For many firms, confirmation that England will be to move to step 4 of the roadmap from 19 July is welcome, particularly those who have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. But, with most legal restrictions set to end, many businesses will be looking for support on how to adjust to living with the virus. From 19 July, businesses that have been operating in a clear environment will be asked to operate in a much more undefined, ‘grey’ zone. Critical, then, will be building both consumer and employee confidence in this ‘new normal’. Here, the CBI will support members with the transition out of restrictions, providing insights and reference points of good practice on how firms can navigate this new challenge of living with the virus.
We will continue to update this article with new information and case studies as we gather more examples to ensure that we continue to support businesses as we move towards living with the virus.
Summary of the changes from 19 July
- Social distancing rules will end
- No limits on the number of people you can meet, either indoors or outdoors
- The government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can
- The legal requirement to wear face coverings will be lifted, although businesses/travel operators may decide to implement their own rules
- You should continue to self-isolate if you test positive, and take a PCR test if you develop symptoms.
What can business do?
As part of the transition out of restrictions, many businesses will be looking to undertake measures that drive employee and consumer confidence. For example, firms should update their risk assessments before making changes to their business operations. This is a process that typically requires engagement with employees, and will be a vital tool in building confidence and trust amongst staff and customers about the changes that the business has decided to undertake.
To help understand what changes – if any – may be appropriate for an individual business, the CBI is working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to see what role HSE can play in supporting firms to effectively understand and assess the risk of their working environment, and what interventions are proportionate to that risk.
Principles for effective risk mitigation could include:
- Improved ventilation, a simple intervention that can reduce the risk of aerosol transmission in the workplace
- Cleaning workspaces and encouraging handwashing, reducing the risk posed by heavily utilised communal spaces
- In crowded or poorly ventilated workspaces, reducing the amount of face-to-face contact through interventions such as perspex screens, or face coverings to reduce the risk of transmission via droplets.
Practical considerations for business and best practice
As firms look to adapt to this transformation, the CBI will play a vital role in communicating best practice and advice between firms. Although it’s early days, firms in general seem to be taking a cautious approach to reopening, with some choosing to keep certain measures in place, even as the government looks to remove the legal obligation to do so. Some examples of measures that firms are taking include:
- Continuing to ask employees to take tests before returning to the workplace, particularly for businesses operating in crowded spaces
- Where operating in a crowded, indoor environment, using face coverings – and asking customers to wear a covering too – as a helpful tool for building confidence amongst employees and consumers
- For businesses that require staff to operate in customer homes, giving the customer the option for staff to continue applying COVID-secure work practices e.g. wearing a face mask
- Publishing an updated risk assessment outlining a firm’s revised operating environment, to bring colleagues on board with the decisions you’ve made as a company.
For many of our members, we are hearing that the government's removal of legal restrictions for social distancing will be met by the obligation they feel to take appropriate measures to protect their customers and employees. The key for many firms will be the continuation and facilitation of open dialogue with staff to bolster confidence and trust, ensuring that a safe working environment is in place. While every business is different and will follow a bespoke approach, there are broadly five key areas of interest emerging for businesses when thinking about their post-19 July strategy:
As the government moves to remove the legal requirement for face coverings, many businesses are having to decide whether they will still ask employees or customers to keep wearing their masks in certain situations.
We are hearing the following considerations from members for continuing with mandatory face coverings:
- Some businesses feel that keeping these in place will bolster employee confidence for both commuting into, and being in, the workplace
- Some firms feel that continuing with face coverings will reduce the risk of transmission, and employees having to self-isolate as a result
- Other firms are asking their employees to wear masks whilst walking around the workplace, but then offering the employee the ability to remove their covering whilst sat at their workspace
- While businesses range from keeping face coverings mandatory, to keeping face coverings in shared spaces, to removing the requirement but communicating that it is still advised, generally businesses are consulting with their staff about the best route to take.
Return to office and hybrid working
According to the ONS, of businesses not permanently stopped trading, 24% stated that they intend to use increased homeworking going forward. Additionally, of working adults currently homeworking, 85% wanted to use a "hybrid" approach of both home and office working in future.
For practical advice on approaching hybrid working, read our factsheet: employee engagement for virtual teams.
From 19 July, there is no legal obligation to work at home if you can, and government will encourage a gradual return to the workplace. While it is still too early to tell what the impact of home working during the pandemic will have on the future of work, the easing of restrictions raises the question of whether firms should accelerate their return to office plans, how they should communicate returning to the office to their staff, and what impact this will have on any future approach to hybrid working.
Some practical steps businesses are taking to encourage employees to return to the office are:
- Offering flexible start and end times to avoid major peaks on transport networks when commuting
- Where possible, offering the continuation of working from home days
- Maintaining COVID-19 secure measures in the workplace.
While many businesses are keen to get their employees back in some capacity, many firms are taking a patient and gradual approach, communicating with employees throughout to ensure they’re confident in the firm’s approach. We are also hearing from some members that this approach is favorable in the undesired instance that restrictions return in some form in the autumn.
Capacity restrictions and social distancing
From July 19, rules on social distancing and capacity limits are also due to be scrapped. For businesses who have been unable to open and trade their way to recovery, or only operate in very limited capacities, this is welcome. For others, it will mean operating in that ‘grey’ area.
From the businesses that we have spoken to, where they are able to do so, some plan to maintain some of the social distancing measures in the workplace, which might include:
- One-way systems
- Screens and/or extended belts in manufacturing
- Social distancing markers
- Meeting room capacity limits
- Reduced office capacity
- Desk booking system
- Greater ventilation
As with considerations around face coverings, businesses are also raising the question of the implications, legal or otherwise, of the removal of the 1+ meter rule. Firms are keen to avoid unnecessary uncertainty that could result in increased liability or undermined confidence from customers or staff, which is why ensuring firms have an up-to-date risk assessment will be important.
Access to free workplace testing has now ended. Organisations that signed up to the government’s asymptomatic testing scheme can continue to use this in line with standard operating procedure until their stocks are depleted. For the latest on workplace testing, take a look at our factsheet: workplace testing for COVID-19.
For many businesses the use of testing will continue to be an important cornerstone of any decisions made in removing COVID-19 secure measures. It is a big part of building confidence that workplaces are COVID secure.
The government has indicated that community testing is likely to remain in some capacity, and we are hearing from several businesses who already intend to continue with private workplace testing or who are currently attempting to figure out how much this might cost them.
There is also broad support across business for more clarity on the future of the self-isolation scheme, and for a potential ‘test and release' policy to minimise the current impact of self-isolations forcing huge portions of the workforce to stay home.
- adequate ventilation
- sufficient cleaning
- good hand hygiene.
Many businesses have already confirmed to staff and customers that enhanced hygiene - including hand sanitation units, cleaning and ventilation controls - will remain in place, both in the short term and in general to support infection control and winter resilience. For some businesses, mitigation against infection as we move into flu season also extends to offering face masks during this period.
- The CBI’s six point plan for creating confidence
- CBI @10am: How to get your business ready for reopening
- The CBI’s Coronavirus Hub
Reach out to the CBI to communicate any specific feedback or concerns for your company via our coronavirus inbox.
Decisions about actions to take will be different for every company, and this guidance cannot substitute legal advice or that of the government.