Roadmap out of lockdown
As we continue to navigate the roadmap out of lockdown, returning to the office and working routines which were second nature before the pandemic draws ever closer to becoming a reality. Although the current government advice remains that everyone who can work from home should do so, as the end of restrictions (fingers crossed) approaches, it is likely that more and more people will be returning to their workplaces even if this is only on an occasional basis for the time being.
Returning to the office
Whilst many employees will be looking forward to returning to the office, and their employers keen to welcome them back, some staff will undoubtedly be feeling anxious after spending so long working from home or furloughed.
If the average age of a UK worker is 41, then the majority of employees will not yet be fully vaccinated and a large number will still be waiting for their first vaccination, adding to the risk of transmission in the workplace and while travelling to and from work. Unsurprisingly, many employees will still be focused on staying as safe as possible.
A changing society
There are clear signs that society is moving away from the traditional office-based 9-to-5 model of work and the recent weeks have seen some notable announcements made by major employers detailing their return to work plans.
Despite or perhaps because of the effect of lockdown restrictions on working practices, exclusive homeworking appears to be the exception rather than the norm as more businesses opt for a mix of home and office-based working.
For example, KPMG have told staff they should only expect to work in the office for up to four days each fortnight while Google will be allowing 20% of its employees to work permanently from home with 60% required to be in the office at least three days a week. PWC have also indicated that they intend to adopt a hybrid working system whereby 40-60% of an employee’s working time will be spent in the office as well as introducing flexibility regarding start and finish times.
Flexible and hybrid working
Any employers considering introducing hybrid working or offering more flexible working arrangements should really be discussing these with their workforce, or at least appointed representatives or trade unions, before taking any permanent decisions. Consultation will encourage staff involvement, minimise disruption and may even reassure those individuals who are worried about the proposed changes before their concerns lead to objections, complaints or formal grievances.
Hybrid working models should be built on two-way flexibility and designed to meet the needs of employees, clients and, above all, the business. For now at least, any trials or new systems or work must adhere to the government guidance on working safely during coronavirus. Going forward, health and safety will remain important as the core duties for employers under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1976 is to provide and maintain safe systems of work.
Some employers may want to require staff to produce a negative coronavirus test result before they enter the workplace or perform a client-facing role. Although this will complement rather than replace other health and safety measures, compulsory workplace testing still requires justification.
Employers thinking about implementing it will need to have reasonable objectives and consider the potential data protection implications. Refusals will need to be reviewed on a case-by-case taking into account reasons and personal circumstances. For these reasons we recommend introducing a workplace testing policy.
A safe return
Taking a gradual approach to returning to the office and keeping staff numbers low in the early stages of the return will help maintain health and safety measures and encourage confidence. During this time good communication will be essential so that everyone knows what they can and cannot do while in the workplace and who to contact with any requests or concerns.
Finding a balance between home and office working or introducing more flexibility to working arrangements may take longer. However, consultation will make the task easier and allow for changes to be made along the way which people will, hopefully, be more willing to accept than oppose.