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End of term message from the Vice-Chancellor

Vice-Chancellor Robert van der Noort

A message to all colleagues from Vice-Chancellor Robert Van de Noort.

Dear colleagues, 

Now that the Spring term has finished, I want to thank you once more for all your work during this term under circumstances that will have asked the best of all of us. We can be proud of what has been achieved under the COVID-19 restrictions, and I am particularly grateful to you for looking after each other and our students.

At the recent all-staff briefing on pensions, there was also a lot of discussion in the chat about how we will work in the longer term as COVID-19 restrictions lift. I thought it might be helpful for me to share some early University Executive Board (UEB) thoughts about our approach to a more flexible way of working during this transition period and beyond. 

The character of the University is shaped by our beautiful campuses, and being a ‘campus university' is a core part of our offering to students and colleagues. As members of our wider University community, being on site is an important aspect of all our roles whether in teaching, research, or in professional services.  

We have shown how well we can work together as a team in extraordinary circumstances, focusing on the delivery of work and trusting each other to get the job done. Some colleagues have found that working from home has helped them achieve a better work-life balance and hope to retain this improvement in their lives; others are finding remote working increasingly isolating and are looking forward to being back with colleagues on campus. 

As our Major Recovery Team (MRT) leads, Julian Park and Dominik Zaum, have previously communicated, the Government has indicated that the current advice to work from home wherever possible is likely to stay in place until at least mid-June. If the government allows for more students to return to campus for the summer term, MRT will work with Heads of Schools and Functions to identify colleagues who will need to be back on campus to support this transition. I know Julian and Dominik will share further updates when we received this guidance from government. 

Once the Government's 'work from home if you can' restrictions are lifted, however, many more of us will be able to safely return to our usual place of work. We are currently working through the principles for this transition. We are keen to adopt a greater level of flexibility from the outset and have already had very useful discussions with the members of the Leadership Group in that regard. This means that as well as working on campus, colleagues will be supported if working remotely some of the time could work for them and their role. 

There is, of course, no ‘one-size fits all' solution because our roles are very different, and this means that arrangements will vary across our University. Decisions will need to be made in consultation with line managers within the context of their School or Function and guided by the University principles and policies, the nature of the role, operational requirements of the team and personal circumstances. 

As you know, one of the strands of the Strategic Programme, the Ways of Working Pathway, is developing detailed recommendations regarding a long-term, institutional transition to a more flexible and agile approach to how we work. This work is already well underway and I'd like to thank the more than 50 colleagues who have been involved in the Ways of Working workshops conducted over the last four weeks. The pathway will complete its work later this year, so in the interim, we will follow all government COVID-19 guidance and work with our management colleagues to ensure that flexibility is retained while also meeting the changing circumstances on campus. 

What we have learned over the last year will, therefore, inform both our transition back to our campuses and our longer term approach. As we start to plan for the period ahead, I encourage line managers and colleagues to talk and to listen, to share their experiences from the last year and to think carefully about what would work best for the remainder of 2021 once restrictions are lifted. Heads of Schools and Functions can then share this feedback with us through our regular Leadership Group discussions.  

I also wanted to remind you to share your views on workload with the Joint Working Group looking to establish a common understanding of colleagues' concerns and potential solutions. You can use this online form to share your own observations or those of your colleagues, on the particular drivers that potentially inhibit balanced workloads. You might want to highlight specific policy or practice that could be improved (or stopped altogether) or draw attention to examples of good practice that could be usefully applied across our University. The form is open for submission until 19 April 2021.

Finally, I hope that the gradual lifting of COVID-19 lockdown measures will give us all a bit more freedom to enjoy the Easter break and I look forward to speaking with you in the new term.


Professor Robert Van de Noort, Vice-Chancellor

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