The Company Director’s Return To The Office Dilemma: ‘Should They Stay Or Should They Go Now?’

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City of London view from Southbank, photo by A Howse
City of London view from Southbank, photo by A Howse

Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scotland is aiming to lift all restrictions by the 9th of August however the BBC confirmed that “the government will not advise an immediate return to full office working on that date and people will still be required to wear face masks in some settings.” (1)

There is a big debate happening across the country at the moment as company directors struggle to lead their teams through a confusing time. Delayed government restriction lifting and schedule changing ‘freedom days’ combined with the practical considerations of operating in a new Covid safe office environment are tricky enough to master successfully. Add meeting their legal obligations as responsible employers into the mix and this situation currently adds up to a perfect storm of challenging change management.

The scientific data reports and news broadcasting backdrop are also a hard set of facts to navigate for those in control of their corporation’s employment strategies. The BBC reported today that 80% of adults now have antibodies to the virus and all adults should be vaccinated as optimistically predicted by Boris Johnson’s ministers in Westminster, by the end of the summer.

However the ‘Delta’ variant is still an issue of concern: “A total of 75,953 cases of Delta were sequenced in the UK up to 16 June, up from 42,323 the previous week.” reported BBC News this week. (5) Some experts are already discussing the possibility of a ‘third wave’ just as the nation holds their breath for a confirmation of a new and improved second ‘freedom day’ when the restrictions potentially ‘finally’ end again.

Having adapted to home working over the last eighteen months, both the commercial industry and the public sector now have to acclimatize to the nuances of a multitude of different working arrangements. People all working for the same department or organisation may be doing a variety of hybrid working (part office part home working), home working or being on furlough. This is in addition to those men and women who have returned to their desks, or at least their original business premises, on a full time basis again.

There seems to be different approaches in how to handle this conundrum. Stella Smith at Pirkx which is an agency who specialise in ‘well-being’ says “priorities for business are about people and well being as well as being about productivity and profit.” advises the team leading expert.

Yesterday the news featured Bumble, a well known online dating service, whose founder had tweeted a surprise instruction for all their employees to take a week off to ‘focus on themselves’. Whitney Wolfe who founded the digital matchmaking app which employs 700 felt it was vital for her staff to recover from ‘collective burnout’ (2)

Meanwhile in the City of London senior bankers have told their staff at institutions including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group to expect a ‘gradual return to the office from later this month.’ according to Bloomberg news. (3) According to Financial News the UK and Ireland Chief Executive Tilina Lee told employees that “the bank intended to gradually bring staff back over the summer.” (4)

The good news is that there is help out there for smaller businesses dealing with the unenviable task of balancing commercial goals and the needs of the business with fulfilling all their individual employees’ wishes on the current ideal working times and location for their own personal circumstances. There is some (now slightly dated) information and guidance on the Gov.UK website. An example worth reading is ‘New guidance launched to help get Brits safely back to work’ (6)

Craig Moore from the Federation of Small Business has been leading a series of talks aimed at demystifying the rules and regulations of ‘unlocking’ successfully for UK companies. Mr Moore has also invited experts from insurance, personnel management and corporate law to give the nations’s more modest scale business owners an overview of best practice and also the potential pitfalls to watch out for. The Federation of Small Businesses assists enterprises with this matter by ensuring they can proceed without the need for laborious researching or hiring expensive financial or legal advisers. (7)

The ‘UK Transition’ campaign by the FSB is designed ‘to support small businesses and the self-employed through information and guidance on the new trading arrangements in place’. In addition FSB members can access free resources and legal support at special discounted rates. (7)

There are many decisions to be made and procedures to follow for nearly all companies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are returning to a ‘new normal’ step by step. The restrictions are continuing to gradually lift in the UK this summer season, with the odd ‘unexpected delay’ as the scientists’ data unfolds.

Senior managers are now used to working in close partnership and communication with their employees and adapting to changing locations. This will allow most professionals to take the latest developments in working practices in their stride, as they strive to maintain a steady position commercially and achieve their organisation’s goals.

(1) ‘Scotland is aiming to lift all restrictions by the 9th of August’ BBC News, 22 June 2021 ‘Scotland is aiming to lift all restrictions by the 9th of August’ BBC News

(2) ‘Bumble employees told to take a week off to recover from burnout’ Olivia Petter, Independent, 22 June 2021 ‘Bumble employees told to take a week off to recover from burnout’ Olivia Petter, Independent

(3) ‘Goldman Bankers Lead City of London’s Uneven Return to Office’ Tom Metcalf and Silla Brush, 11 June 2021 (3) ‘Goldman Bankers Lead City of London’s Uneven Return to Office’ Tom Metcalf and Silla Brush

(4) ‘Deutsche Bank plans to bring UK staff back to the office from June’ Paul Clarke, 3 June 2021 ‘Deutsche Bank plans to bring UK staff back to the office from June’ Paul Clarke, Financial News

(5) ‘Covid: Why has the Delta variant spread so quickly in the UK?’ Rachel Schraer, BBC News, 20 June 2021 ‘Covid: Why has the Delta variant spread so quickly in the UK?’ Rachel Schraer, BBC News

(6) ‘New guidance launched to help get Brits safely back to work’ Gov.UK guidance, 11 May 2020 ‘New guidance launched to help get Brits safely back to work’ Gov.UK guidance

(7) ‘Coronavirus (COVID_19): Advice and guidance for small businesses and the self-employed’ FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) 22 June 2021 ‘Coronavirus (COVID_19): Advice and guidance for small businesses and the self-employed’ FSB (Federation of Small Businesses)