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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:

What is the current government guidance?

New national restrictions were introduced in England from 5 November which will last until Wednesday 2 December. During this period you must:

    1. Stay at home, except for specific purposes.
    2. Avoid meeting people you do not live with, except for specific purposes.

These national restrictions replace previous local restrictions. The Government advice continues to be that you Wash hands > Cover face > Make space. This means you must: 

  • Hands: wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds
  • Face: wear a face covering on public transport and in many indoor spaces, you must wear a face covering by law, unless you are exempt
  • Space: stay 2 metres apart from people who you do not live with where possible

Detailed Government guidance on how you can help to protect yourself and others is available here

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.

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 coronavirus (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, self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started. You should arrange to have a test to see if you have COVID-19 – go to testing to arrange. 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 of coronavirus, 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.

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

Why have we returned to campus when other unis aren’t?

The focus of the university has been to make the campus operational for students and staff and that is why we implemented our 11-step plan to open our buildings safely and in line with social distancing guidelines. All universities will have approached this in the ways that work best for them, which may be different to us.

Are all campus buildings open?

The vast majority of buildings are now open. Please be aware that while a building may be ready for occupation it doesn’t mean all staff should return to campus, this should be managed by departments in discussion with individuals. 

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?

We continue to follow government guidance on face coverings. The most recent guidance is that face coverings should be worn in all indoor areas on campus where it does not imapact on teaching and learning. They are mandatory in retail and catering outlets and the library. Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings and we expect staff and students to be sensitive to those needs.

Further government guidance on face coverings is available here.

What happens if we have a Covid 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 working from home?

In line with Government advice, our guidance is that if you can work from home you should do so. All staff should have had a discussion with their line manager about their working arrangements and agreed an approach that works for individuals and teams. 

The Government has also confirmed that education is an essential provision and that Universities should remain open, with face to face activity taking place where it is safe to do so. There are services we provide for our students that have to be delivered on campus because they can't be done remotely, and in these circumstances some staff will need to be on campus to provide those services. Any member of staff who feels uncomfortable working on campus should talk to their line manager about any alternative arrangements that could be put in place to help. 

How are you supporting home working?

One of the positive outcomes of Covid-19 is that we’ve found that many of us are able to work from home at least some of the time and that brings a much greater degree of flexibility to everyone, however taking a long-term view, we know that there will also need to be a balance as it’s also important to many of us that we have the interaction of working in a team. There will also always be some jobs that simply can’t be done from home. 

Our Homeworking policy draws on the lessons we have learnt over recent months to enable homeworking to continue where it is appropriate for both the University and individuals. 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 Homeworking policy and guidance covers:

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

I’m in a vulnerable category – will I be expected to return?

Our homeworking policy includes guidance for managers on prioritisation of working from home based on a needs framework. This will help us to ensure that we can continue to support our vulnerable members of staff. Members of staff who consider themselves high risk should let their line manager know in the first instance. 

I have to care for others – do I have to return to campus?

This is an area which will need to be teased out through conversations between individual members of staff and their line managers. We will do our best to accommodate. HR is currently developing a checklist to help managers and to encourage discussions with staff prior to returning to campus.

I’m feeling anxious – do I have to return to campus?

We would encourage staff who find themselves in this position to talk to their line manager, or their HR Business Partner if preferable, so that we can look at what can be done to support you. This is a really difficult time for many and there may be some anxiety about returning to the campus, and there is support available from counselling to occupational health. The most important thing is to have that initial conversation and to raise your concerns.

I’m feeling overworked – what about my mental health?

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. 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?

HR are currently finalising a checklist and needs framework, and information to support line managers in what is a unique situation. The way you’re treated by your line manager makes a massive 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.

Will we support more flexible working long-term?

As well as supporting staff to work from home in the short-term, we are looking at business as usual and long-term options for staff who have found they are able to work from home effectively. There are a number of benefits here not just to staff but also to the University as we are tight on space in some instances, so this is something we’ll be looking at closely. Line managers will be involved in making these kind of decisions, but there are various things that need to be taken into consideration. For example, can the individual work from home effectively without impacting on the experience of our students or on research? Can the individual work from home safely? And what’s going on with the rest of the team? Vulnerable members of staff would need to take priority when discussing working from home and this may have an impact on the arrangements the team can make.

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. The University has, however, increased the amount of leave that can be carried over by staff from five to 10 days. We are working on a new scheme that would give staff the opportunity to purchase additional annual leave. More information will be available shortly.

When will the recruitment freeze be lifted?

We simply don’t know the answer to that, though we will have a better idea of how the future looks following our recruitment activity in the next couple of months. There is still a process to recruit and one of the questions we are asking Heads of Department is what the impact will be on existing staff workload if a role isn’t filled. If a role is absolutely critical and it can’t be filled any other way then it is approved. There are several cases we’ve looked at a number of times, which shows the level of detail we are going into on such an important issue.

Will we have a pay freeze this year?

The cost of living rise is negotiated nationally and we will await the outcome of that. Measures specific to Brunel will be considered once we have a better understanding of how successful our recruitment activity has been. If there was a pay freeze it would be temporary. As soon as we could return to what salaries should be then we would do so. 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 aren’t 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 say what our student numbers are going to be. 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 a potential second wave?

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 would be vital if a second wave came about.

Will our current/ future building projects go ahead?

The Learning & Teaching Centre has bee 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?

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?

Our dual delivery approach offers 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.

How are we accommodating on-campus teaching?

With social distancing measures in our teahcing 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 will be 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 will reflect the impact of Covid-19 and will be 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.