With all this talk of the 'relaxation of lockdown 'and 'getting back to normal’, it would be easy to imagine that those of us who have been working from home for the last year can all now safely return to the office. But where do we actually stand on this issue at the moment?
What do we know?
The Prime Minister’s roadmap for easing restrictions has been in place for some time now. Yet what has been conspicuous by its absence is any clear indication as to when the ‘work from home’ guidance would be relaxed or removed. Many assumed that employers would be free to require staff to return to the office from 21 June 2021. This was the date on which (all things being equal) all current restrictions here in England were meant to be removed. However, even before Boris Johnson announced a delay to ‘stage 4’ of the planned roadmap, there had been speculation that the ‘work from home’ guidance might have to stay in place for much longer.
As it stands, for now, many employers will assume that all relevant restrictions will be eased on 19 July 2021, the new date for the introduction of ‘stage 4’ of the roadmap. However, caution is still the watchword. Depending on how case numbers and hospital admissions develop in the coming weeks, we need to be prepared for the prospect that some measures, including the ‘work from home’ guidance, might remain in place beyond mid-July.
What are other businesses doing?
Despite the uncertainty, many businesses are beginning to plan for their return to something closer to ‘normal’. Interestingly, in our own industry, some of the larger London law firms have begun to publicly set out their planned approach to the return to office working. The smart money seems to be on a gradual reintroduction of staff into the workplace, with some starting with as little as weekly office-based team meetings, with the intention of gradually building from there. What will come as no surprise to most is that many firms anticipate offering staff the ongoing opportunity to blend home and office working, well beyond the end of the pandemic.
What are you going to do?
Of course, we cannot make concrete plans quite yet, given the ongoing uncertainty caused by the different coronavirus variants and the prospect of a ‘third wave’. However, if you have had staff working from home for much of the last 15 months, it makes sense for you to begin to think about how you want your staff to work over the coming months and indeed years. How will you request (or require?) your staff to begin to work from the office again? Do you want to offer some employees (all employees?) the opportunity to work more flexibly, with home working forming part of their normal patterns of work?
This will all require some careful thought and a good bit of planning. If you need our support with any of the legal issues that arise, please get in touch.