A welcome return to the office?

With increasing pressure for remote workers to return to the office post lockdown, companies now have a duty of care to provide a safe space for staff, according to Bohle managing director Dave Broxton.

By the time you read this, the UK should have met the conditions outlined by government in step four of its roadmap to releasing lockdown restrictions.

If so, that will mean a reinstatement of large-scale events and the removal of all legal limits on social contact. It could also be the point at which employees are asked to make their way back to the office – if they haven’t already done so – and on a more permanent basis.

Some high-profile organisations have already made it clear that they expect to get back to a more traditional way of operating, now that the threat from Covid has started to subside.

Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai said that “being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new”. And Apple CEO Tim Cook said he “missed the hum of activity” in an all-staff memo that said workers should be back in the office for three days a week by September.

However, in a survey of 2,000 UK office workers commissioned by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) in March, nearly a third claimed that they were being pressurised into a return to the office by their employees.

This resistance was fuelled in part by a desire to continue to reap the benefits of a better work life balance, but also through ongoing concerns for personal safety, despite the successful vaccination programme.

This presents a challenge for businesses that want to encourage staff back to an office environment, even if that it is in a more limited capacity.

For companies with a predominantly younger workforce, made up of people in their late teens and 20s, there will be much less conflict to a return to shared office space. They will be missing the social element, the human interaction. There will also be people that will have interviewed for a job they started in lockdown and will have never even met a colleague in the flesh. The positive impact on the mental health of workers being able to get back together is clear to see.

But even if staff are receptive to a return to the office, the government guidance is that employers still have a duty of care to ensure that offices are sufficiently safe to work in. Let’s not forget that Covid is still out there; it hasn’t just gone away because lockdown has been eased, and we’ve seen in the past how new variants have derailed plans to get back to normal.

Some people still feel vulnerable, and companies will need to be able to demonstrate that they can effectively protect those members of staff. One of the most effective ways in which they can do that is with glass.

VetroScreen is a cough and sneeze guard solution from Bohle. Accommodating glass thicknesses of 4mm to 10mm, VetroScreen is available in white, black or grey, as a 90º or 180º clamped or free-standing option, and can be fitted in minutes.

Typically, glass screens up to 1,000mm high would require holes to be drilled to secure a fitting and to satisfy health and safety risk assessment, but VetroScreen can be simply slid over the edge of a desk or table and then tightened.

Bohle can also supply a weighted desktop version of VetroScreen, manufactured in high-quality powder coated aluminium and steel, which provides a solid foundation for glass screens of up to 800mm high, depending on application.

VetroScreen is a fantastic way to ensure that workers can be physically separated, but still achieve the level of face-to-face interaction that’s just not possible with Zoom or Teams. Even in offices where space is at a premium, VetroScreen can be deployed to reassure employees, to give them the confidence that the health risk has been kept to an absolute minimum.

Ultimately, the traditional office space may be a thing of the past. Despite pressure from some businesses, government is still at odds about enforcing a full return with the potential for new legislation that will introduce a default right to flexible working; employers may need to show good reason why someone should not be allowed to work from home.

That’s going to put an even greater demand on organisations to demonstrate that their workplaces are safe if they are going to stand a chance of persuading staff back to the office in any great numbers.