Gill Aitken: returning to onsite working

It is still four weeks until term starts but there are now more students in town than we have seen for six months, traffic is almost back to normal, 135 of our buildings are open and as I returned to my office this week, I was greeted by several colleagues around Wellington Square each looking pleased to be back yet wondering what to expect next.

And the truth is that we don’t know exactly what the autumn will bring although we can be pretty sure that COVID will be with us and we know that the University must be ready to adapt and change how it works to protect the health of all while making sure that our students are taught and our research can progress. 

Our planning has been collaborative and thorough: colleagues in colleges, departments, faculties and services have beavered away through the summer to make sure that there is guidance and resource to cover almost all eventualities. Despite the impossibility of meeting physically these plans have been consulted on and tested widely to make sure that they can be delivered without creating difficulties for another part of the University. We have worked with the City and County Councils, Public Health Authorities and Oxford Brookes on testing how different scenarios might play out and what actions would need to be taken.

For those of you returning to work in departments, offices and colleges: careful and expert thought has gone into making our work places safe with spacing of desks and in rooms, sanitation and cleaning. We can all use the COVID vulnerability assessment tool to check our own level of risk and use that to inform decisions about any support we will need to work on site or at home. As I cycled into work last Tuesday, and climbed the steps into the University Offices it felt slightly strange. But after my first meeting with a face covering (it felt more engaged and human than a Teams video call), my favourite salad from Taylors for lunch, and chats to other newly returning colleagues, I realised how pleased I was to be back.