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Questions from our Covid-19 briefings

Below are answers to frequently asked questions from staff. We will always try to update the information on our pages to reflect questions asked at our briefings, but if you have any further questions please send them to covidstaffing@brunel.ac.uk and we will try to answer them directly:

Information reviewed: 18 May 2021

General Covid-19 advice

What is the current government guidance?

The latest government advice is here. These restrictions remain in England:

  • you can meet indoors in a group of up to six people or a group of any size from two households
  • you can meet outside in a group of up to 30 people
  • work from home if you can and travel safely
  • if you have symptoms get a test and stay at home

There are no restrictions to in-person teaching of students on non-practical courses on university campuses - read this email to students

If you are showing coronavirus symptoms, you should get a test and stay at home until you get the result - this is critical to staying safe and saving lives.

There will continue to be restrictions on international travel, but travel to the UK from abroad for education purposes is permitted. Find information on all the things you might need to know when you arrive in the UK from overseas here.

The NHS 111 online coronavirus service, 111.nhs.uk/covid-19, can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do.

What should I do if I develop cold or flu-like symptoms?

The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are a recent onset of:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

If you have symptoms of Covid-19 however mild, you need to self-isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms started and get tested. You can order a PCR test kit to be sent to your home or book an appointment at a walk-in or drive-through test site. You need to get the test done in the first eight days of having symptoms. On days 1 to 7, you can get tested at a site or at home. If you’re ordering a home test kit on day 7, do it by 3pm. On day 8, you need to go to a test site - it’s too late to order a home test kit.  Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms, then you must stay at home for 10 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill. 

After 10 days, if you still have a temperature you should continue to self-isolate and seek medical advice. You do not need to self-isolate after 10 days if you only have a cough or loss of sense of smell or taste, as these symptoms can last for several weeks after the infection has gone. Detailed guidance is here.

If you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, or your condition gets worse, or your symptoms do not get better after seven days, then use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service. If you do not have internet access, call NHS 111. For a medical emergency dial 999.

Students and staff may want to consult a doctor, however because NHS services are under pressure people are being told to call NHS24 (111) in the first instance. Please don't contact or visit the Medical Centre on campus. The online coronavirus service, 111.nhs.uk/covid-19, can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do.

Follow the Government guidance on staying at home here. The official NHS pages are an excellent source of reliable, up to date information and guidance on symptoms and the measures you can take to protect yourself and others.

What is the procedure if I or a member of my team need to quarantine?

Quarantine guidance is available here for: 

  • managers of staff travelling abroad
  • staff members who are travelling abroad
  • recruiting managers of new staff who need to quarantine
  • new staff joining Brunel from overseas

Who is allowed to be on campus?

Campus is opening up gradually and there are no longer any restrictions to in-person teaching of students on non-practical courses on university campuses.

However, this doesn't mean that we expect staff and students to immediately return to work and study on campus. Government advice continues to be that staff should work from home if they can until at least 21 June. 

This does mean that we can hold our Campus Catch-up events for students from 2-25 June.

What is open on campus?

  •  All buildings are certified as Covid-secure (except for the IAC which currently remains closed). Before returning to your office or work space on campus please ensure that you discuss with your line manager to update yourself on space limitations, rotas or special requirements. Please also complete an individual risk assessment if necessary (Risk Assessment (brunel.ac.uk) )
  • The Library will remain open for pre-booked individual study, with extended opening hours, 9am – 2am, 7 days a week
    • Access to materials will be on a request basis using the Click & Collect service. This is  available for print stock for staff, in-Library users and for students living in campus accommodation only
    • Click & Post service will be available for Brunel users living off-site
    • Face-to-face enquiry support will be replaced by virtual enquiry support (including enquiries to our Records, Archives and Special Collections team) – please see our Contact us page
    • Scan & Send electronic document delivery service is available to the Brunel community
    • Costcutter is open Monday – Friday: 8am – 11pm ,  Saturday: 9:30am – 4pm  Sunday: 10am – 4pm . 
  • Our cafes 1966, Hola Pollo, Bamboo, Beseha and Izzi’s Pizza are open for you to eat in with up to six friends. And offer click ‘n’ collect, delivery and self-isolation services to those living on campus through the Time2Eat app.
  • You can book a one hour slot and group exercise classes at Brunel Gym as well as indoor sports via the Team Brunel app. Students are able to take part in our indoor student sports clubs again. 

