UCL Human Resources


Return to Campus - Interim Guidance for Staff and Line Managers

Interim People Management Guidance for leaders, managers and their teams on returning to campus.


1. Introduction
2. Core organisational position
3. Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the government roadmap
4. UCL wide listening exercise
5. Interim position
6. Staff categories
7. General principles and managerial guidance
8. Flexible working requests
9. Support from your HR team

1. Introduction

The information outlined below is interim guidance and subject to review in the new calendar year. The purpose of this document is to highlight people management considerations and provide guidance to support leaders, managers and their teams, as those who have been working remotely throughout the pandemic staff return to onsite work.  It is published in the spirit of openness and support, with a view to enhancing equity and our employee experience. Our guidance is at all times informed by government advice and our internal experts on our Public Health Advisory Panel. With this in mind, we will adjust plans based on their advice, keeping the safety of our people at the forefront.

2. Core Organisational position

2.1 Our UCL Community

UCL sits at the heart of one of the most dynamic cities in the world. We are a campus-based University and our identity and student experience is in part framed by 14,500 staff and 48,000 students interacting and collaborating in person, to support learning, creativity and innovation within our diverse community.

2.2 UCL is committed to supporting flexible working

UCL aims to recruit and retain staff of the highest calibre and we have long acknowledged that our people are most productive when they achieve a work-life blend that enables them to meet their responsibilities within and outside work and offer a policy framework which supports managers to best enable this.

The pandemic has taught us that more remote working is possible, desirable, results in greater productivity for some staff groups and, is a necessary response to the current external environment. We recognise the enormous opportunity we have to learn from the past year to balance the need for onsite presence with offering our people increased flexibility and an inclusive workplace culture.

3. Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the government roadmap

UCL’s approach since the first UK government lockdown in March 2020 has been to ask staff to work offsite and only insist on onsite work if their role requires it.  As the government roadmap indicates a lifting of restrictions and that a return to onsite work is possible from 19 July 2021, all staff should be prepared to work onsite from that date when required to do so (subject to Individual Health Assessments and changes to government guidance).

However, we recognise that the past year or so has been challenging and the pandemic has changed the circumstances of some and impacted both work and personal lives. For those who have been working remotely for the past year, the prospect of returning may be exciting and/or anxiety inducing for multiple reasons. There may also be practical considerations and the need to plan for many.

UCL is committed to working with our people to ensure they are supported as we start to plan our return to on-campus activity and will maintain a ‘people first’ approach, focussed on the wellbeing of our staff as we have throughout the pandemic.

Accepting that some will feel anxious and have practical considerations about returning, leaders and managers are asked to deal with the gradual return in a sympathetic and supportive manner, including considering if there are reasons for increased flexibility or other valid reasons for furlough to continue during this period. If you require advice at any stage, please contact your HR Business Partner.

4. UCL wide listening exercise

The Future of Work at UCL programme sponsored by Fiona Ryland, UCL’s Vice President Operations, aims to learn lessons from how we have worked during the pandemic, to inform the future use and design of our space, and the policies that will underpin our future ways of working. In support of this, an extensive ‘staff listening’ exercise is currently underway, which will enable the Programme to gain a greater understanding of individual, team, departmental and Faculty needs to inform long term HR policy revisions and supporting guidance.

Results from the first phase; an all-staff Future of Work survey which closed in April with a 34% response rate (approx. 4,700 responses), indicate a strong preference for more remote working across all staff categories, together with a clear indication that a balance of time on and off site is considered beneficial.

It is recognised that developing a longer-term policy position on our future will take time, thorough consideration, an Equality Impact Assessment and continuous review to monitor impact.  In view of this, there is a need for an interim position to allow operational planning for the start of the new academic year.

5. Interim position

During the transition back to work, a flexible and supportive approach is essential to:

5.1 Welcome staff back to onsite work in a phased way, taking into account the impact the pandemic has had on the individual circumstances, mental and physical health.

5.2 Account for the fact that some University buildings have been repurposed during the pandemic (ie Bidborough house) so are no longer available at the same capacity.

5.3 Anticipate possible future changes to government guidance including the potential to revert to ‘work from home if you can’ or similar guidance.

5.4 Ensure any social distancing guidance that might impact building capacity is observed and promote the Keeping Safe on Campus web resource, which will be updated to reflect changes in government guidance.

