The heatwave seems long ago, the children are going back to school and we may or may not be heading back to the office after almost six months working from home. Some of us may have popped in to the office on a couple of occasions as and when needed or perhaps on a more regular basis in accordance with a strict “bubble” rota.
The Government would now like to have as many of us back in the office as possible. Town and city centres need to be revived with the custom of long-absent office workers. But the office landscape has changed. Notwithstanding the long-held pre-COVID belief of many employers that working from home just wouldn’t suit their business, they have found that many staff have been just as productive at home. These staff have been happier without their commute, happier to be able to spend more time with their family and generally happier with the additional flexibility which working from home provides. They may also be concerned about the enhanced risk of being infected notwithstanding all the risk assessments carried out by their employers and preventative measures put in place in the workplace.
Aside from their staff’s better work-life balance, employers have seen actual and potential cost savings in the physical office. So much so that some employers have told their staff that homeworking will be permanent or that they are only required to attend the office on one day per week going forward. Many employees will not be returning to the office at all until 2021 at the earliest. For other employers, it just wouldn’t be possible for their staff to return to the office while social distancing requires impractical physical separation.
But it’s not like that for everyone. Sometimes the most creative ideas come from those ad hoc interactions between staff around the ubiquitous water-cooler. Many staff have missed that interaction over the last six months. Regular updates from management and video catch-ups are very important, but the physical isolation of homeworking has taken its toll on many of those staff who want to work in an office. They may not have family at home (or have too much family at home). They may not have the most appropriate seating and desk arrangements at home. Ongoing homeworking may be their worst nightmare, perhaps being detrimental to their mental and/or physical health.
It is for each employer to decide how and when to bring staff back into the workplace. In doing so, they will need to consider how each individual staff member feels about returning to the office and balance that against the need to have them back in the office. Whatever is decided, make sure that you communicate regularly with your staff before and after making any decision. You should also remind them who your mental health first aiders are and about the availability of your employee assistance programme. As my daughter has told me on many occasions, we all have different taste buds. We don’t all like the same things.
The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP.