As lockdown starts to ease, we look at what the guidance is for non-site-based work in the sector. Whilst the overall National effort and the flexibility shown by individuals has been nothing short of amazing, concerns are being raised that it is difficult to do many roles and drive programmes as efficiently remotely.

The Situation in England:

Step 1:  Earliest from 8 March

As before, people can leave home for work if they cannot work from home and to escape illness, injury or risk of harm, including domestic abuse.

In England, the guidance is essentially unchanged at the start of Step 1, if you can work from home, you must do so.  Exceptions include where you need access to systems or cannot work from home for mental health reasons.

Earliest from 29 March

Guidance will set out that people should continue to work from home where they can. People should continue to minimise travel wherever possible and should not be staying away from home overnight at this stage (see letter prepared by Build UK to support essential workers in need of overnight accommodation).

Here the language starts to ease with “must” being replaced by “should”, but Government is being careful not to encourage a mass return and is keen to keep pressure off the transport network.

Step 2:  Earliest from 12 April

People should continue to work from home where they can, and minimise domestic travel where they can.

As before the assertion is that individuals should work from home if practicable, but the language around travel is also starting to soften, we should “minimise” rather than avoid travel.

Step 3: Earliest from 17 May

The Government will continue to advise the public to work from home where they can.

There is no change to guidance in Step 3, but we are advised that ahead of Step 4, as more is understood about the impact of vaccines on transmission and a far greater proportion of the population has been vaccinated, the Government have committed to a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures that have been put in place to limit transmission.

The results of the review will help inform decisions on the timing and circumstances under which rules on 1m+, face masks and other measures may be lifted. The review will also inform guidance on working from home.

Step 4: Earliest from 21 June

Whilst the headline suggests that “normality” will resume and the guidance points to the importance of – people should continue to work from home where they can until this review is complete.

Workplace testing and vaccine policy is anticipated to play a part.

How does the situation differ around the UK

In Scotland the First Minister this week announced ‘stay at home’ restrictions could be lifted on 5 April at the earliest, with further restrictions easing on 26 April.  The Scottish government intends to publish a further document in mid-March giving more detail on the sequencing of re-opening the economy from late April onwards.

The Wales Coronavirus Control Plan: Alert Levels in Wales – Coming out of Lockdown plan identifies the end of April (linked to the rollout of the vaccine to the next five priority groups) will be a clear milestone against which the intention is re-evaluate easing to alert level 3 based on the latest evidence.

Plans for the phasing out of Lockdown in Northern Ireland are due to be published on Monday

So what should you do as an employer about home working

When home working is not possible the CIPD recommends three key tests before bringing people back to the workplace: is it essential; is it sufficiently safe; and is it mutually agreed. Many factors must be considered, including the size and nature of the workplace, the number of vulnerable staff or those who live with vulnerable people, caring responsibilities, public transport dependency, as well as local and wider outbreaks. So, an employer with a large premises and car park may be able to fully implement social distancing and minimise employees’ local transport use, while an employer with smaller premises may feel social distancing is impossible in the workplace.