Teesside says staff must apply for permission to work off-campus

Email also says staff should not work from home for general reasons for more than one or two days per semester

December 11, 2019
escape artist in chains
Source: Alamy

An email sent to staff at Teesside University has ignited a debate about flexible working, as a union accused it of imposing “archaic” conditions that restrict academics from working from home or doing off-campus research.

Staff at the School of Health and Life Sciences recently received an email, seen by Times Higher Education, that stated that academics should not work from home for general reasons for more than one or two days per semester and that this should “not be a regular working pattern”.

Requests to work from home should be made five days in advance, it said.

The email also outlined the conditions for “research and scholarly activity” – one potential reason for working off-campus, not subject to a limitation on the number of days per semester – which includes working on books, articles or conference papers. Staff must make requests to do this work by 5pm the day before, and “requests will be rejected if there is no detail”, the email said.

Teesside said reasons for working off-campus for research and scholarly activity could include investigative or creative work and its communication, research conferences, work towards completion of a PhD thesis and preparation of funding bids.

According to University and College Union regional official Iain Owens, there is “widespread discontent among staff” about working conditions and “archaic restrictions being imposed on the ability of staff to work flexibly”.

“Restricting staff to only two days per semester working from home is patronising, impractical and smacks of micromanagerialism,” he said.

According to Mr Owens, staff “have grave concerns that the proposals will impact negatively on teaching quality, research output and staff morale, which is already stretched to breaking point”.

He said that the union was currently engaged in talks with management. “Our members feel that professional respect should be afforded to all staff, and if there is no resolution and the restrictions remain, then we may have no option but to ballot for a formal dispute,” he said.

However, a Teesside University spokesman said there had “been no change to university policy or working arrangements”.

“At the start of the academic year, in response to academic feedback and to build on key strengths, we realigned a number of courses to create a new academic school structure,” he said. This created the School of Health and Life Sciences.

“As part of our commitment to provide the very best student and learning experience, we want our academic staff to have as much contact with students as possible,” he continued. “As such, staff have simply been reminded of the existing university policy, which was agreed with UCU.

“This states that staff wishing to conduct work off-site or to work from home need to agree this in advance with their line manager, as is the case across the university.”



Print headline: Your workplace is here, not at home

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Reader's comments (14)

It's interesting - for 22 weeks of the year, the University is saying 'please be on campus and be available and present whilst we're delivering core business - the other 30 weeks...well work wherever and how you wish ?' The article doesn't cover whether the days they attend are also flexible in terms of arrival and departure and if a full day (7 hours) on campus is needed...academics can still apply for off-campus activity and specific days at home - it still sounds incredibly flexible and justifiable. All other 'academic related' and non-acdemic staff are expected to attend 7 hours a day, 52 weeks a year and apply for specific time off campus, so by comparison Teeside remains an incredibly flexible model for academics that has added a further degree of accountablity.
It does not sound like the usual academic deal to me! My contract says "duties as determined by Head of Department", so if local management is happy then everything is fine. I guess I am lucky to work where I do but we are research-led and would not keep staff if the Teesside conditions were imposed. It does work both ways as there is no overtime or time off in lieu but then that is what is expected of a profession. Are we saying that academics are not professionals any more and cannot be trusted to work properly unless closely monitored?
You don't understand how academics do their work and the conditions that such work requires.
I think your calculations may be a little off there.
Obviously little appreciation of what the role encompasses. The majority of academics work well in excess of their 37 hour a week contract, marking at home in the evening at weekends, this will no longer occur. The reality will be a drop in productivity and a
So the spokesman said “As part of our commitment to provide the very best student and learning experience, we want our academic staff to have as much contact with students as possible”. Are they requiring staff to live with students, now?
However, we have been given guidance that we should not be offering 1:1 tutorials outside of formal class times as it is not in our workload. So if we are not to have tutorials with students or offer any support outside of class why do we have to be sat in our offices and constantly available to them? It makes no sense?
As long as you are around to deliver lectures/labs/office hours does it really matter where you are working the rest of the time? I work a lot with distance learners who for obvious reasons are completely indifferent as to where I might be when dealing with them... and as I live a long way from the university, if I intend to deliver an evening webinar I work from home that day to ensure I am there to present the class (the trains are very unreliable, I was 25 minutes late home last night, which means that had I been holding a tutorial I would have been late!). Fortunately the university is quite happy about this, and it's known that I'm not normally in on Wednesdays unless there is a specific need for me to be there for a meeting, exam board or whatever.
I think the key point here, regardless of the comment in the article from the tees representative is that they have made significant changes to working practices and that what we have been told is a new way of working that contravenes all HR policies and guidance. On one hand HR guidance to all staff states we are respected professionals and expected to work flexibly and take responsibility for our workloads be that on campus or elsewhere. But in the new School of Health and Life Sciences we have been told we have to request working at home, this can be no more than 2 days per semester, and our heads of department have to agree it. Not one request for working at home has been agreed since the new policy has been put in place...how is that flexible? These rulings have not been made in each school at Teesside University just SHLS...why is there inequity in working arrangements for just one school?
As an academic in another part of the university, I want to make it clear that this is a university wide policy. Most of us have been working to it but somehow colleagues in Health haven’t. Now things are equal. It shouldn’t be an issue to let your LM know where you plan on working, unless of course you’ve been gaming the flexible working policy to do things other than work. Flexible working has always been at line managers discretion and to fit the business need. This is a lot of noise about nothing
This is so worrying for the whole sector
Looking at their website I’m not sure how this policy fits with their investors in people gold award
Unfortunately I can see that academics outwith the school of health may misunderstand how the school works in a very different way. My students spend 50% of their time in clinical practice therefore as well as lectures and teaching, we need to be visible in practice to assess them as well as being current with research and other activities within the clinical areas as well as university. Department leads have access to our diaries and we are always contactable during these times so I am unsure where the problem lies. Our professional integrity is being questioned and if there are individuals who abuse this then they should be dealt with on an individual basis rather than imposing a blanket rule to a school that doesn't run like the others. Marking is impossible in office areas and there are no suitable spaces in the school to do this. We don't even have a staff room!
Semesters add up to 22 weeks a year - teaching contact time averages 10-11 hours per week at most institutions. Most academics can travel in and out when they like during these 22 weeks. It's not too much to ask that they are on campus to help drive contact time and to be availableto students who are largely on campus when they need to be and may ofetn need valaubale contact time, help, assistance or support outside of scehduled sessions. Asking your employer in advance for flexible one-off arrangements is fine - the academic employee needs to demonstrate their value and output as woudl any other employee elsewhere. The other 30 weeks for teaching staff, it seems, can be arranged more freely and are typically for extended periods (4 weeks at Christmas, 4 weeks at Easter, 18 weeks in summer).