Last night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the government’s conditional plan to reopen businesses and the wider society.
Johnson said those who could not work from home would now be encouraged to return to work – but they should avoid using public transport to get there if possible.
In his speech, he stated that those workers construction and manufacturing should be encouraged to go back to work.
Workplaces outside of those sectors would also receive guidance on how to become secure against the virus pandemic.
However, he also said that employees returning to the workplace should avoid public transport where possible.
In addition to being able to leave home as many times as they wish for exercise or to sunbathe in parks, people in England would also be able to drive to other destinations – allowing people in England to spend more time outdoors from Wednesday.
In the clearest statement on the levels of the virus spreading in comparison to restrictions being relaxed, Johnson introduced a new Covid-19 Alert System with five levels, which will govern how quickly lockdown rules could be eased. He also explained how the ‘R’ number – the reproduction rate of the virus – would be constantly monitored and be the deciding point on whether restrictions could be eased further.
Johnson said that from Wednesday, England could start reopening certain shops, but warned that this would only happen if supported by science and the data on the spread of the virus.
One of the most devastated industries since the lockdown has been the hospitality and leisure sector – however, some businesses could re-open – if the data allows – but not before July.
Johnson said these steps are the ‘first sketch of a roadmap for reopening society’.
Further details about England’s lockdown are will be published later today.
The CBI responds
The CBI has responded to the Prime Minister’s address on the continuing COVID-19 crisis and the status of lockdown measures.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director General
Today marks the first glimmer of light for our faltering economy. A phased and careful return to work is the only way to protect jobs and pay for future public services. The Prime Minister has set out the first steps for how this can happen.
Businesses are keen to open and get our economy back on its feet. But they also know putting health first is the only sustainable route to economic recovery. The message of continued vigilance is right.
This announcement marks the start of a long process. While stopping work was necessarily fast and immediate, restarting will be slower and more complex. It must go hand-in-hand with plans for schools, transport, testing and access to PPE. Firms will want to see a roadmap, with dates they can plan for.
Success will rest on flexibility within a framework: clear guidance which firms can adapt for their particular circumstances. Financial support will also need to evolve for sectors moving at different speeds – some remaining in hibernation, while others get ready to open safely.
The coming weeks should see business, government and employee representatives working together as part of a national effort built on openness and trust. This is the only way to revive the UK economy and protect both lives and livelihoods.
Future of manufacturing
Earl Yardley is Director at Industrial Vision Systems, a supplier of machine vision systems to industries such as food & drink, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices
It will quickly become evident that COVID-19 will propel the use of so-called “Industry 4.0” flexible manufacturing philosophies across factory floors. Many UK manufacturers are adopting smart factory systems such as robotics, automation and machine learning. We are already witnessing an increasing number of factory floor managers making enquiries as they look to increase the number of collaborative robots operating side by side with human workers post-lockdown, to ease fears of picking up infections.
Another growth area is automated bin-picking robots, which will become more prevalent in manufacturing – these allow vision and robotics to operate autonomously picking product from bins and totes, for example, to load machines, bag products or to produce sub-assemblies. By removing the operators from such operations allows factories to reopen with reduced human to human contact, increasing yield and helping to protect the rest of the workforce.
We will see critical changes to working practices and automation deployment which will create new opportunities across manufacturing and engineering. This includes cutting edge production ideologies with vision robotics and an increasing ability to reduce human to human contact with the deployment of autonomous robotics. We see a growing demand for vision-guided robot systems to maintain production capacity and reduce dependence on the human workforce which will further drive the adoption of flexible manufacturing for generations to come.
What does this mean for the employment sector?
Rustom Tata is Chairman and Partner at city law firm DMH Stallard and head of the firm’s employment group
PM Boris Johnson says that people who can’t work from home should be actively encouraged to go to work, with construction and manufacturing two specific industries being mentioned.
But is this realistic?
Many workers, presumably on furlough if they haven’t been able to work for the last couple of months, will still be concerned about the health risks of attending at work without there being very clear provisions in terms of what protective measures are being taken in the workplace.
For others, the journey to and from work will present a logistical challenge. And that’s before the health risks of travelling on public transport.
What if the employee fails to attend?
In most cases, if the employee doesn’t attend work, the employer could notionally seek to dismiss the employee. However, in practice that is unlikely to happen.
A dismissal would almost certainly be unfair. In fact, employees who raise concerns about their safety in the workplace, may be able successfully to claim unfair dismissal with increased compensation and without needing any minimum period of service.
Clearly, the PM is attempting to ‘move the needle’ but until the position on public transport and school reopening are clearer and deliverable, little is likely to change for the overwhelming majority of workers.
The future of working from home
Pete Watson, CEO of Atlas Cloud
The national lockdown created the largest overnight change in working habits in British history.
As employers it is important for us all to note how careful and conditional the Government’s latest advice is on steps to re-open workplaces.
Given the uncertainty we expect many businesses will now follow Facebook and Google’s lead and enacts plans to allow their office staff to work from home until the end of the year.
For businesses which can do so, enabling homeworking en masse is the safest and most certain action they can take at this moment in time.
Now is the time for Britain to get homeworking done.
We have conducted the largest survey of British working habits since the lockdown began, which showed that almost four fifths (79%) of office workers believe the lockdown has proven that they can work from home effectively.
However, that survey of more than 3,100 people also found that more than half of office workers (57%) believe their employer should do more to help them work from home.
