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Working from home or returning to the office: striking the balance

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by Startacus Admin

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Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP shares some thoughts on striking the balance between working from home or returning to the office...

As the government switches back to a work from home message across the UK, many employees will be relieved, if recent surveys highlighting many employees do not believe it is safe to go back to work are close to the mark. 

pexels 4049988Despite Covid-19 remaining a risk within all of our daily lives, many firms had reopened their offices as others introduced plans to bring employees back over the next few months. For employees who have worked from home over the past few months, returning to the office can be a daunting prospect and some are not eager for the return at all.

Many employees wish to continue working from home for childcare purposes, to achieve a better work-life balance or for health reasons. In fact, according to the Home Working in the UK survey, 88% of employees who worked from home during the pandemic wish to continue doing so. With this in mind, we have put together advice for employers on how they can support their team during this time and ensure their strategy is guided by the needs of their staff.

Understand the capacity of your office

Before employers begin inviting discussions with employees regarding their return to the office, they should first ensure their workplace is covid-secure. Employers have a legal obligation to provide a workplace to their employees which matches the health and safety standards set out by the government. This involves providing the correct social distancing measures and cleaning equipment for staff.

As businesses operate through social distancing, they will not be physically able to hold the same level of capacity as they did before the pandemic. This means an office rota may need to be introduced or a timetable of when employees are able to attend the office. Employers should be aware of the number of employees they can hold in the office before they begin to invite their staff back, so they can consider prioritising the needs of those who may wish to return. For example, employees who struggle to concentrate at home or do not have the adequate space to work in their house may be given access to the office first.

Gain feedback to understand your team needs

pexels 165907The pandemic has impacted everyone differently, meaning businesses must understand the individual needs of their employees who will all react differently to being permitted to return to the office. Employers should be guided by their staff, listening to their concerns and requests to ensure any policies they draw up around working from home are in line with the wishes of their team.

Some employees will be desperate to get back to some form of normality and will therefore want to be back behind their desk. Others may feel nervous about returning or only want to return for one or two days a week. People’s desire to work from home has shifted as they experience life without a commute and employers will need to consider this as they plan for the next few months.

Sending out a survey to employees is a great place to start, since it can provide valuable feedback to management on how many employees are ready to return to the office and how many days a week they wish to do so. Employers should also delve into the details of what they can do to improve the working environment of their employees from home, such as better equipment, more collaborative working or additional virtual socials.

Strike a balance

Employees have had time to reflect on their needs and wants during the pandemic meaning they are less likely to accept returning to the office if they feel uncomfortable doing so. Return to work policies are incredibly important for employers to get right.

Rather than dictating when employees can work from home or be in the office, businesses must find a way to efficiently provide a safe work environment for their staff whether that is in their living room or in the office building. As we proceed in the upcoming months, the safety and wellbeing of employees must be a priority for businesses if they wish to come out of this period with a satisfied workforce.

Written by Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP

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Published on: 23rd September 2020

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