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Government U-turn means staff now encouraged to work from home

The Government has today reversed its return to work policy, with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove telling BBC Breakfast that people in England should work from home “if they can” to reduce social mixing and slow the spread of the Coronavirus. The latest advice marks a U-turn from the Government’s campaign earlier this month to encourage workers back into offices following the prime minister’s remarks in July when he encouraged people to “start to go back to work now if you can.”

Although 20 per cent of people worked exclusively at home in the last week, according to the latest ONS figures, a higher percentage of working adults reported they had both worked from home and travelled to work over the past seven days (12 per cent this week compared with 7 per cent two weeks ago).

This resulted in an increase in commuting to over 60 per cent (either exclusively or in combination with working from home). This change may reflect the end of the summer holiday period and schools reopening for the new term.

Of those who had worked from home in the past seven days, the main reasons were their employer had asked them to do so (61 per cent), they normally worked from home (32 per cent) and they were following government advice (28 per cent).

Reactions to the announcement have so far being mixed, with many concerned that more and more workers will feel isolated being forced to work from home with reduced social contact, however Robin Davies of workplace technology company, Freespace, believes business leaders should use this window of opportunity to continue their review of real estate and office processes to add further layers of reassurance to their employees.

Davies said: “If the pandemic has taught us one thing it’s that businesses are taking more of a vested interest in their employees’ health and wellbeing, and that can only be a good thing. Clearly, many workers across the country are anxious about returning to work. They are looking to their employers to support new ways of ‘hybrid’ working that support both working from home and the office. Perceptions of an employer are greatly influenced by the trust and commitment they place in new hybrid working models and how proactively they plan support working from home in the future.

“Covid-19 has a become the opportunity for companies to prove that they value the health of their staff in ways that go well beyond box ticking exercises. We have seen a real divergence in responses to Covid-19 with some merely seeking to meet government guidelines on social distancing in the workplace with others taking a much more proactive stance to the mental and physical health of their people. For example, some companies are seeking to make working from home a supported environment with company collaboration and social media platforms designed to provide social bonds and professional connections that help people feel connected, happy and supported in the home working environment. 

“Technology is providing a lot of answers during these challenging times. Forward-thinking businesses have been leveraging workplace technology to support everything from social distancing and occupancy-based cleaning to compliance and planning to reassure their staff that they are taking Covid-19 restrictions seriously. It’s important that businesses understand how their space is being utilised once their employees are back to work. The insight gleaned from workplace sensor data, coupled with positive behavioural reinforcement via digital signage and visual desk cues, will enable organisations to learn and adapt and enhance business stability. We must champion and support the tech sector as it navigates the months ahead as we collectively step up the coronavirus recovery plans. It has a vital role to play in supporting the workforce not just in the office, but at home too. These restrictions may seem like a step backwards. But all it does is give us room for a running start to return to the office when it is safe to do so.”

The FM Clinic in the FMJ October issue will include some advice on how to help ensure mental resilience in the months ahead.

About Sarah OBeirne

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