Do staff and students have to have a lateral flow test to come onto campus?

Everyone who comes to campus should get tested twice a week at our Covid-safe Asymptomatic Testing Centre in the Newton Room. Find out more here.

We all have a duty of care to protect each other, so if you are on campus we are asking you to play your part and get tested twice a week or when you are due on campus infrequently.

On-going testing will enable us to spot outbreaks quickly and ensure everyone can live, work and study together safely and help us all return to normal as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Is campus safe?

A great deal of work has been done across campus to ensure staff and students are safe, which includes working to social distancing restrictions, installing perspex shields, hand sanitisers and wipes in office spaces, and re-engineering teaching, office and communal spaces, as well as changing the way we flow around campus and in and out of buildings.

How are we enforcing social distancing?

A huge part of our response to the current circumstances is to work with staff and students to take personal responsibility for their own actions. We have all become familiar with the behaviours that are expected of us during this crisis and we would expect staff and students to continue to adhere to these practices. We have put in place a variety of measures to mitigate the risk, but of course we can’t eliminate it entirely should people choose to behave in a way not in keeping with the current climate. We have directional signage across campus and our security team will monitor and remind people to adhere to the guidance where needed.

Do I need to wear a face covering?

Face coverings should be worn in all areas where they are legally required, and also in our buildings on campus, unless you are exempt. Further government guidance on face coverings is available here.

What happens if we have a Covid-19 case on campus?

If a student or member of staff tests positive for Covid-19 they will be immediately advised to self-isolate. If they are living in Halls of Residence, they will be asked to self-isolate with all other members of their flat for 14 days, in line with current Government guidelines. During that time, our support services will monitor all students impacted and provide food, drink and essential supplies.

We'll collect information about the individual's movements on campus in the 14 days before testing positive through a variety of methods – card access, track and trace in our catering outlets, lectures on campus, etc. Anyone who has been in close contact with the affected student or staff member will be contacted and advised to self-isolate for 14 days.

The University will only contact those that have been in close contact. Staff and students that are not contacted directly do not need to self-isolate. 

If you do have symptoms and suspect it’s Covid-19 or if you have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19 or who has symptoms, please follow the latest government guidance and tell your Line Manager, who will complete the process outlined below and in this Internal Track and Trace Form.

  • If you have tested positive for Covid-19: Report this to your line manager immediately and complete the Internal Track & Trace Form and email it to healthandsafety@brunel.ac.uk,  terry.vass@brunel.ac.uk and your Associate HR Business Partner as other colleagues may need to be contacted and deep cleaning arranged.
  • If you or someone in your household has been in contact with someone with Covid-19 Report this to your line manager immediately and complete the Internal Track & Trace form.  You must self-isolate as required by the Government and seek advice from the NHS 111 helpline.  You will not be able to return to work on campus until you have the completed the required self-isolation period or you receive a negative result from a Covid-19 test.
  • If you have suspected Covid-19 symptoms: Report this to your line manager immediately, you will need to self-isolate until the test result is known, and take extra care to social distance and to use good hygiene.
    Your line manager will advise colleagues that you have been in contact with over the previous 48 hours that you may have coronavirus, are having a test and waiting for outcome of the test result. Please speak to your HR Business Partner, the Care First EAP team, your GP or the NHS if you have concerns.

Will our parking charges be refunded?

There are difficulties in refunding staff for unused parking on campus, and it’s not that we don’t believe staff or require proof that they haven’t been using the car parks – the main issue is the difficulty we would have in claiming back this money because it’s attached to how much tax is paid and to reverse that is extremely complicated.

