Following the announcement that people in England no longer have to work from home (WFH) from 19 July – and the rest of the UK will follow suit shortly - there will be tens of thousands of workers preparing to return to their offices for the first time in 18 months.
This is great news for business and the economy, although there is still some confusion about what this actually means, so here is some guidance about what it entails.
The roadmap to recovery
The announcement forms part of the government’s covid roadmap to recovery and will be welcome news for many business owners. The government wants to aid business recovery as quickly as possible and the Prime Minister has told companies to start preparing and planning for a safe return to the workplace. City centres and towns have suffered during the lockdown and employees returning to work will have a positive effect on trade in the immediate vicinity of where they work.
I don’t want to return to the office so can I still WFH?
You can ask your boss if you can carry on working remotely and you can support this by showing them your productivity levels are high and you are achieving all your targets but they don’t have to agree with you. So, at the end of the day it is up to your employer. There should be some flexibility here because many employers are looking at adopting a hybrid model where workers will enjoy a mix of office and remote based work.
Employers also need to understand that there will be trepidation for many of their staff returning to work and their wellbeing should be of utmost concern to all parties concerned. Managers need to speak to each team member regarding their concerns and these should be addressed and resolved before returning to their place of work.
Those who came under the clinical extremely vulnerable group and have been shielding throughout can still be asked to return to their place of work by employers if their job cannot be done remotely.
Recent research indicates that as many as 8 out of 10 workers would prefer to continue to WFH so this may be a major concern for businesses of all sizes and sectors. The date of 19 July should not be treated as a compulsory mass migration day to go back to work, companies need to stagger the return and make it a gradual process.
Is it safe to return to the office?
Your employer still needs to undertake a Covid risk assessment of your working environment to minimise the risk of transmission. This should include reducing the number of visitors; maintaining social distancing measures; staggering shifts; frequent and thorough cleaning; extra hand sanitising and washing facilities; back-to-back working instead of face-to-face or side-by-side seating, and one way flow systems where possible to reduce contact. The wearing of face coverings will depend on the job but won’t be mandatory.
There may be regular lateral flow testing where and when it is necessary. Employers need to pay close attention to any government announcements and act accordingly. If employees feel unsafe in their workplace then they should contact their local authority, Citizens Advice or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE has undertaken over 200,000 inspections to ensure companies are abiding by covid rules. They can if necessary force businesses to take action.
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