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Will People Be Returning To Their Offices Full Time After Covid Lockdown Ends?

The past fifteen months has seen an upheaval to most people’s ways of working that is unprecedented in living memory. On 23 March 2020, the Prime Minister gave the British people “a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” with limited exceptions, which included “travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.”

According to a recent report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), however, whilst the proportion of people working from home more than doubled in 2020, it remained a minority of overall workers across the UK, largely because not all jobs are suitable for home working.

For employers whose employees have been unable to work from home (and whose employees have not been on furlough, currently set to end on 30 September 2021), they have a duty to ensure that their employees are provided with a safe place of work. The government has set out a number of guides for different types of workplace under the header “Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)

For the rest of the workforce who have been working from home, there remains the question of when, and how, they might return to their places of work, once the current restrictions are lifted. At the time of writing, this restriction is set to be lifted by 19 July, as Step 4 of the government’s “Roadmap out of lockdown,” although concerns about the spread and transmissibility of the Delta variant have led experts to urge caution about viewing this date as definite.

According to a survey conducted by the BBC, 43 out of 50 big UK employers will not be bringing their employees back to the office full-time. Instead, these employers will be encouraging a mix of home and office working, with staff working at home two to three days a week. This has come to be known as “hybrid working” and, as with any significant changes to the status quo, it has both advantages and disadvantages to employers and employees.

Benefits of hybrid working

Potential benefits of homeworking and hybrid working for employers include reduced overhead costs, increased productivity (with a reduction in travel time), and better motivation. It has also been suggested that workers who might otherwise leave because of illness, or changes to their family circumstances, might stay if offered hybrid or home working. Employers that allow homeworking may also be able to access to a wider talent pool than those within closer reach of a physical location. The ability to work from home is also likely to be seen as a benefit by potential candidates, which could further assist recruitment.

For some organisations, however, the idea of longer-term homeworking or hybrid working raises concerns, such as loss of control and damage to team working and culture. Even with advances in remote working and video conferencing software, there is likely to be reduced face-to-face collaboration amongst colleagues and teams, which may also have an impact on informal training or supervision opportunities for junior or less experienced workers. Many employers and employees have already observed that working from home can be lonely, and that the line between home and work can become blurred, with a knock-on effect on mental health.

Variations may be necessary to employees’ contracts, if their place of work (which the employer is required to specify) is to change. If the employee has requested the change, then they will probably agree to any resulting contractual variations. If the employer wishes to implement the change, however, then they will need to tread carefully, and it is likely that they will need to consult with the employees in question, and ideally reach an agreement.

This is a broad topic, and one that is constantly evolving, so we are likely to return to this in future posts, but if you have any questions about homeworking and hybrid working, or about changes to terms of employment, contact our specialist employment experts on 0808 252 5231 and we will be happy to assist.