If the money being spent on parking is a real concern please speak to your HR business partner. You can also leave the scheme through reception online, but remember to reapply when you return to campus.

Can I continue to work from home?

Your manager will discuss with you how you will be expected to work as we gradually return to campus.  It is likely that initially this will be phased, however longer term, the University is reviewing its flexible/hybrid working policies. 

We will work with staff and the Unions to ensure that the good practice developed during the pandemic on flexible/hybrid working is not lost and that space utilisation is maximised at the University.

At all times service and teaching needs will be paramount in considering whether any role is suitable for flexible/hybrid working.  This will vary dependant on the role.

As a manager I need support in flexible/hybrid working, where can I get this? 

We will be working with managers to support them further as we develop our flexible/hybrid working practices. Please cotnact us if you have any immediate needs or questions. 

When will all staff be expected to return?

Based on government guidance, which is expected on or around 21 June, as well as discussions with senior management and other stakeholders, the university will decide on the approach taken to returning to the 'new normal'. 

Changes to how we operate, or changes to attendance on campus will be provided with plenty of notice (unless there is an urgent business need). 

We will not expect all staff to return on a specific date, this will need to be a phased approach.

Please be aware that departments have varying roles and while there may be differences in approach and necessity to be on campus, all processes will be fair and equitable.  Managers will work with staff to agree the best ways for them to gradually return when the time is right to do so.  Staff may also contact their Union Reps for support and advice.

What do I need to know before I return to campus?

Current government guidance is to continue to work from home where possible. As you will be aware there has been a lot of work done to ensure that the campus is as secure as possible, including review and inspection of our buildings to ensure that they are covid secure. This is an ongoing project and relies on staff and students adhering to the measures put in place.

If you are returning to campus you no longer need to apply to do so, but you should discuss the changes and your planned presence with your line management. As part of this discussion you should talk about the changes to campus, and any concerns you have relating to your health or those you care for. If required, you can complete an individual risk assessment with your manager.

All staff who are working on campus at the current time are expected to continue to have a twice weekly Covid-19 test.

Social distancing (2m) is still in place on Campus and this should be followed.

Face coverings should be worn in all of our buildings.

The local and national situation is constantly under review by university management and should anything change you will be informed in good time.

Will my office be socially distanced?

All of our spaces, including offices, are at present socially distanced to 2m. This formed part of the initial approach to ensure that buildings are covid secure.

The University is planning for different scenarios and will make sure that clear guidance is given to managers and staff as we progress through the government roadmap.   

Subject to government advice, particularly around social distancing, it is anticipated that the majority of furniture previously removed from teaching and office areas will be brought back in July and August.

Managers and staff must not move offices or return/move furniture themselves. Careful consideration should be given as to the need to move or add furniture as a first step and alternatives should be considered. Should a move or furniture still be required following this then a helpdesk request should be submitted for the Distribution centre team in the normal manner, detailing the requirements  

What if I am worried about coming back as I feel I am vulnerable?

If you are feeling vulnerable for any reason about returning to campus please speak with your line manager in the first instance.  If for any reason you feel that you can’t speak to your manager please contact HR.  Your Union Reps are also available for support and advice.

How are you supporting home working?

Our Homeworking policy has been developed to support working from home arrangements while government restrictions are in place. We recognise that, while some may welcome a return to working on campus, others will have anxieties and concerns about doing so. Not all roles can be carried out from home, but where appropriate, it may be required and/or possible for you to work from home until informed otherwise. This will allow us to maximise health and safety measures on site, including social distancing. 

Our Home working policy and guidance covers:

  • The requirements to work from home
  • Prioritising working from home 
  • Equipment needs
  • Data security and confidentiality
  • Health, safety and wellbeing

We are now developing new guidance on hybrid working for when working from home restrictions are lifted. 

I’m feeling overworked – how can we reduce the pressure?

