Businesses have been told to prepare for ongoing disruption to working patterns as government advisers have reportedly warned the work from home guidance could be in place indefinitely.
Members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) were quoted over the weekend warning against a return to the office this summer as it could cause a third wave, and have recommended that workers continue to work from home for the foreseeable future.
One adviser told The Times there needed to be a better understanding of how a wide-scale return to work would affect rates of the virus.
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Commenting on the reports, Gemma Bullivant, an HR coach and consultant, said organisations should plan for ongoing disruption around home and office working. “One thing we have learned from this pandemic is our organisations can no longer exclusively make all the decisions about how they want to operate,” she said.
More important than where employees were working was good leadership and management, said Bullivant. “Managing how teams collaborate, interact and contribute to meetings can be just as effective in any of the models, providing they are done in a way that is appropriate to the model of working being applied,” she said.
“We need to be careful about ‘all or nothing’ thinking when looking at each model of working. and instead focus on a pragmatic and transparent assessment of the pros and cons of each approach.”
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This was echoed by Mike Robinson, chief executive of the British Safety Council, who said it was ultimately up to businesses to decide when and whether employees returned to the workplace based on their operations, so long as they were compliant with government regulations.
“This reinforces the importance and need for employers to carry out a Covid workplace risk assessment in advance of the easing of restrictions to protect workers,” he said.
Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, said decisions about remote working needed to be based on what made sense for the business and what was best for individual employees. “Giving employees the opportunity to individualise their jobs and participate in work interventions can support wellbeing, engagement and productivity, fuelling both business and social benefits,” she said.
However, Tracey Hudson, HR director at The HR Dept, said many firms were well placed to start a safe return to the workplace having already invested in making offices Covid secure. “We believe that, with pragmatic and sensible advice led by a strong management team, offices can and probably should start to return to normal as soon as possible,” she said.
Nick Pahl, chief executive of the Society of Occupational Medicine, also warned prolonged home working could lead to a divided workforce. “Are we now in danger of creating a two-tier society, consisting of those who have workplace autonomy and those who do not?” he said, noting that many frontline workers had no choice but to continue attending their place of work throughout the pandemic.
Last month, figures from the ONS showed that people who worked from home were on average 38 per cent less likely to have received a bonus compared to those who never worked from home, and half as likely to be promoted.
The current government advice is for office workers to work from home unless required to work from the office.