The Handbook
The Handbook

The party’s over, put down the 11 o’clock rosé, Boris has called time on all this WFHing. From the week after next we can safely return to the office, commuting is alright again and things are back to ‘new normal’.

This is according to the latest government advice, as declared by the Prime Minister at Friday’s impromptu Daily Briefing special. Just don’t tell Sir Patrick Vallance…

Okay, I’m snuggled in my duvet nest with my laptop. What did I miss?

On Friday evening Boris Johnson took to the airwaves (is that still a phrase?) to announce that from Saturday August 1st the government’s ‘work from home if you can’ directive will be changed to a ‘get your arse into work, like now’ directive.

Bojo told us “Instead of Government telling people to work from home, we’re going to give employers more discretion and ask them to discuss how their staff can work safely”, AKA telling them to get out of bed…

Hang on, I’m just going to check my sourdough starter, keep going…

The government’s change of message comes as virus figures remain low, albeit with local flareups. And while offices have been open, if COVID-secure, before now, commuting has remained on a ‘only if necessary’ basis as public transport was deemed both high risk and prioritised for frontline workers.

Yep, yep, can you walk and talk? I’ve got take my dog out. What about face masks?

Ah, so the advice on WFH (working from home) will change a week after we all have to start wearing face masks in shops, that kicks in this Thursday. As the scientific advice has changed (and as PPE has become more plentiful) it’s thought that face coverings may be more helpful than ever at protecting us from transmitting coronavirus. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has insisted that face masks will not be mandatory inside offices.

Do you want some rosé? I’ve opened a bottle… Also, isn’t that a bit confusing?

That we should all be wearing masks AND be back in the office and on public transport? Yes, potentially. The virus is still very much out there, but with an economy in freefall the government is concerned that Britain’s low productivity is linked to the millions of empty offices around the country. And it’s not just Boris, the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, has also called for this change as soon as possible.

Of course, it’s a bit strange for everyone to be swanning around in pubs and restaurants and going on mini breaks but not returning to the office. You can’t have it both ways, if you’re fine to spend the afternoon down your local, surely you’re cool to head into the office?

I’ve got a Zoom pilates lesson in a bit, can you hurry this up? What do the scientists think?

Well they were strangely absent for the announcement, with Boris taking chum Baroness Dido Harding into the presser instead so she could waffle on about track and trace (seems we’re not doing an awful lot of either). But the PM’s usual wingmen, Chief Medical Officer and all-round cuddly soothsayer Chris Whitty and Guess Who? character Chief Scientist Sir Patrick Vallance seemingly weren’t trusted to tow the party line. Vallance, when earlier questioned by MPs, said there was ‘absolutely no reason’ to change the WFH advice…

Hop in the car, I’m just doing a tip run… What did Boris say in reply?

To be fair, he replied “I think people have discovered a range of ways of working over the past few months and some people have been extremely productive working from home” and he heralded a potential new age that might involve plenty more WFHing, adding “I think new patterns of work have been emerging, many companies are seeing opportunities of doing things differently”.

Top up? I can open a third bottle! So actually I can stay in my PJs then?

No, quite the opposite. Boris went on to say “But where employers think it is now time to get people back – I certainly want to see people coming back to the civil service here in London – where employers think it is time to come back and it can be done in a safe way, that is what we think they should be doing”

Wait *puts corkscrew down*, so can my boss force me to come back into the office?

Yes. From 1st August the government will put employers in the driving seat when it comes to making the decision to bring employees back to work. Until now it’s just been key workers, retail and hospitality bosses who have been able to force employees in, but from August all bosses will have that power.

What if I don’t? I’m waaaay more productive at home. Look at all this cross-stitch!

If you contract says your place of work is the office, and if your boss decides that’s where they want you to work, you’re back on the Northern Line I’m afraid. Boris said employers will now have ‘more discretion’. However they’re still bound by legislation that ensures employers to look after their staff, and grants employees the power to walk out if they feel they are in imminent danger. This may at least apply to vulnerable or immunocompromised members of the workforce.

Realistically employers may well want their staff to continue WFHing. Some staff will work far better away from the distractions of a busy office, while other businesses will now see the value of home working from a financial perspective, doing away with or scaling back unnecessary office space.

But now it’s up to employees to negotiate with their bosses according to their needs, rather than vice versa. Given a happy office is a productive office, it’s likely most employers will be flexible.

I’d better cancel my virtual PT class then…

Looks that way…

Here’s the latest government advice…