly for staff on lower work fractions, work is grouped sensibly to allow hybrid working, and part-time staff are not disadvantaged.

What Covid measures will be in place?

We are currently reviewing maximum capacity limits for each University room, including teaching spaces, research laboratories and offices. This will help inform occupancy levels for our working spaces in the next academic year and any additional mitigations needed.

The UK Government has released some guidance for Higher Education and is expected to release further details on social distancing, face coverings and other measures which will apply after Step 4 restrictions have been lifted. We will then carefully review this guidance and our own local circumstances, taking expert advice as necessary, to determine what additional measures we may need to take from September onwards.

How will we be able to have hybrid meetings?

Will be encouraging teams to hold important team meetings in person wherever possible. However, we are also currently working through maximum room capacity limits, starting with teaching spaces so we can confirm our timetable for next year. We’re installing more equipment this summer too so that we will have more bookable rooms, by September, with audio-visual facilities which will better facilitate hybrid meetings.

In addition, we continue to explore other ways of enabling effective hybrid working and will no doubt learn more as we go through the year.

Will these new ways of working be permanent, or just for the 2021-22 academic year?

These arrangements apply for the 2021-22 academic year and may need to change within this year if circumstances alter significantly and as we learn about what works most effectively.

Looking further ahead, we will review what we’ve learned from these ways of working in the early summer of 2022 to inform future changes.

We will continue to work with our Heads of Department and to liaise with local trade unions as the year unfolds to ensure we’re addressing any challenges and supporting the best possible academic year for our students and our colleagues.

Is there an equality impact of this change?

For many people the last 18 months has offered both opportunities and real challenges and we will need to continue to be flexible and adapt. We asked about staff with caring responsibilities in our recent survey, and we will need to continue to respect those demands during the journey back to ‘normal’. Some staff have found working from home challenging, and we will need ensure that the right adjustments are in place to enable effective hybrid working. All Heads of Department will need to consider the equality and inclusivity issues as they design the new ways of working.

What does this mean for colleagues in other job families?

This hybrid working approach applies to Professional Services staff, but we fully acknowledge that ways of working have evolving for colleagues across the University.

For many colleagues, their jobs revolve exclusively around campus/in University buildings, most commonly in the Operational & Facilities Support (OFS) and Technical & Experimental (T&E) job families. It is impossible to do those jobs any other way and we have had to adapt our ways of working to fit with the new concepts of social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures.

In these areas we have seen significant innovation and change - making more efficient use of the estate, delivering services differently to support students who cannot attend in-person events. Although these services will no doubt continue to adapt, the need to work on campus/in University buildings for these roles will remain.

While recognising that a university exists as a community of learners, our Education & Research staff have always, to a greater or lesser extent, worked flexibly between the University and elsewhere as needed, to best advance this goal. We don’t expect this concept to change. However, in the last year our academic community has had to transform teaching and research, with much more remote working. As restrictions ease for the next academic year, we will need to move back to more on-site activity to provide in-person learning, with all the appropriate safety measures in place.

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