The government gave workers in England the green light to start a return to the office from 19 July, with Wales and Scotland following shortly after. In Ireland the date for returning to work hasn’t yet been announced. Of course, many factory-based workers have continued to work there throughout the pandemic, providing an essential service to keep the housebuilding and construction sector moving. But for office-based workers, what does the future have in store?
A recent poll by the Royal Society for Public Health revealed that a quarter of people have worked from a sofa or bedroom during lockdown. Surely a proper ergonomic office chair and sturdy desk are better for productivity. The survey also disclosed that three quarters of workers preferred a hybrid approach.
So, is working from home the future for TRA members? Timber supplier Vida Wood has plenty of space and most people are back in the office, but the company has also made it known that staff can work from home if they feel safer.
Administration director Sharon Thick said: “We are a small team and during the lockdowns we had everyone working from home and it worked very well. We all work from a virtual desktop anyway, so nobody had any real issues. But I think everyone prefers to be in the office now and thrives on the buzz that being together creates, especially as it’s such a busy time. It certainly feels better to have everyone in one place.”
Software specialist MiTek has about 150 staff in the UK. All manufacturing staff were able to continue working throughout the lockdowns with health and safety measures quickly put into place. However, desk-based staff worked remotely throughout. They are now slowly returning to the office with a phased, hybrid approach.
Managing director Richard George says homeworking is here to stay: “As a technology business we have been quick to adapt and to adopt digital construction techniques. Many of our overseas software developers already worked from home, as did our regional technical support staff. Technology platforms have enabled this to be done easily and we’ve seen digitisation in construction accelerate quickly.
“Home working has had many advantages for the staff and the business but it’s important to maintain connections. We have conducted individual reviews and established an expectation of how the hybrid approach will work for every member of the desk-based team.
“We believe a balanced hybrid approach will ensure we deliver our services as efficiently as possible while keeping in contact with our people and our customers. We also think that the future recruitment of high-quality staff will be dependent on offering flexible working.
“Having said all this, I’m also looking forward to doing business face-to-face again, particularly meeting customers. I’m not in favour of a totally remote working situation.”
For those in the office, employers must carry out risk assessments and make sure there is a good supply of fresh air to indoor spaces. Hand sanitiser will continue to be a feature in all workplaces. Mental health support will be a key consideration for employers with teams working remotely to ensure a healthy and happy workforce.