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To: University of Birmingham
University of Birmingham: let us choose to work flexibly
We ask the University of Birmingham to commit to ensuring all staff are able to choose to work flexibly, in ways that work for them, and have the right support to do so, as the COVID-19 lockdown gradually lifts.
Why is this important?
Over the past year, we have successfully adapted to remote working made necessary by the pandemic. We have worked hard to ensure the work of the University has continued, in a safe and effective way. We have made sure systems still run, research is able to continue, and students are still able to have the best experience possible.
Feedback from University management has rightly recognised this:
"We can all feel proud of the quality of education that we have been able to maintain in the most difficult of circumstances. [It] is a testament to your dedication, and to the supportive environment that you have all helped to create."
"Indeed, one of the more positive lessons of the pandemic is that we can do some pretty fabulous things online."
(Emails to all staff from Head of College of Social Sciences)
We have done all this from home. While the COVID-19 crisis has brought many challenges, there have also been opportunities. Being able to work from home has meant a better work-life balance, and more inclusive ways of working for disabled staff and those with caring responsibilities - often met by women.
We are concerned that one of the few positive points of the COVID-19 pandemic - our ability to work flexibly and remotely, improving our work-life balance and our productivity - will be lost as we begin to emerge from lockdown. We ask the University to make sure this does not happen, and staff at all levels are enabled to keep working well.
We Need to Keep Working Safely
As the most recent lockdown begins to lift, we want to ensure we are able to keep these flexible working arrangements, where they work for us. This means ensuring that all those who want to continue to work from home, and for whom it is practical and accessible to do so, are able to keep the flexibility they have been able to work with, without having to go through onerous formal application processes.
This also means ensuring disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent staff have the right adjustments in place both at home and on campus, right from the beginning of their employment, to enable them to work safely, productively and flexibly.
We ask the University to work with UCU, Unison, Unite and GMB to ensure all staff are able to work in ways that work for them, including having the right adjustments in place to enable us to work flexibly.
The Benefits of Remote and Flexible Working
It has been argued by organisations such as the Chartered Management Institute that home working, and other flexible working arrangements, can be a part of closing gender and disability pay and leadership gaps, as well as improving the attraction, retention, progression, and well-being of employees. The University of Birmingham’s own research into increased flexible working during COVID-19, in partnership with the University of Kent, found that most respondents noted they would prefer to work more flexibly in the future (including 52% of all parents and 66% of non-parents), after benefitting from a better work-life balance, increased productivity and improved wellbeing during lockdown. The University's Business School has also written about some of the benefits of home working, flexible working and blended approaches. Research from Cardiff University and the University of Southampton found that 70% of employees surveyed found their productivity either stayed the same or increased while they were working from home. The Government itself has argued flexible working - including flexi-time and home working - should be normalised, stating it would ‘boost productivity and particularly help women and those outside major cities’.
By enabling all staff to continue working in ways that work for them, the University can make meaningful progress on some of its targets around dismantling structural barriers faced by groups within the University, as part of its 2021-24 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion scheme. This includes demonstrating the University’s commitment to being a “Disability Confident” employer, by ensuring the benefits of remote and flexible working for disabled people are not lost; and making it easier for those with caring responsibilities to balance these with their work. Home working can also contribute positively to the UoB Sustainable Travel Plan by reducing travel to campus and surrounding areas, and address the significant issues that staff have faced with parking on campus.
Trust us to Work Well
An earlier email from the chairs and co-chairs of the University’s staff networks stated that there was clear evidence of ‘a desire for global culture change that embeds a transparent trusted approach in relationships between staff and leaders.’ We ask the University of Birmingham to trust staff, who have consistently demonstrated their ability to adapt and deliver to a high standard, given the right support.
We ask the University of Birmingham to demonstrate its worth as an employer that trusts and empowers its staff: trust us to work flexibly, in ways that work for us, and that benefit everyone.