Most employers expect staff to continue home working for some time, survey finds

28 May 2020 By Francis Churchill

People Management research reveals just 4 per cent of organisations have returned employees to work since the lockdown rules were relaxed

Only 4 per cent of employers have returned staff to a place of work following the relaxation of lockdown rules earlier this month, a poll of HR professionals has found.

Despite the government’s efforts to slowly restart the economy – with prime minister Boris Johnson asking employees unable to work from home to start going back to work from 11 May – a survey of more than 500 People Management readers found the vast majority of employers were still asking staff to work from home for the foreseeable future.

Over half of those polled (55 per cent) expected their staff to continue working from home for some time still, while another 24 per cent said they were waiting for the government to give specific guidance for their sector before returning staff to the workplace. (An additional 17 per cent said their staff had worked through the lockdown).

While the poll found the majority of HR professionals (62 per cent) had found the government’s sector-specific advice on returning to work very or quite helpful, 38 per cent found it not very or not at all helpful.

But despite some concerns raised by employers that the guidance was not thorough enough, Martin Tiplady, managing director of Chameleon People Solutions, said it was for employers themselves to work out the specific measures appropriate to their particular context. “I’m not the sort of individual who feels that every twist and turn should be covered by guidance; it’s got to allow interpretation and some wiggle room for people to use common sense,” he said.

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He added: “I have talked to employers where they are looking for literally every turn to be expressed in a guidance note – but nobody’s been there, why would you want that? The guidance is fine but people have now got to use pragmatism about how best to apply it.”

Of the measures recommended by the guidance – beyond those which are mandatory, such as producing a coronavirus risk assessment – 67 per cent of respondents said they would be altering their workplace layouts to support social distancing, 54 per cent said they would be staggering shifts to reduce contact, and a similar number said they were planning to hold fewer and shorter meetings (53 per cent) and stagger break times (49 per cent).

Two fifths (40 per cent) said they would promote back-to-back or side-to-side rather than face-to-face working – one of the more controversial recommendations in the guidance for when social distancing, or rather keeping two metres apart, was impossible in the workplace.

Nearly a fifth (19 per cent) of respondents said they would be introducing temperature checking of employees at entrances; only 6 per cent said they would be implementing regular testing of staff for the virus, however.

The majority of employers reported also having conversations with employees about how they could safely commute to work before asking them to return (66 per cent) – a major point of contention when restrictions were first eased earlier this month, with images of crowded trains and buses appearing across social media.

Nearly two thirds (59 per cent) of respondents said they were introducing staggered start and finish times – one of the recommendations in the guidance to help employees avoid peak commuting times.

Nearly half (47 per cent) said they were asking employees to walk or cycle more to work, but just 33 per cent said they were promoting cycle to work schemes more heavily. Only 6 per cent reported offering to pay for taxis to get staff safely to and from work.

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