This is a challenging time for staff anyway, without having the additional increase in workload, and we are extremely grateful for everyone’s effort and commitment. It is important that line managers have suitable discussions with staff about how the workload is impacting on them and we should all work hard to prioritise those areas that we need to focus on as part of the Covid recovery, while deprioritising areas that are not currently as critical to the university.

We are a large and diverse workforce with varying roles and requirements across teams. This makes it difficult to recommend any single actions that would be workable in all teams but the following suggestions have been made by colleagues and could be applied in individual teams where appropriate: 

  • Use the 'send delay' feature when sending somebody an email outside their usual working hours - this can help to reduce the pressure on people receiving emails when not working who feel compelled to respond
  • Consider muting notifications to your phone outside of your own working hours
  • While it's not always possible to influence the timing and frequency of University wide meetings, we can make decisions within our teams. Some suggestions include: 'No meeting Fridays', 50-minute time limits to allow time between meetings, cutting out meetings that duplicate others or could be easily handled via a quick Teams chat
  • Plan and coordinate work across your team to enable people to take their annual leave and any TOIL earned
  • Give all team members an opportunity to contribute their suggestions for where improvements could be made
  • Talk to colleagues or your manager if you need support

The Covid Recovery pages have resources available to all staff about support you can get, both internal and external, but no staff member should suffer in silence – please talk to your line manager or HR business partner if you are worried.

How are you supporting line managers?

We recognise that, while some staff may welcome a return to working on campus, others will have anxieties and concerns about doing so. Some may have individual circumstances which make their return to campus inappropriate or more difficult at this time.  The way you’re treated by your line manager can makes a big difference to your mental wellbeing but a manager also has a gatekeeper role and it’s key to being able to spot changes in mood and behaviour within your team. It really comes down to having a culture of openness, where managers ask staff how are you, having 1-2-1 chats and noticing when staff aren’t in a good place.

If individuals don’t feel able to approach their line manager then you can go to your HR business partner and speak to people in confidence. All of us have a line manager and that means the onus is on all of us to be talking to our teams and making sure they have the support they need, while recognising if staff are having difficulties in what is an anxious time for everyone.

Managers have a key role to play in discussing and resolving any individual circumstances and concerns, taking in to account the wider impacts on their team, as well as in ensuring that staff understand and comply with the measures which the university is putting in place to mitigate and control the risk of transmission of the virus.

We have prepared guidance for managers that details considerations for discussion with their team members about working from home and attending campus. The guidance covers six areas:

  1. Discussion about returning to campus/home working and completing self-assessments
  2. Prepare and prioritise activities to return to campus and continued home working
  3. Identifying any resources required
  4. Considering individual circumstances
  5. Supporting mental health and wellbeing
  6. Regular reviews

Should I still be taking annual leave?

We know that going on holiday isn’t something that everyone wants to or is able to do right now. However, we would encourage staff to continue to take leave because it is really important for your health and wellbeing and particularly as the difference between work life and home life become less well defined. You may not wish to book a week off when you can't travel away but even a day or two away from your desk can be beneficial. 

Can I carry over leave if I can't take it?

The University has increased the amount of leave that can be carried over by staff from five to 10 days (pro rata for part time employees up to a maximum of two of your normal working weeks). We have had requests to increase this even further but there are reasons why this is not possible. Most importantly we want to encourage people to take a break from work where they can for their health and wellbeing.

We know that in some teams it has been difficult to schedule time off for a variety of reasons. Where leave really cannot be taken, we will consider individual circumstances on a case by case basis but we will not be adding to the carry over leave amount outlined above as a general rule, if you are really struggling to take leave, please discuss your situation with your line manager and HR Business Partner. 

Will we have a pay freeze this year?

