‘Shake up the rules’ to get workers back in the office
Under current guidelines some companies can only use one in five desks, leading bosses tell minister
BUSINESS leaders have told the Government to change its guidelines on Covid security after complaining that only one in five desks can be used in some offices.
Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, met the bosses of six major employers yesterday where he was told more must be done to get people back into the workplace.
It came as new figures showed footfall in high streets in August remained 42pc down on last year despite the success of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and discounting in shops.
Retailers said home working was having a “devastating effect” on high streets and blamed the Government for failing to change its “work from home if you can” message.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s drive to get people back to the office was thrown into confusion after Downing Street insisted there had “never been a back to work campaign”.
Mr Sharma told business leaders he was in “listening mode” when he held a virtual meeting with them to discuss what more the Government could do to get people back to their workplaces.
Senior executives from Rolls-Royce, NatWest, Unilever, British Land, EY and the law firm Dentons were among those on the call, where they detailed a series of obstacles in the way of people getting back to the office.
One source close to the discussions said: “The Government’s guidance on social distancing in the workplace means some small offices can only get a fifth of their desks back in use.
“There are a lot of other problems including people’s fears about using public transport, a lack of childcare and insufficient testing and tracing. All of these things are getting in the way.”
The Confederation of British Industry, whose head has warned of “ghost towns” resulting from home working, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses also took part in the discussion with Mr Sharma.
The Government’s current guidance states that workers should be kept two metres apart, or 1m “with risk mitigation” where this is not possible.
If work stations cannot be moved 2m apart, workers should sit side by side or back to back, with screens separating them from each other. So-called “hotdesking” should be avoided, unless desks and equipment can be sanitised in between different users.
The Government is not, so far, recommending the use of face coverings in offices, though other countries including France have made masks mandatory in most workplaces.
Mr Johnson publicly stated in early July that people should go back to their workplaces if they could, but the official government advice has never caught up with the Prime Minister.
Yesterday, The Daily Telegraph revealed that a back to work advertising campaign, which had been due to launch today, had been postponed until at least next week following disagreements in government about the way forward.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman added to the confusion by saying “there has never been a back to work campaign”, describing the delayed newspaper campaign as just the latest phase in an ongoing public information service.
The spokesman said there would be content on social media over the weekend directing businesses to the latest government guidelines, followed at some point by newspaper advertisements encouraging the public to go back to work.