The impact coronavirus has had on families and businesses globally cannot be understated.

Findings from the Office of National Statistics Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, covering the period 20 March 2020 – 30 March 2020, found over 80% of adults (aged 16-69 years) in employment or self-employment were worried coronavirus would cause problems for their work1. Some of the concerns workers raised were an increase in hours worked, not getting enough breaks and having to work around childcare.

There haven’t been any indications, as of yet, when lockdown measures will be eased in the UK but even when restrictions are lifted it would be naive to think that spells the end of the challenges.

Research conducted by Ipsos MORI found more than 60% of people would be uncomfortable going out to bars and restaurants or using public transport, should ministers decide to relax the lockdown. On top of this, more than 30% said they would be worried about going to work or meeting friends.

Although nobody expects lockdown measures to all be lifted at once, there are indications that plans may be being made to facilitate a move away from the current arrangements.

The number of people being tested for coronavirus in the UK is on the rise with shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds saying testing needs to be linked with contact tracing, hoping it will form an important part of the government’s exit strategy from the lockdown2.

When lockdown measures do soften, employees will face another transition period in, what has already been, a 2020 packed with change and adjustment.

Joanne Cassidy, clinical occupational health manager at BHSF, believes businesses have a duty to be sensitive to how their employees might handle this turmoil and help them cope with it.

“The thought of returning to what, before this pandemic, was our norm may fill people with dread.

“This is why I would encourage employers to speak to their employees and see if working from home is a viable option going forwards. If staff have the equipment to work from home and can contact their manager/colleagues at any time, I see no reason why this can’t work. Employers may have learned that remote working is better for some employees and can work.

“Organisations can ease their employees’ back into their normal surroundings by finding ways in which the transition does not cause them undue stress.  It may be that employers have to consider tolerating a bit more flexibility post-COVID 19 to help their employees settle back into their working environment, and consider staggered returns to work.”

Even though the transition from working at home to office working will take time, Cassidy believes, for those returning, it’s all about focusing on the opportunities of being back in the office.

“One of the biggest shifts will be going from total isolation (and quiet) to an office buzzing with activity and chatter. While that can be a welcome change, it could also be tough to keep up the same levels of productivity when employees are suddenly surrounded by side conversations.

“It’s important to be aware that many of the benefits of working from home —autonomy, routine and comfort, to name a few, are transferrable. While the adjustments may initially be overwhelming, with practice and patience, employees can find success and satisfaction returning to work in the office environment.

“For employees returning to work, it’s important for them to focus on the opportunities. Whether that be more access to colleagues and supervisors, business support and more opportunities to socialise with colleagues.”

To help ease workers back into the office, Dr Lindsay Fawcett, consultant in occupational medicine at BHSF, feels the key to a successful transition is giving the employee a choice.

“Everyone is different. Some people might like working from home, other employees might not enjoy home working.

“I believe businesses should entertain the idea of employees being able to work from home.

“Every organisation will have their own way of working. However, during the lockdown, some businesses might have seen an increase in productivity as a result of people working from home. Research from Finder has found 65% of workers said they would be more productive in a home environment than a normal office3.”

For those returning to the office it is vital that they are safe to do so and that they return to a safe environment.

Of course there will be a limit to what most businesses can do in-house especially when it comes to testing. Cassidy says help is at hand and urges businesses to get the external support they will need.

“Businesses may wish to reach out to occupational health providers for advice and support, and consider offering a test to their employees as they return to the office.

“BHSF will be able to offer a variety of services to help companies get their staff back to work safely. This will include temperature testing and a health questionnaire screening, to ensure staff are fit and well. Once available, we will also be able to offer a validated antibody test approved by Public Health England.”

 

If you need any support or advice during and after the coronavirus epidemic, we’re here to help. Call us today on 0800 622 552 or email ohenquiries@bhsf.co.uk.

1 – https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/9april2020

2 – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52496227

3 – https://www.finder.com/uk/working-from-home-statistics