Tuesday 17 March 2020

All staff email

Covid-19 update - Tuesday 17 March 2020

Dear colleague,

I hope all is well in these very difficult circumstances.

The pace of change is very fast. UK Government advice on Covid-19 shifted considerably in the announcement the Prime Minister made yesterday. We can expect further changes in advice to follow, possibly in an unpredictable pattern.

In addition to general advice on matters like self-isolation, there were a number of key points in yesterday’s announcement that have a direct bearing on this and other universities, especially in regard to social distancing, working from home, social gatherings, and changed rules on self-isolation for different categories of people. These new guidelines are linked to from our www.york.ac.uk/coronavirus information hub and I encourage all staff to read the latest government guidance on a regular basis including the latest rules on self-isolation for households.

Healthcare Issues

As I mentioned yesterday our core priorities are the health and wellbeing of our staff and students. Public Health England have now published additional definitions of those who have a range of medical vulnerabilities who are ‘strongly advised’ to work from home. These are helpfully defined in a table on PHE’s website but the core message is that anyone who has been invited to receive a flu jab is strongly advised to work from home with immediate effect.

I recognise that some colleagues have medical conditions that they may not have made their line manager aware of previously. We do understand and respect your confidentiality about this, and want to provide you with the individual support that you need. I would encourage you to speak to your line manager - alternatively if you would like to discuss this confidentially with a member of the HR team, please contact them on hr-enquiries@york.ac.uk. If there are particular working arrangements that you would need to support you to work from home, please do discuss this with your line manager.


The government has now also advised that people should stop all unnecessary travel within the UK (and has advised further today that travel abroad should be avoided). We should all follow this advice and conduct work meetings with colleagues or others who are located elsewhere by telephone or video-conference.

Social Distancing

In addition the government advises that people should avoid places of social gathering like pubs and restaurants. We are thinking through what this means for our bars and sit-down catering facilities – though we will of course maintain facilities for takeaway food for staff who are not home-working and for students still resident on campus. We will update you on any changes that we will need to implement very soon.

Business Continuity Planning

A significant amount of work has already taken place across the institution to assess our capacity for most teams to work from home under business continuity planning. Some colleagues may also be asked by their head of department to undertake different duties if their normal work is not suitable for home working and we will also be identifying teams and individuals to deliver essential campus based services (see below). Please bear with colleagues as we put in place those plans and assess immediate requirements.

Future Means of Communications

This is a complex situation and requires multiples of teams working on many different dimensions of business continuity. We want to be able to communicate policy decisions as quickly as possible with all of you. To that end we are reorganising our approach to communications as follows:

  • A new digital platform will be launched from the University's home page with updated information and which has the capability to publish new information more frequently than our existing system
  • These web pages are the core communication hub and you should consult these pages regularly. We will update the frequently asked questions (FAQs) on a daily basis, as the situation evolves, and/or new government policies are introduced that require an institutional policy response. We will also remove information that is no longer relevant.
  • An email communication to all staff will be sent on a daily basis either from me, or Jo Horsburgh, Registrar & Secretary, (or nominated deputies), depending on the subject matter. This daily update will both address any key issues communicated by the Prime Minister in his daily press briefings, and highlight any new information that we need you to know, or act upon.

Policy Decisions

We have also taken a number of policy decisions arising from the new government guidance. That we will:

  • Prioritize organising home-working for those staff with underlying medical conditions. We will then progressively enable many more staff teams across the institution to work from home as soon as possible. [A new set of webpages will be published today to provide information on best practice on working remotely, use of technology to assist home working and how to optimise team working. Further information and training will be offered to colleagues who have not used the tools described on these pages and again we will send further details on this in the next couple of days]
  • Identify and communicate with staff who will be required to continue to work on the continuation of essential services on campus to support our students and other core services such as campus infrastructure support. Further details on this will be communicated in the coming days.
  • Work with academic departments to implement our business continuity plans for protecting critical research and the level of staffing support on campus that may be required to continue this work. Again further communications will be issued shortly
  • Work with our Student Unions and student services to support those students who remain on campus
  • Move our library provision to a day shift only, close our satellite library services and the Borthwick Archives to ensure staffing resilience. We will continue to monitor our library provision dependent on additional social distancing or large gathering policies being introduced by the Government. I strongly suggest that if you need access to materials from the library you should arrange that as soon as possible.
  • Keep campus Trades Unions fully involved as the situation evolves. To this end, I am meeting with our Trade Union colleagues this afternoon and will be discussing with them about how we work together over the coming weeks.
  • Update our guidance on arrangements for pay over this period, but briefly, our occupational sick pay entitlement will continue to apply. We already have a number of policies to support staff with emergency leave requests and corresponding pay arrangements, and we will provide further details over the next couple of days.

As will be seen from the range of policy decisions above it will take a number of days to establish the fine detail on how to implement these decisions. Please bear with us as we move progressively towards implementation. The www.york.ac.uk/coronavirus hub will be the main source of information.

Online Teaching and Online Assessments

A contingency planning group is also continuing its work on moving teaching and assessments online. Further information will be provided on arrangements in the coming days.

Support for Staff

I know that people will be worried - about their own situation, their family and loved ones. I encourage you to talk to your line manager and please remember to also access our employee assistance scheme with Health Assured if you need to discuss your situation further.

I want to end by again reiterating that our primary goal is to protect the health and wellbeing of our staff and students. This is a global pandemic on a scale not seen since the end of World War 1 and we will need to act with speed underpinned by spirit of pragmatism - we won’t get everything right and we need everyone to understand that for the foreseeable future that our entire mode of operation will have to fundamentally change in ways that may be difficult to imagine.

I will be engaging regularly in the coming days and weeks – and from Monday next week in online-only ways! – not just with Executive Board members, but also our Students Unions, and our campus Trade Unions. I will also be speaking regularly with Heads of academic and professional service departments. It is important in these ways that we get wide insights on how staff and students are feeling, in order to understand better what we can do to support them.

I am confident that we can get through this together but it will be difficult and we need to help each other stay strong and calm. I’ll be back in contact again tomorrow but for now,

best wishes


Professor Charlie Jeffery