Starting over – A blog by our Occupational Health team

Article by Brenda Brunsdon, Occupational Health and Wellbeing Team Manager:

The media are reporting that Monday, 6 September, was the busiest rush hour in London since the first national lockdown in March last year. Figures showed 831,000 taps into the Tube network between 07:00 and 10:00. According to Transport for London There were also 860,000 registered passengers on buses which is an increase of 40% compared to the week before. The schools are open and I’ve been told by someone who travelled into campus on Monday morning that there was significant rush hour traffic.

Apparently, it’s the same across the country; read the Business Financial Post article below. That article also reminds us ‘The rise in rush-hour traffic follows repeated government advice for people to return to work. Official “work from home” guidance was dropped by ministers on July 19 and businesses were told that the government “expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer”.’

The University has asked staff to be back in the office working from the week commencing 20 September. Offices will probably not be populated to full capacity as many staff will be taking advantage of Hybrid Working arrangements and continuing to work from home for 2 days a week. This should have a staggered effect on the staff population on campus. Many staff have been back to normal working for some time, eg. those in Housekeeping. Some have never stopped working on campus, ie. Campus Security. I know many departments encouraged staff to come in throughout the summer to get a feel for what it is like to be back. I have already been in a few times, as have most of my team and am going in again this week. Our IT function has asked us all to go into the office to run our computers to ensure that equipment is fully updated.

Many people have felt more productive and at ease working from home and are reluctant to relinquish the pattern of life they have adopted through the difficult pandemic period.  Additionally, many people will be anxious about returning. This is very natural and human. The period of the pandemic has been frightening, from a health perspective, and it can be anxiety provoking to think about giving up the checks and balances we were told to put in place to keep ourselves safe. However, many of us have been getting out and about more, going to restaurants, visiting friends in their homes, going on holiday, some even abroad. It’s a reality that society is opening up and going back to working at our ‘place of work’ is a natural part of that; it is what is expected of us at this time.

The University has done everything that the government has required in terms of risk assessment to ensure as safe a working environment as possible. As an organisation, it values its staff highly and wants to ensure that no-one becomes seriously ill as a result of coming into contact with Covid 19 in the workplace. This link will take you to all the University’s Covid 19 risk assessments which are housed on the Safety area of the University intranet; this includes a mental health risk assessment and additional ventilation guidelines. As you will see from the mental health risk assessment, consider contacting the Employee Assistance Programme at any time if you are experiencing anxiety about returning to work on Campus. You can self-refer to Occupational Health (OH), but if you believe you need adjustments in respect of returning to work, you need to discuss this with your manager and they should do a Management Referral. This is because OH do not produce reports as a result of self-referral consultations. In relation to changes in approach to working, the University has produced the Future of Work Resource Pack. This builds on the supportive structure initiated in the COPE framework which came into being in response to the work changes prompted by the pandemic.

There are positives to coming back onto campus. You will meet your colleagues. In some ways, it will be easier to get things done by having face to face conversations. You can have a meal rather than make something for yourself and you can have company while you eat, if you choose. You can use the University’s electricity to run your computer and make your drinks throughout the day. I’m sure there are many other positives that can be thought of. Let’s hope this is the start of a permanent return to a new form of normality and there are no future set-backs ahead in relation to the threat of Covid 19 infection.

‘Rush-hour traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels in parts of the country yesterday as the end of home working and the start of the new school term led to a rise in congestion’ on

‘Covid: Tube rush hour busiest since start of pandemic’ on

‘Top fears Brits have about returning to the office after the Covid lockdown’ by Alice Hughes & Lucy Skoulding on

‘Covid: Should I be working from home or going back to the office?’ on

‘Returning to work? What to expect from your first day back in the office’ by Alice Hall on

‘Returning to the workplace after lockdown: how to handle anxiety’ by Fatmata Kamara on