Lifting Covid Restrictions – Back to the office or staying at home?

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About half of the UK workforce are in jobs that can be done (at least in part) from home.

A BBC survey this week of 50 major employers highlighted that the majority will not return their staff to the office full time, moving instead to ‘hybrid’ working i.e. mixing office with home working two or three days a week. There is good evidence to suggest this can work well for businesses and their employees in general – but making the shift comes with management challenges.

In fact, there has rarely been a more challenging time for businesses; balancing our emergence into the ‘new normal’ with the needs of employees as we open up our workspaces again.

In the first of a series of updates this month to coincide with the relaxing of restrictions, we look at some issues for clients to consider on the topic of returning to the office – or not?

To return or not to return?

You probably have a mix of some employees who are clamouring to get back, and some who are very happy to stay at home. In considering what’s best for your business, some good first steps are to:

  1. Look at what has worked well with employees at home, and what definitely needs to happen back at the office. Evidence suggests that routine tasks can be done more efficiently at home, boosting short term productivity; whereas innovation and creativity – the drivers of long term productivity – happen best in a collaborative environment.
  2. Gather the thoughts of individual members of staff. Individual circumstances, from someone’s personality to their living conditions – are big determinants of how successful home working can be for them. Isolation, leading to poor mental health, is a risk for hardcore home workers.
  3. Make an honest assessment of whether your culture is ready for significant levels of ongoing home working. This will depend largely on whether you measure employee success based on what they produce (outputs), rather than the hours and effort they put in (inputs). The former method is the best way to motivate your people and is much better suited to a home-working approach.
  4. Consider whether to have a common policy or individual choice. In most cases the ‘hybrid’ policy will be the result, with companies stating for example that a minimum of 2 or 3 days should be spent in the office with the rest at home. This allows the possibility for those that struggle at home to spend more time in the office, whilst those wanting still less time in the office retain their existing right to make a further flexible working request.
  5. Consider how your workplace layout needs to change, if it is to become a place for hot desking and
    collaboration, rather than allocated desks.

All back or none back?

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If you need a blanket policy that everyone returns to the office full time, then communicate this clearly and explain
why – there will be plenty hoping to continue with a mix of office and home working who will feel disappointed.

Similarly, if home working becomes a permanent feature, there is a lot to consider and put in place to make it
successful, and some employees for whom this will present particular challenges.

If you are going hybrid, you will have a mixture of issues to consider.

We should not forget that some clients have had to close and furlough employees throughout – some of these
considerations will also apply as you re-open and bring staff back to work.

For employees returning to the office, all or part of the time:

  • Your employees are probably contracted to work from your premises anyway, and many will welcome a return to your facilities rather than their own. No more Zoom, seeing the team and socialising, along with your heating, coffee and internet connection!
  • Start to talk to them about plans for returning and the Covid safe guidelines in place. Plan for how you are going to accommodate people whilst distancing measures are still in place and give them the opportunity to phase back in.
  • You may want to give priority to those who really want to come back – if the home environment has proved difficult.
  • Some may be nervous about their return, especially if they were shielding. Ask people to come forward with questions and discuss how you can address their concerns either through your Covid safety measures or flexibility you can bring to other aspects of their working arrangements. Also look out for our next updates on vaccines and testing,
  • Plan the reintegration of those coming back from furlough. This is also a topic to explore in more detail next time but will include managing any reluctance to return; retraining and maybe re-induction back to the business; team relationships and balancing any conflict between those returning and those who worked throughout.

For those continuing to home-work, all or part of the time:

  • If you are driving a change towards more time spent at home (or even closing office facilities), remember that this is not the contractual arrangement you currently have in place. You will need to communicate and consult with those affected and agree the changes. Be very open to questions and concerns and act reasonably.
  • Carry out a risk assessment in relation to home working in general and take steps to provide the information, facilities, guidance etc that your employees need to stay safe.
  • Reflect your findings in policies in your handbook about working from home, which may well include risk assessing the home space, provision of company equipment and data security, plus their home insurance.
  • Consider how to manage remote workers – managing performance at a distance, staying in touch, creating a team atmosphere.
  • Training – particularly for new employees, how will you deliver induction and skills development remotely?
  • The boundary between home and work has been a struggle for some and created additional stress. Help employees by considering working hours – are you encouraging flexible hours and employees working when they choose, or do you want them to work during normal hours and switch off at the end of the day?
  • Hybrid working will fall over if everyone wants to work from home on Mondays and Fridays!

Consider the business benefits:

There’s no doubt that lockdown has changed our attitude to working from home and it’s amazing what we’ve
achieved. Consider the opportunities for you to benefit from having employees with a better work/life balance;
recruitment from a wider job market with location being less of an obstacle; productive working at hours to suit the
employee and the business and the best of both worlds when the team comes together in the office.

In the meantime:

Most people should expect to keep working at home at least until a review of social distancing is published. That’s
due by 17 May, when Covid restrictions are expected to ease further in England.

If someone’s job can’t be done from home, they can travel into the workplace, as millions have done throughout the

However, they shouldn’t go to work if:
• They’re self-isolating because they have coronavirus symptoms
• They’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive
• They’re in quarantine after travelling abroad

Look out for our next update, but in the meantime please do get in touch if you have any
questions: or 01784 497220

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