The University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has confirmed, as expected, that there will be no nationally negotiated cost of living increase in the national pay spine for 2020-21. While salaries at Brunel for Readers, Professors and senior management positions aren’t covered by national pay bargaining, the pay award is used as a guide. To be fair to all staff, it has been agreed that salary reviews for senior staff and those paid ‘off-scale’ should also be postponed this year. UCEA, which represents universities in the annual national pay negotiations, has made its decision against a backdrop of huge financial challenges in the sector. The uncertainty created by Covid-19 means that many universities are facing shortfalls in income over the 2020-21 academic year.  

We know that this is disappointing news for all Brunel staff affected, particularly in light of everything that is happening in the world and the incredible amount of effort and hard work everyone has put into the last few months to meet the challenges created by the pandemic. It’s not something that we would want to do and we understand that staff are working really hard at the minute and that we need to reprioritise our workload so that staff are not overloaded.

Will we be facing job cuts?

Brunel doesn’t have any plans for redundancies at the moment, but we can’t say never because we can’t be sure what the next few months will hold. If difficult decisions did need to be made in the future, voluntary severance would be one of the options available.

How are we preparing for further waves of the pandemic?

It is very difficult to know how long current social distancing measures will remain in place, never mind what will happen in the future and how this will impact on the country as well as the university. One thing we know from experience is that we are very capable of adapting quickly as a community and working together to ensure operations can continue where possible. The changes to the way the campus and we work and teach is being designed with flexibility in mind and this will be vital as we cope with further waves of the pandemic. 

Will our current/ future building projects go ahead?

The Learning & Teaching Centre has been delayed, and it’s very likely it will be delayed further. We are looking very closely at all capital projects to see how they can best be managed during what is a very difficult time and making recommendations to Council.

Will senior staff be taking a pay cut?

There are a number of options being discussed currently, and pay cuts for senior staff is among them. How the university responds to the financial impact of coronavirus will very much depend on the extent of that impact, and because that is intrinsically linked to our student recruitment activity this autumn we will need to wait until then to understand what measures will be needed. We are certainly planning for all eventualities.

What will be the long-term impact of Covid-19?

It’s extremely difficult to say and we have tried to show staff in recent weeks the very difficult financial situation the University might be in. We will be lucky if we don’t make a loss this year and much relies on how many students we get in this coming academic year. Although we are planning for all eventualities, there is a degree of uncertainty as to how exactly Covid-19 will impact us all.

Are we adapting our business model to reflect what's been happening?

One of the Task & Finish Groups – concerned with our academic portfolio and resource implications - is looking at this very closely. As has previously been said, our recruitment activity this year is crucial and the success of that will give us a much clearer indication of our future plans as a University.

How are we delivering teaching?

As set out in the latest Government guidance, face-to-face education can now continue. However many courses have ended for this year and where they continue, they can be delivered online.

When permitted, our dual delivery approach will offer a combination of on-campus and virtual learning options. Specific details of how teaching is delivered are managed at a departmental level in consultation with module leaders.

We are still working out the plans for teaching in September as restrictions may change again by ten. We are hoping to be able to offer students as much on campus as we can and as soon as we know, we will contact students via their Brunel email.

We will also be holding a Student Information Session on Wednesday 2 June where we also hope to share more on plans for teaching next year. Look out in the What's On section of BruNet for more information.

How are we accommodating on-campus teaching?

When permitted, with social distancing measures in our teaching spaces we have introduced a booking system to help manage numbers of students on campus, students to reserve their space in on-campus teaching sessions. 

How are we keeping students informed?

We have been sharing regular updates with students throughout the pandemic through direct emails, newsletters, social media, the student intranet and departmental communications. We have also introduced live Q&A support sessions for students to ask questions and get them answered in real time. 

What specific support is there for international students?

International students were able to book on to our international orientation programme from August, designed to give them specific support about studying in the UK and starting at Brunel. Information and welcome guides reflect the impact of Covid-19 and are the means through which international students receive guides relevant to their experience.

Will we be reducing student fees?

No. The Universities minister has indicated that the Government does not expect students to be reimbursed if the quality of teaching, learning and assessment is there. Our focus must be on providing a high-quality experience and continuing to offer value for money to our students.