Since March 2020, the University of Limerick has switched from a campus-based education model to online learning and working. We will largely have to continue with this approach. We are not anticipating a full return to working on-site and the guiding principle for all is that if you can work from home, continue to do so.
A project team in UL is working on a plan in accordance with the mandatory provisions in the Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol. This is being led by Buildings & Estates and Health & Safety with input from HR and other areas.
To identify those staff who need to work on campus, we will be liaising with Deans and Department Directors on an approvals process. Researchers who require lab access and academic staff who need to prepare audio-visual material for online teaching are being prioritised initially. We will also be looking at how to facilitate staff who need to be on site for specific periods of time in the working week or month.
Significant detail is required to ensure that we have a safe working environment. This includes: identifying high risk groups or staff with caring responsibilities who may need to remain at home; creating an online induction process for staff returning to work; ensuring that our buildings, offices and lecture rooms are reconfigured to provide sufficient social distancing space; developing hygiene protocols; contacting tracing for staff on-site; and creating a Covid 19 incident response plan.
For the majority of us who will remain at home, a Working from Home Protocol is being developed by HR.
The implementation of this Protocol on campus is being co-ordinated by the Space Management Committee: chaired by Gerry O’Brien (Deputy President, Chief Operating Officer and Registrar) with representation from Academic Affairs, Academic Registry, Research, Buildings and Estates, ITD, Health and Safety Unit, Plassey Campus Centre, Internal Communications, Finance and HR.
The Covid-19 pandemic has abated in Ireland but continues to be a potential threat to public health. This remains the case despite the plan to lift all travel restrictions beginning on Monday 29 June.
The accelerated Government Roadmap for reopening society gives Monday 20 July as the date when universities will open. Details of the implications of a ‘fully opened campus’ in line with this are being worked on. Departments and Units must fully comply with the UL Return to Campus Working Protocol prior to returning to work on or before this date, and are actively preparing their plans for this in cooperation with the Buildings and Estates Department.
Notwithstanding the above, the principle remains in place that if you can work from home, you should continue to do so with your line manager’s approval.
We are working to identify with Deans and Department Directors, researchers who require lab access and academic staff who need to prepare audio-visual material for online teaching. Several actions need to have happened by the end of June for us to enable eligible staff back on site.
The mandated Worker Representative (WR) role needs to be filled on a minimum 1 WR:50 staff basis, with nominations coming from senior line managers. The WR will be responsible for liaising with University management to ensure that all the actions in the government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol are fully adhered to at the University, and communicating and overseeing Covid-19 advice to their colleagues. Their primary point of contact and training will be provided by Health and Safety.
We have to balance campus access with the capacity of our work-spaces. Currently, Buildings and Estates are assessing all classrooms, lecture theatres, labs, multi-occupancy offices and additional rooms, and putting in place capacity limits and advisory notices for physical distancing and hygiene. As a rough guide, these are averaging from 15 – 40% of normal capacity. We are also assessing other spaces for teaching suitability.
These protocols form part of a process that all Units/Departments will have to follow to get back to work on campus. The Bernal Institute has already undergone this process and partially reopened for research purposes on a pilot basis last Monday. Part of this was ensuring that an appropriate Covid-19 Business Response Plan is in place. This was produced in consultation with their Worker Representative and details their plans for physical distancing, hygiene, workspace and equipment sharing, canteen usage, and one-way systems where necessary.
Our planning for a Return to Campus Working is an active process. We are aiming to have a Covid-19 Sharepoint Hub accessible by Wednesday of next week. This will host any documents and guidelines required to plan your return. Academic Planning and Remote Working procedure material will also be located here. I urge you to use this resource; also check in on the Covid-19 FAQs updates on our website.
Our University campus has felt quite forlorn without the usual hustle and bustle of staff and students. It is good to note then that preparation has begun for approved return to work. Physical distancing and Covid-19 awareness signage is being created, hand sanitiser is ordered and H&S inspections have begun to assess physical distancing capacities and other requirements in line with Government guidelines.
The issue to bear in mind is that these guidelines may change. For example there is currently a debate about whether to reduce 2m physical distancing to 1m. If this reduction occurs, capacity modelling for a lecture theatre here in UL shows an increase from 15% of normal capacity to 48%.
