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Half of UK companies planning to stagger the return to the workplace

Offices are opening across the country but most companies are playing it safe when it comes to staff returning.

Offices may be starting to reopen, but many businesses aren’t ready to fully open their doors to everyone following the Covid-19 lockdown. Just under half (49%) are planning to stagger when their workers return to the office based on their individual health risks related to Coronavirus. 

Arranging offices’ return to work

According to new research from recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, a staggered return to the office is a common approach. As well as health risks, companies are also basing return dates on employees’ role in the business, with 46% saying they are bringing back those who are more critical to the company first. 

When it comes to the ways in which businesses are opting to stagger work returns, 40% are creating smaller work groups while just over a third (34%) are changing their company’s operating hours. A third (33%) are operating a voluntary return to work scheme with a further 28% opting to split shifts to reduce the number of people in the workplace at any one time. 

Although lockdown restrictions are easing throughout most parts of the UK, 28% of businesses have said they will be looking at local infection rates in order to decide on their return-to-work strategy. However, 33% of those surveyed have yet to consider exactly what their approach to bringing people back into the office will be. 

Lucy Bisset, director at Robert Walters, said: "What the research highlights is that despite the success of home working, employers are keen to start encouraging their staff back into the workplace and are happy to take necessary steps and put procedures in place to help enable this.

"A return to office brings about many perks, including social inclusion, better workplace collaboration, a separation of home-life, and a reinforcement of company values.

"What employers need to do is merge the perks of office-life with what people have been enjoying about working from home; for example - flexi-hours, a relaxed atmosphere, and avoidance of busy commute times."

Working from home

Despite many offices being ready to bring people back in, not all employees want to go back to their full-time office life. The vast majority (87%) said they would like more opportunities to work from home even after offices re-open. Just under a quarter (21%) said that they would like to be able to work from home permanently. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look at though all companies are prepared to make remote working a permanent fixture. Almost two-thirds (64%) of companies said they are concerned about employee productivity while working from home, 57% of those in senior leadership positions preferring traditional ways of working. 

A further 36% see face-to-face sales as an important part of their business strategy now and in the future, meaning that permanent remote working is not a sustainable option. 

However, it could be that one of the biggest issues is the fact that many senior leadership teams were not equipped to deal with remote working. Three-quarters of employees said that this was the case, meaning many businesses struggled to adapt when lockdown restrictions were initially implemented. Some 74% said that employers will need training in order to adapt to new ways of working, such as being able to better support an improved work-life balance.

Other changes are likely going to be needed in order to adapt to the changes in the workplace following lockdown include a bigger focus on outcomes instead of work hours (65%), improved understanding of wellbeing and mental health (32%), and more autonomy (29%). The survey also highlighted that 30% are expecting to change office layouts, 18% say there is likely to be a change in work hours and 12% suggest that a altered performance measures are needed. 

Saving money

Following the difficulties brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses are looking for ways in which to save money. Half (50%) said that they will be freezing the company headcount, with 43% looking to make the most of government schemes to reduce costs. 

Many companies (44%) are also set to reduce their office space while 46% will be making use of digital meeting technology to keep travel budgets low. Technology is also set to be a big part of recruitment going forward, with 57% prepared to use virtual interviews, 46% looking to utilise online assessments and a further 56% considering remote onboarding as an option. 

Stylish modern office furniture from Bluespot Furniture

It is not yet known whether companies may have to resort to other measures, such as salary reductions or freezing bonuses. However, any possible reductions in salaries or bonuses are likely to be offset by an increase in benefits like flexi-time, remote working and a focus on wellbeing. 

Ms Bisset concluded: "It can be daunting for companies who have been going through a difficult period to consider spending money on their physical workspace, technical infrastructure or general operations.

"However, those who have been through previous periods of economic turbulence will know that investment in the early stages is crucial to remaining competitive and retaining good staff. We'd advise all employers to undergo a period of consultation with their staff to ascertain what they believe the future of their workplace and industry is going to be."

How can Bluespot help?

If you're preparing to open your office once more, whether for all staff or a staggered return, it is likely that you'll need to look at rearranging your workspace in order to adhere to social distancing.

Whether you have existing furniture that can be made suitable or you need to break up the space a bit more, we can help you find the right solutions. From desks to partitions and office storage that can help create a practical office, we've got everything you need to ensure your business can deal with the changes in working.

Get in touch with any questions you may have, to find out about specific products or for our expert recommendations. Simply email us at, give us a call on 0800 8044 760 or start a live chat.

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