Working at home to become norm as government lays out plan for lockdown exit

Working from home

Office workers across the UK longing to return to their workplaces are set to have their hopes dashed by ministers preparing details of how to ease the nation’s lockdown.

Employers will be expected to keep most staff working from home for several months to prevent public transport from being overwhelmed, senior government figures said.

The business department, which has been working closely with unions and company leaders to draw up plans for best-practice working in seven different types of workspace, will publish the recommendations next week.

Companies urged to restart operations relatively quickly will include non-food retailers, factories and warehouses, while offices will be encouraged to stay closed for longer. “If you are in an office space, then there is likely to be guidance that says continue working from home,” said one person involved in the planning.

Even when offices start to reopen en masse many will be expected to operate “red-blue” systems — with two teams alternating weekly in the office. But ministers are reluctant to forcibly close all offices because of the risk of some workers being exposed to domestic abuse if they have to stay at home all the time.

Other recommendations expected in the government advice will include wider walkways on building sites and the use of PPE in some factories.

Canteens will be kept closed unless they are able to maintain social distancing, while smokers will be asked to keep apart in modified smoking and vaping areas.

The government will suggest that work breaks are staggered throughout the day, to avoid people gathering in larger groups — one of the biggest concerns among business and union leaders.

Factories, offices and shops will be urged to offer hand-sanitiser dispensers to ensure that people keep their hands clean. There will also be general advice for people to consider using face coverings on their journeys to and from work and in crowded areas to help prevent the spread of the virus through coughing and sneezing.

When non-food shops open their doors they will be expected to follow the practices already used in supermarkets. Shoppers will queue outside at a distance from each other, while “marshals” will help them behave responsibly in stores.

Other ideas already being used in some workplaces include the expansion of car parks so staff can drive to work individually without sharing cars. There will also be advice for workers such as gas fitters and plumbers who need to enter people’s homes.