Building on a positive return to campus

After more than a year of home working, this summer it was time for many of us to prepare for gradually returning to campus. But as people had very different views on coming back, our task was complex. How could we engage and enthuse teams about getting back to face-to-face, no matter what their viewpoint?

Bringing policy to life

As the HR department developed its new Remote Working Policy during summer 2021, we were tasked with a new challenge: could we take the policy document, designed essentially to ensure staff attended campus at least one day a week, and use it to encourage staff to feel positive and engaged with the change to a new way of working?

We had a number of different stakeholders – teams who’d worked remotely for nearly 18 months, teams who’d started to return, and teams who’d been on campus all throughout the pandemic, delivering essential services. We also had a range of emotional responses – some people couldn’t wait to leave their home offices behind and rejoin colleagues, while others were unconvinced of the benefits. Some were anxious.

Hearts and minds

We decided to put together a storytelling feature in Shorthand, showcasing where different teams were in the journey to our new way of working, highlighting the different needs of the teams and the challenges they faced. Our aim was to show that we’re all approaching the change with open minds, seeing what works and reflecting on what doesn’t. We didn’t have all the answers yet but we knew we wanted to find a hybrid between home and campus working. While there were still many practical, detailed questions we couldn’t answer (which office will I be in? do I have to bring my own tea?) we wanted to appeal to hearts and minds to get people on board with the return.

As part of the feature, we interviewed teams across the University – and we found similar themes and thoughts coming through. What emerged strongly is that many of us feel we gain something from being together with our teammates – for more creativity, stronger team communication, or simply gaining energy from being around other people. We focussed on this team spirit to draw people back.

Our green spaces

When it came to illustrating the feature, the answer seemed obvious. At York we’re able to offer our University community nature, serenity and wildlife on our beautiful green campus. We included shots of some of the lovelier areas of campus that we know people missed. 

We’d learnt from the #covidkeeps channel that people had a wide variety of responses to home working. Lots of us missed campus itself – the lunchtime walks around the lakes, the wildlife spotting, the sense of space. We presented images of our campus alongside the case studies – giving people a visual reminder of what they were returning to.

Although many of us had been working at home for more than a year, we needed to make sure we didn’t alienate those colleagues who had been working on campus throughout the pandemic – performing essential tasks across a wide range of functions to keep the University going. With nods to these colleagues peppered throughout all our communications, we linked to a ‘thank you’ video to these colleagues in our feature, to ensure they felt included and acknowledged.

Giving the detail

We continued to point our content to a single source of information – our reconnecting on campus webpage – for information on booking rooms, and the latest guidance. And we continued to work closely with colleagues in the HR team on their timeline as they progressed training with managers.


We launched the feature in an email to all staff from the Vice-Chancellor – and within two days had racked up more than 500 views, with an average of more than eight minutes spent reading the content. 

Looking ahead, we’ll continue to use our reconnecting on campus page as the single source of truth for staff – but we’ll need to work with departments to make sure they let us know about changes. We’ll also be looking at when to retire the page altogether, as well as retiring information on our Covid pages.

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