5.5 Trial and test new working methods with a view to exploring what our future working practices will be.

Phase 1   19 July – 27 September 2021

From 19 July to the start of the new academic year in September, subject to government guidance, UCL staff who have been working remotely throughout the pandemic are encouraged to return to onsite work. Recognising the above, managers are encouraged to make local arrangements to bring their teams back to site to re-connect, re-familiarise and benefit from UCL facilities. Individual staff may also return to work on a regular basis should they wish. Guidance will be issued from UCL Estates regarding building availability. Guidance will also be provided around Health & Safety induction.

Whilst staff should be encouraged to return, at this stage it is not mandatory.

Phase 2   27 September 2021 onwards

Subject to government guidance, UCL sites will revert to being the default workplace for those staff who have worked remotely for the duration of the pandemic. During phase one, leaders and managers will work with their teams and individual staff, considering the staff categories and guidance below with a view to supporting this at the start of the new academic year.

6. Staff categories

Dependent on job role / organisational need, two broad categories of staff are outlined below as an initial guide for managers:

a) Those required to work onsite for all or the majority of their time

This group comprises those whose job roles cannot be performed remotely. They are mostly involved in the delivery of student-facing or in person work which requires an onsite presence, unless there is an exceptional management agreement for remote work.

b)  Those where a balance of on-site and remote working is appropriate

This group comprises of those whose roles do not dictate the need to always be onsite. These staff are  able to carry out large amounts of work remotely and may also deliver services and activities on site, such as events, meetings, and interaction where face-to-face contact is necessary and / or beneficial. 

i) With a view to maintaining a level of in person interaction, team working and sense of community, the expectation for roles in this category is normally a minimum 40% of their working time onsite, unless agreed otherwise with their line manager.

ii)The percentage of time spent onsite may be applied as days of the week, as a proportion of total working hours or balanced across a four-week period.

iii)Local managers may stipulate days of the week where attendance is required with a clear rationale.

iv) Staff may continue to use the Work Life Balance Policy to make formal requests for flexible working.

Where a reduced onsite presence is agreed, this should initially be on a trial/interim basis for no longer than the end of the interim period(end of the calendar year) in the first instance, to assess impact and understand the UCL longer term position on remote working.

v) In cases where 40% may not be workable because of operational difficulties, local managers have the authority to decide the time requirements for their teams, in consultation with their area Director or Dean and HRBP.

Note: These categories are guiding parameters for the purposes of this interim guidance and are subject to review.  Exceptions to the above may be agreed on an individual, team or departmental basis, as determined appropriate by line managers and their leadership teams. This guidance does not supersede any previously agreed flexible working arrangement.

7. General principles and managerial guidance

7.1 General principles

i) UCL’s core organisational position is that all roles benefit from a degree of campus presence and therefore, subject to changes to government guidance, from the start of the new academic year, all staff should be prepared to work onsite as and when required.

ii) When considering the categorisation of roles outlined in Section 6, line managers should consider the requirements of the role as outlined within the job description and the activity (and its frequency) that determines a need for campus presence.  If the categorisation of the role is not clear from the job description and /or there is disagreement about the determination between a staff member and line manager, then the Head of Department will determine the categorisation liaising with their Dean / DOO/ Professional Services Director, in consultation with HR Business Partnering.

iii) UCL do not require staff to work remotely (unless as a response to government restrictions) and all staff may access a place to work onsite at any time during their working hours, regardless of how they are categorised. Please note that where a member of staff is categorised within b) and they have a preference for working in the office or, their home environment is not suitable for remote working, they can discuss this with their line manager and book a space on site, or make other arrangements.

7.2 Guidance            

7.2.1 Requiring home working: If by exception, UCL should require a staff member to work part of the time in an office and part of the time at home, it is UCL’s responsibility to ensure when the employee attends the office that there is a workstation is available for them that is suitable for use in the form of a hot-desk or a fixed workstation and, that there is a sufficient set up for work at home together with a DSE assessment.

7.2.2 Building availability: Where usual buildings are not be available, tailored guidance will be provided (from Estates) as to occupancy levels and this will inform manager guidance. Guidance on how managers can access and roll out desk booking software if they feel they need this in constrained workspaces will also be made available.

7.2.3 UCL’S core working hours of 10am – 4pm are those hours when all staff whether working remotely or onsite are expected to be working.  Core hours may vary according to the role requirements, particularly for part time staff where 40% of office-based time is determined as a percentage of their total working hours. Line managers will agree individual staff member’s working patterns.

7.2.4 Onsite induction: Staff who joined UCL during the pandemic (or have been on furlough for an extended period of time) should be offered an on-site induction or variation of it, such as a tour. Part of this offer will be an extension of a planned set of tours for new students in September 2021.

