Wednesday 18 March 2020
All staff email
Covid19 update 18 March: Moving to working from home
I am writing with my daily Covid-19 update and to provide you with further information on a number of key decisions we have taken today. These decisions have been taken in light of the ongoing situation and in accordance with our overall concern for the health and wellbeing of our staff and students.
We know that many people are understandably concerned about the significant changes we are introducing to how we work in these unprecedented times.
Transitioning to Home Working
Teams across the institution are progressively moving to home working and the overall aim is to have the bulk of this in place by the end of the week. Our priority at the start of the week was to enable staff with underlying health conditions to work from home as soon as possible. I want to emphasise that anyone who has been identified by official government guidance as potentially more vulnerable to Covid-19 - e.g. those eligible for a flu jab, those over the age of 70, or pregnant women - must work from home with immediate effect. They should discuss the detail of this with their line manager or HR.
We are now looking to move to home-working for the majority of staff whose role can be done from home as soon as possible, with an aspiration that this is achieved as far as possible by the start of next week.
Facilitating Effective Home-Working
We want to make home-working as effective as possible. To that end we have today authorised a significant investment in tools and technology to assist with home working.
This includes tripling the number of VPN licenses to facilitate access to secure systems; acquiring Zoom technology to facilitate easier online meetings for staff and teams; offering the use of the Slack messaging sharing platform to all staff to facilitate faster interaction between team members working remotely. As we acquire these systems, colleagues in HR and IT Services will roll out a series of online tutorials to provide training and advice and guidance. And further information will be posted on our Covid-19 hub website pages, https://coronavirus.york.ac.uk/
Essential Services and Staffing
In line with the government advice, we are moving to home-working for as many staff as possible. However, some work cannot be done easily from home, and some work needs to continue to be delivered on campus.
It simply is not possible to ‘close’ a university: we have students who live here, who we need to support, and there are a number of key lab-based research operations - some of which may be deployed to support the NHS and others in responding to the Covid-19 crisis - and other critical services. We also have ongoing maintenance work that is required to keep things operating smoothly.
I recognise that some staff working in these services may feel disadvantaged by not being able to work from home as they see other colleagues moving to home-working. We will continue to support the health and wellbeing of those colleagues who are working in these critical services, with appropriate safeguards around social distancing in place..
Managers of these services will be looking at how work can be organised and delivered to maintain service levels. HR colleagues will be working with relevant team managers to provide detailed advice and guidance on campus based social distancing policies including where possible single office locations and split team-working to ensure resilience. Again these are all new ways of working and I would ask for people to be flexible and help us find solutions that prioritise the wellbeing of our staff and students.
We’ve had many interactions with staff who have said they are willing to be flexible and to help in whatever way they can to help us manage this situation and we are truly grateful for that. Colleagues in HR are working hard to finalise our guidance on arrangements related to pay over this period, and we have discussed our plans with the Trade Unions. I want to reassure you that our approach will be to maintain pay and sick pay entitlements over this period and to extend our normal approach to ‘special leave provision’.
We have also agreed that all casual staff will be paid for work that they were contracted to undertake. Colleagues in HR will be providing detailed updates on our Covid-19 digital hub in relation to all aspects of Covid-19 related pay policy.
There is a recognition that as we transition to only having essential staff working on campus that some staff who have been transitioned to home working may not be able to fulfill their normal duties. Again we will not be making any adjustments to pay but it is likely that those staff will be asked to undertake other duties as determined by their line manager. I’d ask that colleagues remain flexible in their approach in the context of the wider issues we face.
Our intention is that we will also move all research to home-working as well as soon as possible. All three Deans are working intensively with our academic colleagues to make this happen. However there will be some aspects of our research that we will need to maintain and the Dean of Science is communicating directly with relevant departments to make individual arrangements based on their business continuity planning and to identify relevant essential staffing support for these areas of work.
You may have heard that some institutions have instigated a ‘recruitment freeze’. This is not the case at York. We are however looking at changing the emphasis of new recruitment activity to ‘business critical’ roles only for the next few weeks, given the ability of home-working staff to induct, train and support new starters will be significantly reduced.
Library and Sport Closures
The decision was taken last night to close York Sport Village and all other sports facilities and events in order to respond to government advice.
Following further consultation with colleagues in the University Library today, I am also announcing that from 5pm Friday 20 March the Library will be closed until further notice. This decision has not been taken lightly but we must do all we can to protect the health and wellbeing of staff, students and other users of library services. The Library Team will be in contact with departments about online support and services that will be available.
As we reduce these services across the campus I know that individuals who are affected by these closures or restricted services will be concerned. Individuals who are affected by these restrictions will as far as practicable be temporarily redeployed into other roles to support essential services and will continue to be paid as normal.
I appreciate that this is a lot of information in one message but I want to be as clear and transparent as possible in the range of decisions that we are taking - often at speed, and again to ask for your understanding and cooperation. I will continue to update you on a daily basis but please also do continue to consult our Covid-19 website.
Professor Charlie Jeffery
All research student email
COVID-19 Update for Research Students
Dear Research Students,
This is a quick email to update you on how the emerging COVID-19 situation affects your research and degree programmes. We are aware that many of you are anxious and unsure what you should do. We are working very hard to make necessary arrangements and some key points are addressed below. The situation is changing fast and you should keep looking at both the staff and student information on the University website: https://coronavirus.york.ac.uk/home.
1. Working from home: The University is moving to switch research activities to home working very soon. For some disciplines this will not cause too much disruption, but for others where there is laboratory or research by performance work it will raise challenges. Nevertheless we must move quickly to cease such activities on campus and leave facilities in a safe state. Your Department will be asked to treat research students like research staff in implementing these decisions.
2. International PGRs wishing to return home to their families: this is your choice and we will support you if you want to. Updated information about visa consequences will be made available by next week.
3. York-based PGRs currently abroad: Follow both UK and the government advice in the country where you are. If you feel at risk where you are and need help returning to the UK, contact your supervisor and Department immediately.
4. Vivas: Those with vivas scheduled in the near future may opt to hold them by video-conferencing or postpone - contact your Department to discuss this.
5. Submission of theses: This is an online process and you should work towards the existing deadlines. If your deadline is within the next three months and you are not able to meet it due to the current situation, please apply for an extension to your submission deadline: https://www.york.ac.uk/research/graduate-school/academic/change/extension/.
6. Progression: If your research has been impacted by the current situation, your progression to the next year of study will not be affected. We are working on a temporary, streamlined process to ensure this. If you have a progression deadline falling in the next six months, look out for further information later this week.
7. Supervision: You should continue to have regular communication with your supervisor and may use the most appropriate technology for this. Unless you are sick or on Leave of Absence, you should still record a supervision meeting every 6-7 weeks in SkillsForge, even if there has been little or no progress on your research. If you supervisor is unavailable, please contact your TAP member for advice.
8. Funding: Research students in receipt of a stipend paid through the University (whether it is a Departmental, Research Council or other studentship) will continue to receive that stipend during the period of disruption, even if you are not able to continue with your research.
9. Fees: Research students who pay their own fees but are not able to continue with their research are advised to apply for Leave of Absence: https://www.york.ac.uk/research/graduate-school/academic/change/loa/. When on Leave of Absence you will not need to pay fees and your submission deadline will be extended.
I am aware that this will not cover every concern you may have and we will be giving out more advice as soon as we can. Meanwhile, please be reassured that we have every concern for your health and well-being and are also aiming to ensure that the impact on your academic goals is minimised.
With best wishes in difficult times,
Professor T.W.C. Stoneham
Dean of the Graduate Research School