Return to on-site work

Organizational planning for return to on-site work

The University of Washington has, and will always be, a place that advances knowledge, discovery, and innovation through face-to-face interaction. We believe that we advance our public mission and our impact best – for our students, for our employees, for the public, and for our patients — by being in community together. We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us new technology and tools that, when used intentionally and responsibly, can expand our reach, increase our impact, incentivize recruitment and retention, and enhance employee flexibility in ways we had not previously considered.

This webpage outlines guidance for how units evaluate, manage and approve staff and student employee telework arrangements for September 13, 2021 and after, assuming health and safety guidelines (including distancing and density) allow for the University to largely resume in-person instruction and work safely. If health and safety guidelines do not allow for the University to largely resume in-person instruction and work safely by September 13, 2021, the University will announce extensions of COVID-related telework flexibility at an appropriate time that allows for appropriate planning. In the meantime, all units are strongly encouraged to start planning in anticipation for a return to largely in person instruction and operations for autumn quarter.

Autumn quarter planning parameters

Each unit should start planning for a return to largely in-person instruction and operations by the start of Autumn Quarter. Units should develop and announce operational and/or instructional plans and expectations to their employees and discuss and update necessary employee telework agreements in accordance with guidance below. Units are expected to have new or revised telework agreements in place in the employee’s unit personnel file at least prior to September 13, 2021 (when current Back to Workplace guidance expires) – or sooner as operational and instructional plans require.

  • Plans should assume:
    • Space capacity is largely restored to pre-pandemic levels (6 foot distancing no longer required)
    • K-12 systems, childcare and transportation systems have largely normalized
    • All adults (ages 18+) have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, or have easy access to vaccination
    • Face covering and enhanced cleaning protocols remain in place
    • Accommodations for high-risk individuals have ended or, if they remain in place, follow a separate process
    • Buildings are back to being publicly accessible, and open public meeting requirements are in effect
  • Plans should prioritize the following for in-person work:
    • Essential operations, including all clinical operations and operations that support health and safety of the campus environment
    • Instruction and instructional support services
    • Research and research support services
    • Student support services
    • Employee support services
    • Services provided to the public or that are public facing
  • Plans should identify the suitability of positions or employees for ongoing remote or hybrid work, and managers or unit leads should seek approval, as necessary as indicated below.
  • When developing plans and guidance, unit leaders, supervisors and managers are strongly encouraged to consult with their unit HR team or unit HR administrator to facilitate consistent guidance in telework determinations and approvals. Special care should be given to approvals of new or revised telework agreements for staff within probationary periods or on performance improvement plans.
  • When shifting an employee who worked on-site pre-COVID to a hybrid or remote work arrangement post-COVID, telework agreements must be reviewed no less than annually and should communicate they are subject to change after review and with appropriate notice.
  • Plans that include the following may not be executed without prior consultation with UW Human Resources:
    • Employer-initiated hybrid or remote telework arrangements that include contract covered staff (Approval by Human Resources Consultant)
    • Significant shifts of whole teams, programs or services to ongoing, fully remote operations (Work with your Human Resources Consultant to obtain approval from the Vice President for Human Resources)


 This guidance does not cover the following types of telework arrangements:


  1. Identify return to work target date(s) for positions, teams and specific employees. Review operational needs for the period between now and September 10 to identify positions that might be needed on-site prior to September 13. Use the Determining eligibility for hybrid or remote work webpage to review position and worker criteria for both types of telework arrangements. If employees volunteer to return sooner, establish a return-to-work date for them as well. Use the Staff Telework Flexwork Baseline Template (MS Excel) to collect requests for telework from employees.
  2. Communicate your organization’s return to on-site work plan to employees. Use the Announcement of return to on-site work template (MS Word) to announce the return and begin collecting the following information from individual employees:
    • Requests for remote work (100% telework)
    • Requests for hybrid work (partial telework, partial on-site) arrangements
    • Requests for telework as a disability accommodation
    • Requests for alternative work schedules
    • Barriers to return such as caregiver needs, employees at high-risk of complications from COVID-19, etc.
  3. Take steps to help employees understand changes. Employees have many reasons to be concerned about plans to return to on-site work including health and safety and, for those with caregiving responsibilities, child and elder care. Organizations should be transparent about how decisions regarding return to on-site work will be made and should provide opportunities for employees to review information, ask questions, and help shape plans. Pre-COVID telework and remote work arrangements may be maintained.
  4. Give notice to individual employees. Any employee asked to return to the office prior to September 13, 2021 must be provided with at least 30 days’ notice using the Return to On-site Work – Thirty Day Notice template (MS Word). The notice may be sent as an email, attachment or delivered in hard copy.
  5. Identify physical layout or other workplace changes to adjust (or continue). Social distancing, face coverings, capacity limits, and other infection control standards may mean that the physical layout of offices and workstations will need to change. Some employees may need to join meetings from their desks, instead of everyone attending in a conference room. Employees may need video cameras or headsets to continue to work with employees remaining remote. Use this UW Return to On-site Work Decision Tree and consult with EH&S about current public health guidance.
  6. Identify and communicate workplace norms for your organization. Consider whether practices adopted over the past year in response to remote work such as keeping calendars up-to-date with schedules and contact information, using virtual meeting technology, and creating distraction free periods (no meetings, no email, no IMs) should be continued.

Safely working on campus

Understanding and complying with safety standards is a shared responsibility. Organizations and individual employees must follow rules regarding social distancing, wearing face coverings, preventing the spread of infection, and staying home when sick in order to be together safely.

  • All employees are expected to be vaccinated: The University will require students and employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and expects all others in the UW community who can get vaccinated to do so. The vaccines being administered are safe and effective, and you can be vaccinated at any provider at no cost to you.
  • Understand and follow safety standards: Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) is the lead office on campus for developing and sharing safety standards. Employees should review EH&S resources for employees which provides useful information such as coronavirus facts, building readiness guidelines, and descriptions of types of personal protective equipment (PPE). Additionally, each department has developed a Safe Start Checklist which addresses COVID-19 prevention at the local level.
  • Complete a required one-time safety training prior to returning to work: All UW employees must complete this required COVID-19 safety training prior to returning to in-person work.
  • Complete the daily COVID-19 symptom attestation: Effective July 7, employees will no longer be required to complete the daily COVID-19 employee symptom attestation in Workday prior to working on-site unless they work in a health care, child care, and/or K-12 settings. UW Medicine clinical personnel should continue to follow UW Medicine policies and procedures. Other clinical personnel or those in child care settings should continue to use the Workday daily symptom attestation.
  • Stay home when feeling sick: If you are sick, you must stay home. For time off related to COVID-19, view UWHR’s Time off resource summary.

Telework after September 10 requires new forms/approvals

The University intends to fulfill its mission as a university where the majority of learning and research is conducted in person. This means that both organizations and employees will need to evaluate current arrangements and adapt to changes in policy for the period after September 10, 2021.

  1. Complete the return-to-work workforce checklist: In addition to the department return to on-site work staffing plan, units should use the Return to Work - Workforce Checklist (MS Word) to obtain approval from UW Human Resources for the following type of telework arrangements:
    • Employer-initiated hybrid or remote telework arrangements that include contract covered staff
    • Significant shifts of whole teams, programs, or services to ongoing, full remote operations.
  2. Work with employees to complete telework agreements for all employees with a remote or hybrid telework arrangement: Visit UWHR’s Telework, remote work, and out-of-state work webpages for the updated and now required telework agreement forms and updated guidance for telework for managers and employees. All units are required to use the UWHR provided forms for their staff and student employees.