Joint Union Homeworking Survey – Coronavirus

Three weeks ago the recognised Trade Unions at City (UNISON, UCU and Unite) opened a joint-survey of staff on the University shutdown and home working. We are now pleased to share with you the survey report.

We launched the survey because we believed that it was urgent to find out more about how City staff were coping with changed working conditions. We asked City Senior Management if we could use internal email lists to distribute a survey to all members of staff. This request was refused. Instead we emailed a link to an online survey to our respective members and asked members to circulate the link among departmental colleagues in order to reach non-Union members. 

The executive summary of the report can be found below and the entire report is Joint Union Homeworking Survey – Report 17 April 2020

The three unions want to thank every respondent. Almost 600 staff engaged with the survey. Your response to this survey was magnificent, providing us with a detailed evidence base on which to better represent staff at City and hold management to account during this stressful period.

We will also be sending this report to University management and will request they address the many concerns raised by your responses.

Many non-union members also completed the survey. Please share this email with your colleagues so they can see the report and invite them to join one of the three trade unions too.

In solidarity,

Keith Simpson, City University UCU President

Dan Cowley, Unite Branch Secretary

Daniel Shannon-Hughes, UNISON Branch Secretary


Executive Summary

The following summarises the findings elaborated in this report. 

 Homework conditions: While 30% of staff have access to an office or study, almost half of all staff have no office equipment of any kind (neither chair nor desk). A small minority do not even have a table at which to work. These staff are sitting on the floor, bean-bags or on a bed. Much of the furniture used for homeworking is uncomfortable, especially over the long run and there are major concerns about health, especially musculoskeletal health. This is most severe for staff with pre-existing conditions. For many homeworking spaces are shared, which also produces problems for privacy.

 IT: Staff are reliant on often old and slow computer hardware. This is delaying work and increasing worries about completing work on time. Working on small laptop screens is also a major obstacle for colleagues used to a large, or multiple, screens. Intermittent or slow wifi also reduces productivity. Some staff are frustrated at having to use personal computer equipment for work demands where this is increasing the load and wear on less than robust technology and at the additional costs they are accruing in working at home. 

 Childcare: Approximately 30% of staff have childcare responsibilities, most for young (Primary or pre-Primary age) children. Most of these staff have joint childcare responsibility, but a large minority of female carers (and a much smaller minority of other carers) have sole childcare responsibility. Joint care tends to involve partners sharing variably, rather than allowing carers specified days or times to work, which increases unpredictability about availability or deadlines. Most staff with child-care responsibility can currently manage a reduced workload (e.g. half days), some can only do ‘light’ or ‘essential’ tasks, while for others even this much is ‘challenging’. Many of these staff are fitting work around childcare, working during naps or into the evening. These circumstances require changing managerial expectations and increased flexibility.

 Elder/Adult-Care: About a quarter of staff are involved in elder care either for someone they live with or someone living elsewhere. This may involve doing additional day-to-day tasks like shopping that need to be fit within the working day, but also involves significant worry. For this group a major concern is the anticipation that circumstances may suddenly worsen. 

 Communication: Quantitative scores on communication are largely positive, although academics are less positive than professional service staff. Staff are unhappy about the tone of some communication, however. 

 Work Performance and Expectations:  Staff judged their manager’s expectations on different aspects of their work as largely reasonable, although academic staff were more critical than professional service staff. In qualitative comments the positive overview was nuanced significantly. While lots of staff said their line-manager was ‘supportive’, this was not universal, with some criticising the lack of ‘checking in’. For many there were big concerns about timelines and deadlines. Even though the survey question asked about line managers, lots of respondents reframed this to focus on the expectations of Senior Managers who were seen as ultimately setting, and too often changing, priorities and deadlines. Where academic staff had been required to move to online teaching rapidly this was identified as creating a lot of stress. While the requirement to attend multiple ‘online meetings’ was an emerging problem. Staff also highlighted the problems of isolation for mental health and for maintaining productivity. 

 Looking Ahead: There was little expectation that staff constraints or capacity to work would change much over the next three months if the lockdown continued. But many staff commented on the ways that the experience of working from home would become more difficult as the goodwill required to transition wore thin and they started to ‘burn out’. Mental health was widely seen as at risk. The longer-term implications of bad workstations for back-pain in particular was raised by many. A number of staff with childcare responsibility believed that the ability to continue juggling was not sustainable. Where staff were in insecure contracts the future was especially bleak. 

 Worries: There was widespread worry about a range of Covid-19 related issues (own health; the health of a family member; financial worries; the state of the world; and generalised anxiety). Moreover, these worries are impacting work, with about sixty percent of staff stating that their concentration, and productivity, has been affected by their current emotional state. 

 Priorities: Key staff priorities for the short and medium term future included: ensuring job security; pushing for managers to recognise that this is not ‘business as usual’ and developing and communicating expectations on this basis; developing support for homeworking; prioritising staff health and safety; the development of transparent, inclusive and effective future planning; and cancelling strike deductions. 

 City’s Trade Unions: Although not asked about directly, respondents expressed considerable support for the role that the trade unions play at City, including the support and information they provide to members.