Britain’s IT sector only has a limited capacity so for the first six weeks of the lockdown we’ve been telling businesses to concentrate on investing in short-term solutions so our industry can work to get as many companies as possible working safely and effectively.
Given that those who can must still work from home, businesses are right to look at cutting costs and reducing the amount of money they spend on office space and instead investing in longer term solutions to help their team work from home effectively.
The impact on business in England
Ann Francke OBE, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)
The Prime Minister’s words this evening signal a slow and steady return to the workplace for a small number of UK businesses – but with a welcome level of cautiousness.
What’s needed now is further clarity and a clear strategy for how the PM’s roadmap vision can be practically delivered. Our members look forward to hearing further detail in Parliament tomorrow.
For those businesses that – following the PM’s address – will begin the transition back to their workplace tomorrow, detailed guidance is needed to help build the confidence of managers who will bear the brunt of the effort needed to make workplaces safe and covid-secure – whether that’s implementing social-distancing measures at pace or deciding how to get their staff to work without using public transport or how best to acquire appropriate PPE for their teams.
For the vast majority that remain at home, Government support should continue. Managers will need to concentrate on maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of their staff, remotely, over a longer period of time than perhaps first anticipated, whilst keeping productivity levels high. UK managers stand ready to get Britain ‘back to work’ when the right moment comes.
For those returning to work – are the guidelines clear?
Tamzen Isacsson, MCA Chief Executive
The government has worked tirelessly over the last few weeks to engage with businesses and trade associations to help provide firms and individuals with the correct guidance and information and we look forward to detailed information on the road map being published soon.
The top priority of our businesses is the welfare of staff and clients and we welcome the new alert system which will provide some clarity in communication and for now it is likely that our firms will continue remote working for several months. Many offices can accommodate social distancing and put in to place extra measures such as staggered working shifts, extra screens and desk spacing and we look forward to receiving more detailed guidance on this for the future.
However, the major concern for people is how they will get into work as many rely heavily on public transport and can’t use cars or cycle so it’s important to know in detail the public transport plans.
Will this lead to a second wave?
Angela Love, director at Active Workplace Solutions, a company which specialises in workplace change: from design and build to furnishings and business relocation
When office doors reopen we must seriously remind ourselves that the last thing anyone wants or needs is a wave of workplace illnesses from a lack of attention on systems and processes over the past six weeks or so.
Therefore, the first thing building owners must do before anyone walks back through that office door, is ensure their compliance and maintenance programmes are back up to speed. They won’t want their workforce to return to the office only for the heating or air con failing through a lack of maintenance during the lockdown.
Deep cleaning or thorough decontamination must be a priority. As much as this is a serious hygiene issue, it will also bring added peace of mind for the employees returning to work. The peace of mind alone will add much needed reassurance to an already confused and perhaps apprehensive workforce.
People will rightly be anxious about coming back to work, so robust communications throughout all internal and external teams along with effective health and wellbeing programmes should be prioritised as we re-open doors to businesses.
What does Boris’s speech mean for employers and employees?
Advice by Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula
1. How will HR start to handle concerns from employees such as childcare commitments and worries about the logistics of getting to work?
The re-boarding process should be managed carefully by HR. Although the lockdown is starting to be eased in England, announcements are being made very quickly. Employers may then decide to re-open quickly but employees may not be able to follow suit.
Those with childcare commitments, and other caring commitments, will need to consider what arrangements they will make. This could be tricky considering that options like childcare providers and wider family may not be available to them. An individual approach is likely to be needed and appropriate adjustments and support put in place, perhaps on a temporary basis.
An individual approach will also be needed when dealing with concerns over travelling to work.
2. Is there a concern about how employers may have had to scrabble around last night sending comms to people about whether they were expected at work in the morning or no? (Ie Boris’ comments “go to work if you can”)
Although the Prime Minister announced that employees who cannot work from home should go to work, this does not mean that it has to happen immediately. It will undoubtedly take employers time to consider their position and particular care must be taken to implement health and safety measures, including social distancing, or the provision of PPE, in the workplace. No action should be done without the appropriate thought and consideration as this could work against employers in the long run. Ensuring staff feel they are being protected at work is a large part of the return to work process
3. Is there worry that employers might rush through Employment law/H&S concerns and take this as a sign to allow people to return to work?
Employers should take their time to consider what their response will be. If this is not done appropriately, it may be difficult to convince employees that they are being protected at work and may have valid reasons for refusing to return to work. This could be damaging for employers in the short and the long term.
IoD responds to PM’s statement
Jonathan Geldart, Director General of the Institute of Directors
Directors know that the battle with this virus is far from over, and they want to play their part in preventing a second spike, which would extend the economic pain.
As the Government begins to ask more people to return to work, it’s vital that the guidance is clear so that companies can plan how to return safely. As people with ultimate legal responsibility, directors need to have confidence that it’s safe, and that if they act responsibly they won’t be at undue risk. Businesses should consult with their people to put in place robust policies, which in many cases might not be an overnight process.
For a large number of firms, operating under social distancing rules will mean significantly reduced activity, so the Government’s support measures must match continuing restrictions. A more flexible furlough system would help businesses get back on their feet, bringing people back to workplaces gradually. Meanwhile, countless small company directors continue to find themselves left out in the cold, unable to access the Government’s aid, and this need to be changed quickly.