With calls from union leaders, the general public and employers to give clarity on when the UK will return to the workplace, clarity is sought around how this may look. For over 6 weeks the general public have complied overwhelmingly to the restriction of activity or ‘lockdown’, staying home from work, home schooling their children and reducing unnecessary social contact. In the wake of many European countries restarting their economies, pressure is mounting on the government to give clarity over just when eager employees can get back to a semblance of normality. However, with no ‘magic’ solutions immediately available to treat coronavirus, it seems distanced measures may have to remain for an extended period of time – potentially until (if or when) a vaccine is developed. In this article we aim to report on some of the purported measures which employers could put in place, and other socially distanced concepts which could facilitate working.
Continuing home working
For some, working at home has been a challenging time due to constraints and resources issues, particularly with jobs which require face to face contact or frontline working. Indeed, discussing home-working to many healthcare staff is ludicrous, as often our nurses, mental health workers and carers are on the frontline. Yet, there still will be a portion of individuals who require vital but not non-patient facing roles such as compliance and administration. Indeed, for some individuals, location will have had a much reduced impact on their role which may already be mainly paper or computer based. In speculation, it seems reasonable that those who are not absolutely necessary for face to face work may be asked at personal or employer discretion to remain working from home, particularly in situations which have proved productive or effective. This distanced approach may have a slight impact on productivity and ease of communication, but ultimately removes individuals from the risk of contracting or spreading the virus
A second principle thought to be implemented in healthcare organisations and businesses at large is the principle of shift or phased working. This has been effective in hospitals and care homes, where the minimum necessary staff numbers have been on shift at any one time. Then, when demand is present, nurses, doctors or carers shift times were staggered to start at certain times – perhaps busier times, and leaving before quiet night periods. This approach minimises the number of individuals in a business premises such as a care home or hospital and thus reduces risk of transmission or exposure. Furthermore, having only necessary staff on shift at any one time optimises care delivery and work flow, with the added benefit of protecting patients and staff. It’s thought that similar principles could apply to workers across the sector, as well as non-patient facing roles. However, many workers may still not feel adequately protected, and more rudimentary protective measures may need to be in place.
The government are expected to announce soon details of protective equipment guidelines for non-clinical workers, but it is safe to assume their recommendations may include gloves and/or face masks. Whilst the evidence on the use of facemasks to prevent infection is contended, the masks serve as a barrier to transmission for people who have infection, and thus are generally recommended. However, it is still not clear exactly which recommendation the government will go with. It is likely to be a combination of physical distancing principles and time management to contain the number of employees in a small space. It is thought that dividers, isolated offices and seating arrangements could be used to augment safety in the office, with much more pertinent advice to be handed out towards the end of this week.
With no real end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic, it will require resilience and adaptability on the working public to morph into a slightly different version of their role – be it clinical or non-clinical. Home-working and distanced approaches may be the elusive ‘new-normal’ so talked of in the press – with more guidance to come on which protective equipment may be supplied or recommended to workers. Ultimately, in a time of much uncertainty, the choice will still be with the individual, who should only work in an environment they feel to be conducive to safe practice. The country awaits eagerly the news to come from government this week, with workers across the country unbelievably missing the comfort of their desk.