COVID-19: Is work from home here to stay? What UK businesses are planning post-lockdown

Businesses have started preparing plans to get their employees back to the office, although some suggest office culture may look different post-pandemic.

The government’s work-from-home (WFH) guidance has been in place now for almost a year, and under Boris Johnson‘s roadmap out of lockdown it could remain until summer.

Providing earlier steps of relaxed measures are deemed successful, the prime minister has said all restrictions on social contact could be removed by 21 June at the earliest.

This could therefore give an idea of when we can legally go back to work as usual.

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Lloyd’s of London told Sky News that it hoped to be able to reopen its Underwriting Room on 12 April – shortly after Easter – or after the bank holiday on 4 May “depending on the steer from the government”.

Its corporate side, however, does not have a specific return date, and a business rota is expected to be implemented at a later time to ensure social distancing is followed.

John Lewis Partnership, which has head offices in London Victoria and Bracknell, has said that while capacity restrictions have fluctuated in the last year, an official approach will be adopted as the latest lockdown lifts.

“We already have a flexible working policy but from May 2021 we will be adopting an official and permanent ‘blended’ working model going forward, which will give head office Partners choice, trust and flexibility with where and how they work,” a spokesperson told Sky News.

“For example, this could mean for some Partners they may decide to work in the office two days a week and work the other three days from home.”

This policy for “blended” working seems to be a popular choice for multiple companies going forward – a sign of a possible long-term change brought about by COVID-19.

At Metro Bank, which has 77 branches nationwide, a return date has also not been specified; however, plans for a “hybrid model” are in development.

“The overwhelming feedback we had during the course of last year was that how we have worked in the past is not how our colleagues want to work in the future,” a Metro Bank spokesperson told Sky News.

“We developed our future working plans in response, and when we return to the office we will move from being in the office full time to a hybrid model where colleagues split their time between working from home and working in the office.”

For Metro Bank, these changes will also see the company invest in future office space, which it says will “create more collaborative spaces when colleagues return”. But this won’t be a development seen across all sectors.

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Preliminary data from the Harvey Nash Tech Survey 2021 found technology companies may need to hugely roll back on office spaces as the majority of workers surveyed had said they preferred to WFH.

Specifically, 79% of tech workers wanted to continue working three to five days from home after the pandemic.

This bumps up to 95% when asked about working two to five days from home.

Ultimately, numerous companies have been drawing up plans for future working practices, but many are yet to actually set a date for when employees can return to site.

HSBC was one of many companies reportedly preparing a comeback to its London headquarters in September last year – but was forced to drop plans as another wave of COVID-19 took hold.

The company told Sky News that a new date hadn’t been decided and that the majority of staff would continue their WFH schedules for the immediate future.

KPMG shared a similar sentiment. A spokesperson said: “Our key priority remains our colleagues’ health and wellbeing and as a firm we have stringently followed the most up-to-date scientific and government advice, including these latest developments.

“The vast majority of our people will continue to work from home, but our offices remain open for those who have a business or wellbeing need.

“All colleagues looking to enter our offices or a client site will continue to use our UK Return App, a risk assessment that ensures our people are in a safe position to return and are comfortable doing so.”

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, will be on Sky News from 9am on Wednesday morning to answer your COVID questions.

Send the question you want answering on email or a video clip to [email protected] and we’ll put it to him.

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