The full lockdown ended a while ago, but in recent days, the government has made a point of continuing to encourage people back to the workplace. So, why has there been a renewed desire to get people back to work and what does it mean?
One of the reasons for the renewed public push for people to go back to the office are the recent findings that the UK has been much slower to get people back into the workplace compared to other countries around the world.
AlphaWise found that just 34% of British workers had returned to the office, compared to an average of 68% across Europe, and figures over 75% in countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and France. This is a significant difference, and while it could be due in part to the types of jobs we have in this country, it still has a large impact on the economy.
However, with schools returning in the past couple of weeks, it’s now seen as the ideal time to start getting people back to the office. Naturally though, many people are going to have concerns.
Why the Push to Get Back to the Office?
Clearly, a lot of people can and have worked remotely. This has allowed us to keep our economy running to some extent, even in the face of a full scale lockdown. The problem is, the side effects of less people working from the office are starting to show.
For the government, economies rely on people getting out and interacting with each other, and spending money. When everyone is working from home though, these interactions are drastically reduced, and this has led to the CBI warning that city centres could become “ghost towns.” With no footfall, thousands of local businesses will struggle to continue, but that can all change if we get people back to the office in good numbers.
Businesses too have an interest in getting people back to the office. These companies pay huge rents to maintain office space, and they’re not seeing a return on this money if their employees are working from home. While they recognise the need for safety, they’ve also got to see a return on the money they’re investing in these premises.
Last but not least, the people who have been working from home for the best part of six months now are beginning to feel the itch to get back to the office. In a Gensler study, only 12% of employees wanted to continue to work from home full time. The office might be a different place to what it was before the pandemic, but it’s still an important one for employees.
How About Getting to Work?
One of the big concerns for people is getting to work. In major cities where the vast majority of people use public transport to get into the office, this is a legitimate question. We’re so used to packed trains and buses, that the idea of staying safe in these situations just seems impossible.
To combat this, train services have been increasing timetables to around 90% of pre-lockdown levels. With train usage at roughly 31% of pre-lockdown levels, this means there is plenty of spare capacity, making social distancing much more possible.
With other safety measures such as hand sanitisers and face coverings, it has been estimated that “the risk of contracting COVID-19 on an average journey is below 0.01%.” While there clearly is still a risk that more people returning to the office will increase this number, it’s still a manageable risk.
The other way the risk of public transport can be limited is through staggered work times. If businesses can offer employees flexibility in their work hours, it means we don’t have a situation where everyone is trying to get into work at the same time.
By incorporating these measures and using technology to help stop the spread of the virus, we can ensure that public transport is a safe way for people to get into work.
What Can Employers Do to Protect Workers?
Start with Empathy
First of all, businesses have to understand if employees are reluctant to come back to work. Whether we like it or not, there’s a pandemic going on, and people have legitimate concerns for their safety.
What businesses have to do is understand these fears and show people how they are taking steps to ensure safety. There are helpful government guides for how companies should go about getting more people back to the office, but to a large extent, it’s up to individual businesses to come up with the protocols that reassure their staff.
Take Visible Action
Sometimes it’s not just about taking action, it’s about people seeing that you’re taking action as well. Studies show that 79% of people want everyone to have their temperature checked before entering a building, and this is a good way to help stop the spread of the virus.
The big thing with automatic temperature scanners such as Meridian’s personnel management solution though, is that they are a very visible sign of how seriously you are taking people’s safety.
You’re not just protecting people, but you’re showing them you are as well, and this makes people feel much more secure.
Listen to Feedback
We’re still learning about the Coronavirus and how to manage the risks it presents. As hard as businesses and governments try, they’re not going to get everything perfectly right all the time.
As we learn more about the virus, protocols will be improved, and businesses need to be ready to listen to feedback and react. Keeping employees safe should be a number one priority, so it’s important companies don’t rest on their laurels, but continue to improve their safety precautions.
This might put extra pressure on health and safety decision makers, but the benefits for businesses that can continue to adapt will be clear to see.
The Coronavirus isn’t going to go away overnight. While the goal is to get people back to the office, there are going to be some instances where that is not possible for everyone.
In these situations, it’s ideal to be able to pivot between office based work and remote work without skipping a beat. For many businesses, this is going to be eminently possible, but you have to have invested in the infrastructure to do so.
As we mentioned in our back to school article, there will be people who have to isolate even though they’re not experiencing symptoms. Rather than those employees sitting at home for two weeks twiddling their thumbs, you want them to be able to do their work just as effectively as if they were in the office.
Businesses have got used to enabling their employees to work from home in recent months, but they need to continue to make sure it’s an easy transition from office based to home based.
Getting people back to the office is an important step towards returning to something resembling normal life. As we continue to learn more about the virus, we’re better able to manage its effects, but we still have to be vigilant, and businesses must be aware of this.
The guidance is out there to help people bring people back to work, but companies also have to take responsibility for implementing their own protocols. If they take the extra measures that are required, then there’s no reason we can’t start to get larger numbers of people back to work in a safe way.
At Meridian Digital Solutions, we’re here to help businesses solve their most pressing problems through technology and a big part of that challenge today is tackling COVID. If you need any help developing your protocols, then we’re always here to help.