The past year has undeniably been a challenging time for employers and employees alike.
There will be a sigh of relief for many when offices re-open, with the message from companies, employees and the press that this will not be a return to old working practices.
At the moment it is expected that most office employees will have returned to the office by late June 2021, but this could change at any time, particularly if new Covid variants take hold or if the number of Covid infections rise.
Also, it seems likely that Covid will still continue to affect businesses and workplaces until the end of the year.
Traditionally, recruitment has been based on face-to-face meetings, and for years candidates have been warned to practice their handshakes, but during lockdown when face-to-face meetings have not been possible, this process has instead taken place virtually and interviews have been held by video conferencing.
So what will the office return look like and what are the emerging risks that businesses should be aware of?
Things to consider
Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at law firm Peninsula, says employers will have to bear in mind office size as staff return, which may mean they do not look to recruit until social distancing measures are relaxed.
It will be much easier to socially distance in a larger office, even with most employees back in, than a smaller one.
Employers may also find themselves exploring more flexibility in response to staff who do not wish to return to the office full-time or want a new job with the ability to work from home.
Palmer adds: “With the guidance as it is, and due to the ongoing pandemic, staff may not wish to return and their concerns should be taken into account. If possible, a blanket approach to this should be avoided, as this could cause issues with staff morale and retention.
“If employers do want to implement hybrid working, they will need to consider several things. For example, there is a difference between temporary and permanent home-working and what may have worked temporarily may not work full-time.”
“It should first be remembered that government guidance remains to work from home if you can, meaning that companies should carefully consider who is being asked back, and when or why.”
Some businesses may have benefitted from the shift to remote working, and decided to close offices or reconsider their use of office space. Other businesses may have decided that they have not benefited from remote working and are keen to return to the office.
Danielle Parsons, employment partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, says employers will need to think about what has worked for the business and their staff, and what will work moving forward.