For the time being, as recommended, many of us will continue to work from home. Meanwhile, we will continue to take practical steps to help those who do need to get back on-site, while also ensuring that our processes can adapt as the situation and public health advice may change. Following these steps will keep us on track to meet the 20 July deadline in the national plan for reopening society.
From a Research Area or Department/Unit point of view, this means preparing a Covid-19 Business Development Plan. There is a template to follow in creating this on the Covid-19 Sharepoint site, which you can link to here. This template details the steps required to return to active on-campus work, identifies what actions individual departments need to take, what University-wide measures have taken place, and who to contact for assistance.
When a Covid-19 Business Development Plan has been prepared, it will go through a number of review steps involving Health & Safety (H&S) and Buildings & Estates (B&E) before finally being approved by the Space Management Committee. This is to ensure that all appropriate measures have taken place to provide a safe working environment in the context of Covid-19.
Worker Representatives (WRs) are being nominated by line mangers so that each area has a designated Covid-19 contact person. WRs will be sent a link by H&S to their online training module and they will continue to meet on a regular basis in relation to measures being put in place to ensure the suppression of COVID-19 at the University.
Pre-Return to Work Form
Individual staff members who have been identified by their line managers as needing to return to campus working must complete a Pre-Return to Work Form (information sheet here) with reference to the HSE Covid-19 risk categories at least three days before they plan to return. This will be supplied to staff by their line manager as part of the approval process.
Covid-19 Staff Awareness Training
Once your area’s Covid-19 Business Development Plan has been approved and implemented, and the Pre-Return to Work form has been completed with no issues relating to a return to work on campus, staff will need to complete the online Covid-19 Staff Awareness Training course before coming back on site. If you have been approved to return to work on the UL campus, your Manager will email firstname.lastname@example.org to enable you to complete the training programme on Sulis. You will be alerted via email to complete the training course.
If you have been identified as requiring PPE in line with current UL recommendations soon to be available on the Covid-19 Sharepoint site, this will be provided to staff and researchers by B&E and charged back to your department. A budget will be provided to departments for this purpose.
Back on Site
Some areas have already returned to campus with limited staff including Bernal and Nexus. UL Sport have identified a return of our high performance athletes to pool, rowing, athletics and the North Campus Gym over the next two weeks. The Arena Building will not reopen until the HSE Intermediate Care Facility leaves on 30 November.
Remote Working Procedure
Many of us will continue to work remotely. Human Resources are drawing up a Remote Working Procedure, which will be informed by the staff survey of remote working habits, challenges and requirements issued.
Please do find the time to complete this survey before the deadline on Friday 3 July, as your responses will help to shape this document.
We are receiving many enquiries from staff about coming back to work on campus. I must point out that come 20 July, our campus is not reopening in the pre-March 2020 sense. Covid-19 is still a contagious virus within the community. The recommendation continues to be that, if you can work from home and do not have to be physically on site, you should not be applying to work on campus. With this in mind, don’t forget to fill out our remote working survey before the deadline next Friday 3 July.
If your work requires you to be on campus, you should apply for approval to return via your line-manager. This will then be included in their COVID-19 Business Response Plan, a template for which is available on the Covid-19 Sharepoint site.
Once the Health & Safety Unit recommends to the Space Management Committee (SMC) that your area’s Covid-19 Business Response Plan is approved, the Pre-Return to Work form will then be issued to the Unit/Department Head for distribution to selected staff approved to return to campus. Where no issues are identified in the Pre-Return form, the Unit/Department Head will email the staff names to email@example.com to enable the completion of the COVID-19 Staff Awareness training programme.
The number of area requests to return to campus are increasing significantly so the SMC have agreed to prioritise these as follows:
- Essential Support Services
- Academic Activity Requiring on Campus Presence
- Academic Activity / Administrative Support / non-Academic Support
This prioritisation will be reassessed weekly by the SMC.
Other documents recently added to the Covid-19 Sharepoint Site and accessible to all are the Unit Department Manager Return to Work Process and Management of a Suspected COVID-19 Case.
Learning and Development
It’s a truism but University of Limerick can only be as good as the people who work here. We are fortunate to have such dedicated academic and administrative staff and this was never more evident than during the past four months as we moved from a physical campus to a fully open virtual one. To illustrate the extent of this change, take one day: on Thursday 30 April, there were just under two hundred and nineteen thousand (218,925) engagements with SULIS - UL's learning management system.