7.2.5 Communication

i) Meetings will ideally be with all remote or all face to face.  Blended meetings in a Teams enabled room with full AV can be trialled where possible.

ii) Diary Management: Staff are encouraged to keep their diary up-to-date and be available during core working hours.

iii) Regular check-ins: Line managers are asked to meet with their staff regularly by way of a short check in meeting or team meeting to ensure good communication during this transition period.  Where it has been agreed that an individual continues to work exclusively from home, particular consideration should be given to their inclusion in team/departmental activities.

7.2.6 Working together: Leaders and managers should consider in their planning how their teams can meaningfully interact during time spent onsite. For some groups, aligning the days of the week they attend may be beneficial, for others it may be about the organisation of events / meetings with a purpose in mind. Where possible, managers should aim to rota teams together for communal days at least once a week to promote a sense of community within teams and departments. Line Managers should support individuals who may need more time than others to re acclimatise to the campus environment and should be mindful that not everyone will be ready to be involved in social or networking activities, as soon as they return.

7.2.7 In all cases, line managers (in consultation and agreement with their leadership teams) will determine local arrangements to meet the service need aligned to UCL’s strategy and the academic mission, and agree individual arrangements with staff members with due regard to these principles and individual circumstances.

7.2.8 Timetabling requirements for teaching must be adhered to as a priority. If, for example, teaching hours are over four days in a week, the default expectation will be attendance on those days for delivery, with hours determined according to the required delivery time.

7.2.9 Term 3 Teaching: The position regarding Term 3 teaching will be confirmed shortly and should be considered in conjunction with this guidance.

7.2.10 Specific groups: We must be mindful of the needs of different groups of staff and in particular (list not exhaustive):

  • clinically extremely vulnerable people (those who were asked to shield)

  • clinically vulnerable people (such as pregnant women, the over 70’s or those with certain underlying health conditions) who weren’t asked to shield

  • those with caring responsibilities e.g. childcare, living with vulnerable adults

  • those protected under the Equality Act 2010

Where an employee from one of the specific groups above is reluctant to return to the workplace, managers are advised to do an individual health assessment with their employee and put in place any necessary reasonable changes to the working environment or nature of the role (e.g. changing hours to avoid peak travel times, avoiding people facing tasks etc), which may be time bound.

7.2.11 If an individual states that there is a health reason for not returning to work, managers are advised to refer to Workplace Health for advice using the management referral form.

7.2.12 Managers should be sympathetic to the concerns some staff may have about returning to work, including where a concern relates to not yet having received a vaccination due to not yet being eligible.  Reasonable support should be provided to phase their return to enable them to build confidence in travelling to and working onsite. Reasonable adjustments may also be relevant for staff who are experiencing anxiety, stress or mental unwellness at the prospect of returning to work.

7.2.13 A refusal to have the vaccination, as a personal choice, and not grounded in medical advice, which results in the individual being at a higher risk, will not be grounds to refuse to return to campus.  Where staff are concerned to return due to not yet having their second vaccination, UCL will follow government guidance in providing advice to staff about their safety at work. In complex cases a referral to Workplace Health should be made.

7.2.14 Staff working overseas: We are aware that some staff have been permitted to work overseas for personal reasons during the pandemic. Those who have been temporarily based outside the UK due to the pandemic, should begin to plan their return to the UK. We expect staff to return as soon as possible in time for the new academic year, in adherence with the categories outlined in section 5, providing government advice allows this. Please note:

i) Staff based overseas for continuous periods may have built up obligations or liabilities.

ii) Before travel, staff should ensure they still have the applicable right to work in the UK in place and should take advice around their status if required.

iii) Staff returning to the UK should follow the Government’s guidance around testing and quarantining / self-isolation.

7.2.15 Refusal to return: If an employee refuses to return to onsite work where it is deemed a requirement, without reasonable grounds and mitigating actions aren’t available (e.g. continuing to furlough or work from home) or have been refused, they should be warned of the consequences of their continued refusal which may include disciplinary action, dismissal or consider unpaid leave/unauthorised absence. These should be used as a last resort and assessed case by case, taking advice from HR Business Partnering as required.

8. Flexible working requests

The above principles and guidance are an interim position until the end of the calendar year 2021, in anticipation of the results of a UCL wide listening exercise which will inform a longer-term policy position. Should staff make formal flexible working requests during the interim period, it is recommended that managers be clear that agreement is an interim arrangement, ahead of confirmation of UCL’s longer term policy position. Those who have pre-pandemic agreed flexible working arrangements are entitled to retain these. Advice may be sought from HR Business Partnering as required.

9. Support from your HR team

If you have queries or require support regarding managing regarding this guidance or managing people during this interim period, please contact your area HR Business Partnering team in the first instance.