The Future Working Environment

Employers will be considering the post pandemic environment set against the background of emerging issues such as ‘No Jab, No Job’ headlines, working from home, the utility of virtual meetings, mental health considerations and the expectations of employees.

Recent reports that Covid 19 must now be considered as an endemic disease similar to influenza will add additional risks to public health now and for the future. The implications might be a continuing effort to sustain public health protocols in the place of work and to make existing working practices such as flexible, hybrid and working from home a more established occurrence.

What is certain is that there will remain much uncertainty. What might be worth considering will be the requirement to think carefully through what employers might be wishing to achieve when current restrictions, furlough, and the vaccination programme reach their end and the impact upon business and the economy is more positive. Some points for consideration:

• Employment law will remain a constant throughout, but it will be the mitigating factors and issues related to Covid 19, which may well influence future outcomes.
• What is considered acceptable and reasonable practice in the pre Covid world of employment may not be so applicable now.
• The judges’ interpretations of the law will be based upon the significant and different nature of the Covid 19 situation upon employers and employees both now and for the future.
• It is unlikely that there will be much clarity from case law for another 12 months.

Responses and actions of employers to the future landscape are complex and heavily dependent upon the specific nature of their business. Hospitality will have a different set of considerations than say food services, manufacturing, or social care. Some thoughts might be that:

• Employers will possibly need to consider what it is they wish to achieve going forward and maybe take a longer-term view.
• The capacity to think through what is achievable and what is not in the short to medium term as a first step might be worth considering.
• Consider a short, mid and long-term plan for the business in the post Covid world.

There will be a number of employees looking forward to returning to the workplace. Others will be anxious and unwilling to return. They will have many good and indeed bad reasons for wishing to be cautious. Some approaches to this might be:

• Gain an understanding that the Covid 19 perceptions of many are quite different and varied, and therefore just how potentially complex the situation might become.
• This will need sensitive handling, assurances, good governance, and effective communication between employers and employees.

A desire to return to pre Covid working practices might cause unnecessary and unintended consequences. Some thoughts might be:

• Be clear about the safeguarding and Covid secure procedures in place in the workplace now and for the future.
• Review and improve and update risk assessments.
• Be specific where possible about how long these measures may remain and under what circumstances.
• Consider additional safeguarding such as testing procedures.
• Enquire if there are additional personal circumstances of individual employees that might prevent them returning to the workplace.
• Consider the vaccination status of individuals.
• Consider your future working from home policy.
• Consider how you intend to utilise office facilities in the future either for blended, hybrid or other variations.

Failure to prepare for the ‘new normal’ might result in long tails of employment issues which will be time consuming, expensive and potentially quite damaging to business reputation. Best to think and get ahead and be prepared to communicate your future intentions effectively having gained some insights from your employees.

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