Coronavirus latest, Thursday 26th March

Four days into a totally different way of working, it’s definitely not “business as usual”.

For many people struggling to work at home, trying to juggle multiple issues and problems is massively stressful and for some, the sense of isolation is having a serious effect on wellbeing.

We recognise that these circumstances are totally different from anything any of us has experienced before in our working and personal lives. There is a desire to keep the University functioning, mainly concentrating on the welfare of students still living in halls, but also for the thousands of students studying remotely. There’s also a desire to maintain what we can, so that some semblance of normality can be picked up whenever all this is over.

All universities will face significant recruitment and therefore financial worries at some point, perhaps becoming more urgent as things return to normal, whatever that means and whenever that is. We all want the University of Brighton to thrive as a successful place of learning and research and we are all doing what we can to make sure that happens.

The reality is though, that at the moment, many University employees are struggling.

We are all facing, in differing degrees, significant obstacles in our ability to carry out our jobs. These are mainly a lack of decent equipment and reliable internet connections. Health problems are being caused and exacerbated by poor posture and no realistic way of improving working conditions. A difficult home environment (childcare and home tutoring, noisy and inconsiderate flatmates, neighbours, bored and restless relatives and conflicting needs for limited resources, specifically IT equipment and somewhere to work without distractions.)

On top of all this, the recognition that this is not just a working holiday is causing more stress to many, worried about relatives and friends and not sure how or whether to attempt to get essential supplies of food.

Whilst we recognise that the “business as usual” message is the Vice Chancellor’s way of trying to motivate the workforce, it can’t and does not apply to most of us.

As a result of the situation we find ourselves in, the best that the University can expect from us is that we do our best. Clearly, the productivity of support staff has fallen and will remain for many at a low level. This is not due to lack of effort, but because virtually every work-related task is slow, complicated and almost bound to involve some type of frustrating obstacle. We’re all reaching for files and documents which remain in the office and we’re all thinking of ways to get round the fact that there are some things we just can’t do.

The open-ended timescale is also problematic. Do we try to plan for May, or June, or just leave stuff on the basis that it might not happen, except that if it does then we won’t have planned for it?

So, our message to UEB is that we are all trying our best and that’s all you can expect given the circumstances. Given the situation, we would demand and expect the following:

Managers should be happy with people doing what they can. No member of staff should be made to feel guilty or inadequate as a result of the circumstances and if an individual can only contribute a couple of hours’ work a week then that should be seen as a commendable effort. This is not a competition to see who can do what.

Managers should also accept that some people just can’t work given their circumstances and there should be special leave granted with no interrogation as to the reasons. Individual workers are best able to determine their capabilities, especially if faced with the full-time job of childcare.

All fixed term contracts due to end within the next few months should be automatically extended. The University should not carry out redundancies or end contracts leaving people without income at a time like this.

All staff on casual contracts should be paid as normal for work done or paid based on an average of recent earnings. Casual staff should not be pauperised as a result of this crisis.

All changes to working practices, shift patterns etc., should be agreed with the workers themselves and UNISON where necessary. This should be based on the best health and safety advice, particularly in relation to employees still on site dealing with students and the estate. The University has a legal and moral duty to make sure that employees keep the two metre distance between people.

All members of staff who are willing and able to volunteer to help in the community should be able to do so with no need to go through a complicated permissions process. There is an urgent need for people to help out and this should be encouraged.

Equally, we need to make demands on our members:

Please make sure you are looking after your welfare, and not trying to carry out work more than you can. We know many people will try their best, but the circumstances are such that the strain and stress of worrying about what you can and can’t do could make you ill. Only do what you can, safely and comfortably.

Please consider your working conditions and limit yourself to only working in short bursts. Most of us do not have appropriate desks, seating or any realistic possibility of improving the situation. Under normal circumstances, the University would look to agree reasonable adjustments where necessary. It’s now up to you to decide what they should be.

Please keep in touch with your workmates, family and friends remotely. It is very isolating to go through the whole day without talking to others and the University’s duty of care to you means that your manager should be checking you’re OK, whether you’re working or not.

Please follow the most recent advice to protect yourself and others.

If you have any questions or comments then please feel free to get in touch. We’re trying to operate “as usual” but with the obvious constraints.

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