This is when offices could reopen in England - according to government plans

Tuesday, 23rd February 2021, 2:57 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd February 2021, 2:57 pm
(Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hopes that from 21 June there should be an end of all legal limits on social contact but working from home looks set to continue.

Union leaders have called for a crackdown on firms forcing staff to return to offices after the Government continued to advise people to work from home where they can.

TUC polling published this month revealed that one in five workers are still going into offices or other workplaces for either part or all of their working week despite these workers saying they can do their job from home.

So just when will it be safe to return to the office, and what does the Government’s roadmap have in store for such workplaces?

Here is everything you need to know.

Will offices reopen when ‘stay at home’ ends?

As of Monday 29 March, the Government’s “stay at home” message will be replaced with a more lenient “stay local” message.

But that does not necessarily mean offices will be able to open.

Guidance will set out that people should continue to work from home where they can, and people should continue to minimise travel wherever possible, and should not be staying away from home overnight at this stage.

Since most office workers are able to continue their roles from home, it is unlikely that many offices will be deemed necessary to open, and the Government says “many business premises will remain shut”.

Dan Shears, GMB national health and safety director, said: “Continuing to work from home is sensible while rates remain so high."

But for workplaces where staff are unable to work from home, the Government’s offer of free test kits will be extended to until the end of June. The aim of this is to get a system of twice-weekly testing for all those unable to work from home up and running.

Steps two and three of the roadmap – which will come into force no earlier than 12 April and 17 May respectively – will continue to provide guidance that people should continue to work from home where they can.

When will offices reopen?

It’s not until the roadmaps final fourth step (which will be implemented no earlier than 21 June) that WFH guidance may be listed.

This will be pending a review into the Government’s social distancing advice on the 1m+ rule, face masks and other measures, and until that review is complete “people should continue to work from home where they can”.

Throughout the next few months, the Government says businesses must “continue to take necessary precautions as restrictions ease.”

“The overwhelming majority of the businesses that remained open during the pandemic did so in a COVID-Secure way,” it says.

“The Government will update COVID-Secure guidance to provide further advice on how businesses can improve fresh air flow in indoor workplaces and introduce regular testing to reduce risk."

Local authorities will also continue to offer advice.

Has Covid-19 ushered in a new era of work?

Boris Johnson has said he doesn't believe Covid will mean 'a fundamental change' to our working lives, but some experts think WFH is here to stay (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The Prime Minister said he did not believe the pandemic would lead to a fundamental change in the way people live in cities as more people become used to remote working.

Speaking at the Downing Street briefing, he said there may be opportunities for offices to be turned into residential accommodation in town centres and high streets.

He added: “I don’t believe this is going to mean a fundamental change to the way our life in our big cities really works.”

But some employers are offering new perks to retain and reward staff, including a work-from-home allowance, “virtual” exercise classes, and help with childcare, a new study revealed.

Jobs site Adzuna said it has seen firms advertising different ways of attracting workers amid the changing world of work caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna, said: “Offering great work perks can help employers tempt top talent, without costing the earth. Over the last year we’ve seen the emphasis shift from office perks like nap pods to a more holistic focus on mental health and wellbeing.

“Companies are offering greater support to help their employees work effectively from home, be that ergonomic office equipment, meditation apps, or virtual exercise classes."

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, the Yorkshire Evening Post