Britons have watched with interest as the likes of Spain and Italy eased their lockdown restrictions in recent weeks in the wake of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. At the same time, speculation has been rife as to how the UK government will initiate its plan to get things back to some semblance of normality.
With millions of businesses affected and livelihoods on the line, not to mention the deep economic impact, clearly the government is keen to get the country moving again.
Most people accept, however, that a complete return to business as normal is impossible – without risking a further spike in cases. And, until there’s a vaccine, this may go on for some time.
What has the government announced?
On Sunday 10 May Prime Minster Boris Johnson gave a live television address announcing the easing of some lockdown measures and the government’s phased plan for restarting the economy. It is important to note that the guidance only applies to people in England.
Here are the key points from his address:
- Stay home wherever possible
- Work from home if you can
- Avoid public transport if possible
- Take unlimited exercise outside
- Enjoy parks and public spaces without exercising
- Continue to follow social distancing in public
Crucially, the lifting of restrictions will allow some businesses and workplaces settings to open again including construction sites, factories and takeaways.
Furthermore, provided the number of cases, deaths and infection rate continues to fall, the government will look to adjust the measures in a conditional three-step plan potentially allowing primary schools and some shops to re-open from June 1. This will be governed based on a new Covid Alert System signaling the level of risk.
What role will technology play?
The adjusted measures were announced in the same week that a trial app has been launched on the Isle of Wight. The app is designed to facilitate contact-tracing – the idea that cases can be controlled by identifying the spread of the virus. Digital contact tracing worked to great effect in South Korea in helping to ‘flatten the curve’ and the same is hoped in the UK.
If the trial is a success, it’s likely the app will become a key component of life after lockdown.
Preparing your business: five key questions to answer
Safety guidance from the government is now available for eight workplace settings:
- Construction and other outdoor work
- Factories, plants and warehouses
- Labs and research facilities
- Offices and contact centres
- Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
- Shops and branches
We’ve put together some of the most pertinent questions business owners will need to consider as they appraise returning to work.
1. What work do you and your staff normally carry out?
Listing out the typical tasks carried out on a day-to-day basis will help you ascertain the potential risks of resuming work. Clearly some roles will be much harder to avoid close social interaction – such as tradespeople and construction workers. The published guidance covers the safety measures you should put in place, for example, ensuring Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is worn.
However, it’s fair to ask how important is this work? It might be that elements of your typical work will need to be put on hold or done remotely. Whilst not ideal, taking unnecessary risks should be avoided.
2. Can your staff continue to work from home?
The government guidance remains that you should try as far as possible to continue working from home. It is likely this will continue to be enforced for many office-based businesses. Even when restrictions are eased, many will question if being the office is really necessary if working from home is the much safer option?
If you have staff on furlough returning to work, you’ll need to ensure they have the right technology set-up to carry out their roles from home. We’ve put together some guidance on the various tips and tools that can help you to work from home effectively.
3. If you do need to be in an office or premises, what are the risks?
The preference to work from home is made clear when you consider the risks and precautions necessary in order to make your workplace safe. Whilst this is easier if you control the building, there will still be the need to ensure the workplace is regularly cleaned, hand sanitiser is readily available, and social distancing rules can be followed. If you work in a shared office or co-working space, you’ll need to understand what precautions the site management are undertaking.
4. Can you limit who is on the premises?
Social distancing is clearly difficult when an office or business premises are operating at full capacity. Avoiding this by staggering start and finish times is one solution. Another option is to alternate different days and weeks when staff can access the building. This will also help to ease the burden on public transport and traffic on the roads.
On that point, you should understand who is able to commute without using public transport – either on foot or by cycle. If they can drive to work, are there parking spaces? It would be irresponsible to encourage travel on public transport if unnecessary.
5. How can you adapt a typical working day to maximise safety?
Arguably, this is the most difficult question to tackle and will vary wildly depending on your business. Based on government guidance, these are some of the ways you’ll be expected to manage the transmission risk:
- Closely confined working environments will need to be adapted to ensure there is a safe distance between workers.
- Communal areas such as the kitchen may need to be closed or closely monitored to ensure safety.
- Face-to-face meetings should be avoided where possible and existing guidance states should be no more than 15 minutes in length.
- If you need to handle customer payments, you’ll want to ensure this can be done electronically and you may need to install shields or barriers to ensure safe separation.
The spread of Covid-19 has taken a heavy human toll and will continue to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future. The hope is that the worst is over but lifting the lockdown comes with the risk of more cases. For those reasons, it is understandable that governments and scientific advisors are acting cautiously.
Whilst the questions laid out will inevitably raise logistical headaches for business owners, you should act cautiously too. The urge to get back working is clear and present but needs to be managed in a way that works for everyone.
The ways we’ve outlined may enable you to do this, however, consider also the mental health impact of the last few months. Many people are continuing to battle with the emotional effects of the pandemic, whether that’s losing loved ones or financial hardship. Many will also be nervous about returning to work and you should be mindful of this when planning.
For more information on how your business can get help, visit our dedicated coronavirus hub.