The pandemic has created a dynamic situation for all businesses and organisations in England, who have been asked by the government to work from home for the next six months “if they can”, to reduce social mixing and slow the spread of the virus – a dramatic u-turn from the government’s stance back in July which actively encouraged a gradual return to the workplace. Businesses that breach Covid regulations also now face tighter and more stringent penalties.
Barclays are just one of numerous companies who have told their hundreds of staff to work from home weeks after gradually returning back to the office. Similarly, NatWest has also informed their staff that they can continue to work from home for the remainder of 2020, following the government’s announcement.
There are a number of benefits associated with working from home, however with remote working understandably becoming part of the ‘new normal’, it is important employers do their best to tackle the negative impacts associated with working from home, which include:
- Poor workstation setups – managers should discuss equipment and workstation setups with the employee to ensure tasks can be carried out safely from home. Extra monetary allowances to purchase suitable equipment may be necessary in certain cases
- Fewer learning opportunities – as fashion retailer Next has said, “the biggest problem with home working is the lack of spontaneous conversations and the chance to learn from colleagues”. Businesses may choose to tackle this by focusing on developing digital training programmes, if made accessible, this would enhance learning opportunities for remote employees
- Low morale and poor mental health – employers can help boost the morale and wellbeing of employees through measures such as: regular team meet ups, remote ‘buddies’, mentoring and easy access to their line managers.
The government has however made clear that where it is not possible for an employee to work from home – whether that could be due to impractical workstations or poor mental wellbeing as a result of social isolation, then they may continue working in the office, subject to all health and safety measures having been put in place to ensure it is Covid compliant.
As with so many issues arising as a result of the pandemic, there is significant uncertainty amongst businesses about what is the right course of action to take – especially given that the latest announcement on home working from the government appears to be more one of guidance – as opposed to a rule that will be enforced in the way that many of the other new measures will be.
On the one hand many companies have invested significantly, not only in ensuring Covid secure workplaces and processes, but also in supporting employees – both emotionally and financially – with their concerns regarding travel and being away from the relative security of their home. Further, many people who had started to return to the office have reported that they are not only getting used to the new arrangements but are actually both enjoying being back all or part of the time and importantly seeing the benefits of (safe) face to face interaction. On the other hand as the spread of the virus continues to grow, many employees and employers, having proven the effectiveness of remote working, are only too pleased to comply with the government’s wishes for people to work from home when they can.