Survey highlights different ways employers are dealing with the back to the office dilemma

Nearly a third of employers don’t yet know when they will bring employees back to office or don’t plan to bring them back until next year at the earliest, according to a People Management survey.

Business woman at a business center outdoors


A fifth of employers are planning to send staff back to the office from the beginning of September and another fifth are anticipating sending people back at some point during the autumn, according to a People Management survey.

The poll of 463 professionals found two-thirds said it was the right decision to let businesses decide whether it was safe to bring staff back to the office, compared to 21 per cent who said it wasn’t.

Different employers are taking different approaches to returning to the office. While many were anticipating bring staff back in the next months, 15 per cent said they still didn’t know when they would bring office staff back to work, while another 15 per cent said they were planning to bring staff back some time in 2021.

One in 10 (10.4 per cent) said they had planned to have staff back at the beginning of August. Just 5 per cent said their staff could work from home permanently if they wanted to.

The majority plan to implement a gradual return to the workplace, increasing the number of days staff are in the office gradually  (59 per cent), introducing rotation systems so that different teams of staff were in on different days of the week (56 per cent) and staggering workers’ hours (42 per cent).

Of those who were considering a return to the office, nearly a third were telling staff to come back in for a specified number of days a week unless they were shielding; a third were encouraging staff to return but leaving the decision to them and the rest were making the office available to staff but leaving the decision to staff.

Just 8 per cent of respondents said they would oblige staff to come back to work for a specified number of days even if they were shielding.

The most common adjustments to the workplace employers were making to reduce risk were to do with office layout, for instance, moving workstations further apart (49 per cent) and encouraging staff to work back to back or side to side, rather than face to face (40 per cent). Just 22 per cent were asking employers to take temperature tests.

The majority have also introduced a ban on hot-desking (54 per cent) and just over one in 10 employers are making the wearing of masks in the office mandatory, with 13 per cent setting up quarantine rooms for those taken ill at work. Only 1 per cent said they would be testing for the virus in the workplace.

Two-fifths of employers anticipated offering more flexible working in the future, with an additional 47 per cent saying they would do so to some or a limited extent. Just 10 per cent were not expecting to increase flexible working after the Covid-19 outbreak has ended. Over half – 53 per cent – said they anticipated reducing their office footprint in the long term following the crisis – with another 17 per cent saying they expected a limited reduction. Just 30 per cent said they did not expect to reduce their office footprint in the medium to long term.

The survey comes as the political debate around return to work heated up with Government saying businesses have an obligation to offer staff “Covid-secure workplaces” if they cannot work from home.

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