Count Down To Freedom Day – Safe Return To Kent and London Offices

The UK government has announced that on 19th July people will no longer have to work from home. Instead the onus will be on businesses to manage a safe return to the workplace for their employees. Step 4 of the government’s roadmap sets out how life will return “close to normal”.

As we approach what has been dubbed “Freedom Day” many Kent and London offices are now having to think carefully about how they welcome staff back to work. For many businesses after a year of being closed or working with reduced staff numbers in the office, a return to work will be welcome.

A Safe Return To The Office vs. Home Working Surveys

At the height of the pandemic and before the vaccination program was in full swing many workers responded to surveys saying that they wanted to keep working from home “just not every day”. Across numerous surveys the response was the same.

A YouGov poll of around 5,000 carried out in September 2020 found most workers wanted to work from home. The survey also found (PDF) that 66% of London workers wanted to be able to work from home even after the pandemic crisis was over, however only 19% wanted to do so full-time.

Slack surveyed more than 9,000 workers and found that 72% of staff wanted a hybrid mix of remote and office work in the future.

The British Council for Offices (BCO) poll of 2000 office workers, reported by The Guardian newspaper found that 62% of senior executives and 58% of entry-level workers wanted to alternate between home and office work. An increase from 46% of workers who told the BCO they planned to divide their time between home and the office before the government changed its advice regarding workers returning to the workplace.

A survey of more than 2,000 global office workers carried out by Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) found that the majority of those surveyed wanted to work at home at least two days a week.

A Pew Research Center study in October 2020 of 5,858 adults found that 54% of staff surveyed, given the choice, preferred to keep working from home after the pandemic. One third of workers said they wanted to work from home some of the time.

Latest Office Return To Work Surveys

In the latest surveys many more people want to return to the workplace than before but answers still vary.

In comparison to the previous September 2020YouGov poll, a March 2021 YouGov poll of 1,039 of UK employers and employees, conducted on behalf of Indeed, found that many workers see a return to work as offering a mental health reprieve. Based on the poll’s findings 44% of people said their mental health was worse than it was last spring while 38% of workers said a return to work would improve their mental health.

Richard Bill Richards, managing director of Indeed said “The prospect of getting back into a work routine looked set to improve wellbeing. [However during] the pandemic, flexible working has been highly valued by employees who have been able to work from home or adjust their working hours, and we know such flexibility can help to improve people’s mental health and boost productivity. It is therefore essential that, as people return to the workplace, employers continue to communicate with their employees about mental health and build a culture where workers feel supported and are comfortable finding out if their company offers flexible working options that could help them.”

In comparison a Centre for Innovative Public Health Research (CIPHR) survey of 1,022 UK workers revealed that 73% of UK workers would accept a reduction in pay in return to be able to work remotely permanently. Only 15% of UK workers who have been working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic said they wanted to return to the workplace full-time. Given the choice 72% of people would prefer to have some sort of hybrid working arrangement where they could split their time between home working and the workplace.11% wanted to work remotely full-time.

In another survey of 2,058 office workers carried out on behalf of Ezra it was recorded that many staff have had a change of heart, swinging from wanting to work from home to now being keen to get back to the office. In fact the survey found that 30% of office workers have already returned to the office full time and a further 24% have returned on a part time basis; both up from 17% in April. The number of staff working remotely had fallen by 21% in the last 3 months. It is however important to note that 26% of the office workers who were surveyed said they would be willing to take a reduced level of income to be able to choose to work between home and office  and if flexible working was not offered they would look for another job.

Based on the Ezra survey findings Nick Goldberg, founder of Ezra stated “It seems as though the shine is starting to fade on the working from home culture with more and more of us choosing to return to the office, perhaps with a little encouragement from our employers in some cases. The process of going to a place of work allows us to define clear boundaries and allows us to switch on and off more effectively when it matters. As much as we need to perform professionally, the ability to rest and recuperate at the end of the day is also incredibly important and this is something we’ve lost since our homes have become our offices.”

A Note of Caution

As Freedom Day approaches and Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is urging businesses not to go back to the way things were before we knew about Covid-19.

Peter Cheese, the chief executive of the CIPD saysFreedom Day shouldn’t signal a mass return to workplaces, but it could signal the start of greater freedom and flexibility in how, when and where people work.”

