New government guidelines from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), after its consultations with bosses, unions and trade bodies have given a glimpse of early forms of post-lockdown working practices.
The latest seven draft plans from the government, widely reported in the UK media this week, are thought to be the basis of announcements to be made by the Prime Minister on Thursday. The guidelines are the bare bones of the expected way forward in ‘easing’ the lockdown.
One of the key suggestions in the draft plans that could help protect public health at a vital time, and stop transport systems from becoming immediately overwhelmed is for workers (who can) to continue working from home for the time being.
Suggested changes in workplace routines, and ways in which safety could be improved also include:
– Improved hygiene where correct social distancing is not possible e.g. using physical screens and other protective equipment.
– Businesses with more than five employees conducting risk assessments before staff return to work and explaining how working conditions will be made safer in the light of these.
– Shielding those people considered to be the most vulnerable by banning them from work that cannot be carried out from home.
– Staggering arrival and departure times/staggering on-premises hours, and staggering break periods.
– Reconfiguring seating and tables to keep employees at a safe distance from each other and to reduce any face-to-face interactions.
– Stopping the ‘hot desking’ practice so that employees are more in control of the hygiene of their workspace and are not unnecessarily exposed to more risk.
Buzzfeed, which claims to have seen all seven of the new guidance documents gives more details on its website here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexwickham/governments-draft-plan-to-ease-lockdown-workpace-in-full
Phase 2 of the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which refers to the easing of lockdown conditions can, however, only take place when the so-called 5 Tests have been met. These are making sure the NHS can cope, having a ‘sustained and consistent’ fall in the daily death rate, the rate of infection decreasing to ‘manageable levels’, ensuring the supply of tests and PPE can meet future demand and being confident any adjustments would not risk a ‘second peak’
With many businesses now fighting for survival and people being in lockdown since the end of March, there is an appetite for work, trade and the economy to be jump-started again, but people are painfully aware of the risk of that triggering a really devasting second peak. Right now, with no vaccine yet plus limited treatment options for the highly contagious virus, and with schools still closed, although the guidelines are a welcome starting point to help many businesses to prepare for some kind of return, Scotland looks likely to continue lockdown measures beyond a scheduled review this Thursday, and this could also be the case elsewhere in the UK.
The guidelines do highlight, however, how remote working is likely to continue as a safe a practical option for many but that big changes will need to be made to processes and layouts in businesses across the UK, and that some types of businesses e.g. restaurants, cafes and pubs, will find this really challenging.