Last reviewed 2 October 2020

Gordon Tranter reports on the new publication from the CIPD, from a health and safety perspective.

CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, has issued a report, Embedding New Ways of Working Post-pandemic: Implications for the Post-pandemic Workplace. The report summarises the results of a CIPD survey of more than 1000 employers as well as 15 in-depth interviews which covered the way employers had reacted to the pandemic during the period to the end of June 2020.

The report includes:

  • the economic situation and outlook — how workforce costs have been managed, eg through freezing recruitment, furloughing staff, redundancies and wage flexibility

  • working from home — which implies that the pandemic has changed for good the distribution of work between the regular workplace and home for many workers

  • creating Covid-secure workplaces — including a survey on the methods employers have used to ensure safe return to the workplace

  • health and wellbeing — looking at the wide range of health and wellbeing concerns employees have as a result of the pandemic beyond the risk of attending their workplace.

Working from home

The report shows that there is a high probability that there will be no return to business-as-usual post-crisis. The pandemic has probably permanently changed the distribution of work between the regular workplace and home for many.

The survey confirms that there has been a major increase in homeworking over the course of the pandemic, with employers having estimated that, on average, 54% of the workforce was working continuously at home. The survey predicts that working from home on a regular basis will rise to 37% of the workforce on average, from the pre-crisis incidence average of 18%. Employers expect some 22% of their workforce will be working all the time at home after the crisis compared with just 9% before.

Health and wellbeing concerns related to homeworking revealed by the survey include:

  • the negative impact of isolation and loneliness on mental wellbeing (41%)

  • fear and anxiety about workers or their loved ones becoming ill (40%)

  • a poor work-life balance due to homeworking (35%), eg as a result of the difficulty of balancing work and childcare

  • the fear of redundancy (29%)

  • stress due to new demands or challenges of homeworking (26%).

The survey concludes that employers are “almost unanimous” in looking to increase homeworking following its success over lockdown, although it is obviously not possible for all roles. However, there are downsides to homeworking, which would be addressed if workers came into the office periodically. As such, partial working from home rather than full-time homeworking, seems much more likely to be the future.

Consulting with staff on new working arrangements

The CIPD's employee survey highlights that many are anxious about returning to work. Some 45% of those not attending their normal workplace were anxious about the prospect of returning; 35% also felt anxious about the commute.

The CIPD survey of employers found employers use a range of approaches to understand how staff feel about new working arrangements. Direct feedback from employees (66%) is the most commonly reported method by employers, followed by feedback from line managers (52%) by using staff surveys (39%) and staff forums (30%).

Only 55% of respondents said they had been given adequate information about returning, and just 44% said they'd been adequately consulted in the process.

Creating Covid-secure workplaces

The survey revealed that employers have adopted a wide range of measures to ensure their workplaces are safe for their staff and to minimise the risk of infection. The most widely used approaches were:

  • altering workplace layouts (54%)

  • moving workstations apart (48%)

  • providing personal protective equipment (PPE) (44%), although presumably this means masks and visors, which do not qualify as PPE

  • taking steps to reduce or shorten the number of meetings (41%)

  • providing screen barriers to protect staff (33%).

It has to be said that many meetings could benefit from keeping the discussion brief and precise, focusing on the purpose of the meeting and sticking to the agenda. This action is one that could benefit the organisation in the long term.

Some organisations are staggering shifts (28%) or staggering break times (29%) and reducing job rotation (10%) as ways of reducing the number of people in the workplace or taking breaks at the same time. In order to ensure their premises are Covid-secure, some employers have used multiple entrances (21%), or reconfigured customer service layouts (20%).

Despite the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) advising businesses and workplaces to not rely on temperature screening products for detection of coronavirus, 20% of employers reported using temperature checking at entrances. MHRA has stated that there is little scientific evidence to support temperature screening as a reliable method for detection of Covid-19 or other febrile illness, especially if used as the main method of testing. Although the technique may detect some infected people, infected people who do not develop a fever, who have taken antipyretics or who do not show any symptoms would not be detected by a temperature reading. Also, interpreting a lack of temperature as the infection being absent could unknowingly spread the virus.

Some organisations (9%) have introduced regular testing for Covid-19 in their workforce.

The management of the risk of Covid-19 infection at work must include high standards of ventilation, hand hygiene and increased surface washing. There should be sanitiser and handwashing facilities at key points, including communal areas and particularly entry and exit points. These are not listed in the survey. Maybe they have been taken for granted. It seems likely that virtually all of the employers surveyed would have taken steps to ensure high standards of hand hygiene and increased surface washing.