He continues “Regardless of any changes to official guidance from 19 July, employers should continue to ensure that they have the necessary measures in place to give confidence to workers that their workplace is safe. This can include changes to desk spaces, shift patterns to help workers avoid busy times on public transport and use of one-way systems to reduce staff contact while the risk of infection remains. This will be particularly important in these early weeks while the vaccination programme is still ongoing.

Businesses shouldn’t rush to simply revert to how they used to work now we have experience and evidence that it can be done differently, and with positive impacts on employee health and wellbeing, inclusion and productivity.

People generally want a mix of workplace and home working, and the possibility of more choice in their working routines, meaning hybrid working can provide an effective balance for many workers. Employers should be trying to understand and support individuals’ preferences over more flexible working arrangements where possible, balanced with meeting the needs of the business.

However, not everyone can work from home. Organisations should also look at increasing flexible working options for those who can’t work from home using different types of flexible hours arrangements. This will help avoid the creation of a two-tier workforce where home and hybrid workers have considerable flexibility while many other employees have very little.”

Greater Freedom and Flexibility For Kent and London Office Businesses and Staff?

So where does this leave Kent and London businesses when it comes to the right working options and planning a safe return to the office?

Many Kent and London companies are considering a range of working practices including a reduced work week, flexible working hours and rotational and hybrid working. It could be about finding a balance between working from home, office working or a mix of both of these choices. It really comes down to individual businesses and what will work for them and their staff.  Each option should be considered and the best option will depend on business’s working practices, available office space and staff needs.

One thing businesses should take into account and try to deal with is how staff feel about returning to work. A number of the polls and surveys carried out this year have attempted to address this. Alongside the March 2021 YouGov poll which found that many workers see a safe return to work as offering a mental health reprieve an Envoy survey of 1,000 workers in the UK found many UK workers see the benefits of hybrid working. 70% of those surveyed stated that they felt hybrid working would be personally beneficial including “improved work-life balance, improved mental health, time saved commuting, and lower costs of living”. It’s also important to note that 59% of workers said they worry about their safety when it comes to returning to the office with 59% also voicing concern about their workplace relaxing Covid measures too early.

Employers will need to manage people’s different expectations and needs. Communication will be key in addressing staff concerns as some staff will be anxious about returning to the office, whereas others will be keen to return. It’ll be important to let staff know that their safety is paramount in any return to work plans and to listen to and act on any worries or anxiety they may express regarding returning to work.

Next Steps

To give you some ideas of taking the next “moving out of lockdown” steps we’ve outlined some articles and ideas for you to consider below.

In previous articles “Kent and London Office Interior Design Ideas For 2021”  and  “London Office Fit Out Trends In 2021” we talked about adaptability, downsizing and Covid-19 secure office spaces.

In our “Top Tips For Returning to the Office After Step 4 Restrictions Have Been Lifted” article we looked at how to prepare a workplace for staff returning after step 4 restrictions have been lifted. It covers mitigating future risks by adjusting the workplace so that your business could be ready and prepared for future outbreaks and cases of Covid-19 through a variety of measures including:

  • Looking at the layout of your office space to ensure that appropriate distance can be maintained between desks and other areas where staff will sit or meet.
  • Installing desk safety screens or dividers to give added protection.
  • Implementing a booking system for communal and meeting areas to ensure there is no over-crowding and numbers are limited to keep areas safe.
  • Wherever possible use easy to clean surfaces within your workspace e.g. use hygienic cladding in washrooms, tea points and kitchens and hard, washable flooring in communal areas.
  • Utilising signage to impart the importance of good hand hygiene and to encourage social distancing.
  • Ensuring there is good ventilation within your workspace areas, regularly maintaining and servicing air conditioning and considering the installation of UVC air purifiers which will help to improve air quality.
  • Providing hand cleaning stations with hand sanitiser and cleaning materials to allow staff to wipe down their workspace and any other equipment they’ve used e.g. shared workstations, printers, photocopiers and door handles etc.

The government website also details “Keeping workplaces safe as coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions are eased – sources of advice” and should provide the latest information on any changes related to workplace safety during the pandemic, following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) website also provides information for employers and employees including “Planning to return to the workplace”,  “Keeping the workplace safe” and “Talking to staff about workplace changes”.

How Can JBH Refurbishments Help?

JBH Refurbishments have over 30 years experience in office planning, design and build and can advise on Covid-19 office layout, design and tech to ensure a safe return to the workplace. From your brief, to putting together a project plan, to developing your office design and layout to delivering your office fit out JBH Refurbishments will provide piece of mind. To find out how we can help us via our contact form or by calling us on 0333 207 0339.

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