Businesses urged to consider employees’ mental health as government reintroduces ‘work from home’ guidance in England

Experts are also calling on firms to reconsider their Christmas celebrations after the prime minister enacted ‘plan B’ restrictions

‘Work from home’ guidance will come back into force in England on Monday (13 December) after the prime minister announced he would be implementing ‘plan B’ restrictions, leading to calls for businesses not to forget the challenges that previous periods of remote working created.

As concern grows around the spread of the Omicron variant of the virus, Boris Johnson outlined new restrictions in England in a speech yesterday, including that people should go back to working from home wherever possible.

“From Monday you should work from home if you can. Go to work if you must but work from home if you can,” Johnson said.

Other changes include the re-introduction from tomorrow (10 December) of mandatory mask wearing in most indoor public spaces including places of worship, theatres and hairdressers.

This includes compulsory mask wearing for staff and customers in places including post offices, pharmacies and taxis – but not pubs, restaurants, or gyms where it is deemed impractical.

Also as part of the plan B restrictions, from Wednesday (15 December) NHS Covid Passes will be needed to attend large events, subject to parliamentary approval.

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These new rules are on top of additional travel restrictions and changes to self-isolation rules that were announced last week, which included the re-introduction of mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops.

The new rules bring England largely in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which already had more stringent rules in place.

Commenting on the announcement, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said many businesses were well-placed to return to remote working.

“Reducing the number of people in workplaces when they can work from home is the sensible thing to do while infections are climbing and we’re still learning about Omicron, keeping individuals safe and businesses staffed,” he said.

Where this was not possible, Cheese suggested businesses go back to implementing other measures such as flexible hours and staggered work times to help avoid both overcrowded commutes and workplaces.

Businesses should also continue to support employees in getting vaccinated, including by providing flexible working or paid time off to attend appointments.

Cheese also called on employers to reconsider holding a Christmas party. “The duty of care as employers extends to company-organised social events as well,” he said.

“We’d encourage organisations to follow the spirit of today’s revised guidance and to avoid any in-person end-of-year parties, while recognising individuals are still free to meet in a personal capacity.”

While businesses might now be used to swiftly pivoting to remote working, Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR, warned that many of the same challenges will exist as before.

“Employees who don't have an adequate environment to work in at home due to lack of space or robust internet connection, for example, may struggle to be productive,” he said. “Others may fear that their mental health will decline after having experienced a similar impact during previous enforced home working periods.”