HR Learning & Development also moved staff training completely online. While over 2,300 attended training and seminars in the last year, close to 800 of these were since we left campus last March. So far we have run 143 training programmes and seminars including Working from Home, Resilience and Wellbeing, Micro Modules for Managers and Workshops to Support Research.
We want to continue to support your training needs. If you have requirement for training that applies to a minimum of 10 people in a division/department, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d be delighted to work with you.
HR Equality and Diversity
Many of you may have seen the President’s statement in response to the national campus climate survey of university students’ sexual violence and harassment experiences in higher education institutions. As to be expected, the focus is largely on our student population but I do want to point out that the Dignity & Respect Training which all staff are required to attend is available now virtually. Existing policies are currently being revised and new policies are being developed to address the key recommendations of the recently published Sector Consent Framework. More about this later. If you have any questions or concerns please contact members of the HR Team or contact one of the members of the Designated Contact Persons on the Designated Contact Person’s Panel.
The East Room Restaurant in Plassey House is reopening next Friday 3 July and will have Covid-19 protocols in place in line with our own University guidelines and those of the Restaurants Association of Ireland. UL Sport’s Adventure Centre and outdoor facilities will also reopen from next Monday in line with Phase 3 of the Government’s Roadmap for the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
So, while the weather is not due to be great this weekend, this is a welcome sign that - taking all sensible precautions - we can begin to plan our social lives again.
Andrew Flaherty Director HR
Thanks to everyone who took the time to complete our Remote Working Survey. If you forgot, there’s still a chance to do so before it closes at 5pm today. The good news is that we have well over 1000 completed questionnaires so far so I anticipate an approximately 70% final sample size of UL staff; this will really help us plan our remote working strategies and supports into the future.
Anecdotally, it is already clear that some staff are facing particular challenges operating in a remote-working environment, whether due to caring duties, the juggle of family life, relationships or something else that you are coping with and of which we are completely unaware. As we enter those summer months when many are on leave and the University tends to be less active, there can be a greater sense of dislocation from work and the comfort of routine.
So I’d like to remind you about our Employee Support Service: a free, confidential counselling and advice service to assist all of us in dealing with personal issues that could pose a threat to our health, well-being, relationships or employment. The service is confidential and independent – and provided by an external company called EAP Consultants. For more information, please go to the Employee Support Service page or check out the FAQs on the HR website.
Finally, in relation to home working, I am liaising with ITD Director Liam O’Reilly on what equipment we can provide to staff who continue to work from home as per Public Health advice. As soon as we pin down the detail, I will share it with you.
Return to Campus Working
UL is doing everything it can, in accordance with the Government mandatory protocols, to ensure that those of us who need to be on campus to do our jobs can do so safely. We all have a personal responsibility in making the decision to apply to return to work or to continue working remotely and, if approved for a return to campus, in ensuring that we follow these protocols. The rest of us should continue to work from home.
In addition to the COVID-19 Business Response Plan Template, a number of new documents have been added to the Return to Campus Working folder on UL COVID-19 SharePoint Hub which you can access here including but not limited to:
- Unit Department Manager Return to Work Process
- COVID-19 PPE Recommendations
- Face Coverings Guidelines HSE Poster
- UL Offices Social Distancing Capacities List
- UL Isolation Rooms Rev 0.8
The Space Management Committee are working with Buildings and Estates (B&E) to approve areas with a completed Business Response Plan for a return to campus on a business need basis. PPE and Signage are about to be ordered and the first point of contact for any area in relation to these should be B&E.
There is a lot of contradictory messaging in the media at the moment about foreign travel. On 12 March 2020, following Irish Public Health recommendations, the University of Limerick suspended all overseas travel until further notice. This continues to be the case for work-related travel. For more information on this, go to our COVID-19 FAQs for links to Government guidelines.
Covid-19 is still a contagious virus within the community. The recommendation continues to be that, if you can work from home and do not have to be physically on site, you should not be applying to work on campus.
If your work requires you to be on campus, then you should apply for approval to return via your line-manager. This will then be included in your department / unit COVID-19 Business Response Plan.
Once your area’s Covid-19 Business Response Plan is approved, you will be sent a Pre-Return to Work form. Where no issues are identified in the Pre-Return form, you will be approved to return to work on campus.
Before you return to campus working, you will need to complete the COVID-19 Staff Awareness training programme. This will be arranged by your line-manager.
A link to the internal Covid-19 Sharepoint site has been shared with all staff which contains additional documentation and information that you may require.