Following Boris Johnson’s “conditional plan” to reopen society on Sunday evening, Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the Unite trade union, has said workers “should refuse” to return to work if there is no “safe environment” for them.
Business groups including the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have called for clarity on what will need to change in the workplace, with the rationale that businesses will need time to adapt to the new workplace guidelines.
Rachel Houghton, managing director at Business Moves Group (BMG), said, “How might workplaces reopen with social distancing? Well, some organisations may introduce physical markers to keep staff 2m apart, others may issue masks and visors. Some employers may experiment with segregated shifts and staggered breaks, whereas others will opt for thermal screening, taking workers’ temperatures as and when they arrive.
“There will be businesses that invest in technology, such as sensors for doors and other touchpoints, to reduce tactile contact. While there are businesses considering using social distancing marshals to ensure the rules are being followed, others are thinking of implementing a monetary bonus for good behaviour.
“The list is endless. But it has to be about balance. We have to consider social distancing versus the cost of returning to work. With each suggestion for how the workplace world may combat the spread of covid-19, there’s a cost.
“From facial recognition visitor management software and automated hand sanitisers, to platforms that determine washroom usage and sensors that monitor everything from air quality to water safety – there will also be a need to office layout changes, management of hard copy filing systems and other shared facilities – these things all have to be on the checklist. And the costs are going to add up.
“Shift staggering could prove to be a key social distancing tactic but employers have to consider the impact of yet more change on their already anxious workforce. Enforced shift patterns create additional stresses for the employee, and that’s not what we need right now. Grouping employees into different days or different shifts, for example, will affect personal lives, not to mention team dynamics, so this will need careful consideration. Employee engagement will be crucial in managing any change moving forward. People need to feel part of the change and invest in it.
“As soon as the guidelines are published, we can work out the workplace strategy moving forward. We need to open up lines of communication to assess whether it’s actually feasible to follow these guidelines from a cost perspective. And, if not, we need to consider what the alternative approaches may be. We’re living in a reduced economy at the moment – continuing to work from home, for those that can, may well save the country millions and millions of pounds, meaning organisations can pool those funds ready for when there’s a vaccine.
“I think there’s a real mixed bag of emotions in the world right now. Some people are as keen as mustard to get back to the office to have that social interaction. Others that are enjoying working from home. I’m sure a balance can be found between those who want to return to the workplace and those that do not. The availability of workplace is going to be limited, so by understanding and balancing the needs of the business and the desires of the employees I am sure social distancing can be achieved. Over time confidence will be restored.
“Forward-thinking companies will be talking to their employees, their supply chain and their customers right now in order to build a strategy that takes onboard everybody’s experiences to date with the view to ensuring a step-change process that will better support the business, and everyone who’s part of it, in the future.”