Return to the office?
Philip Fisher weighs up the pros and cons of whether now is the right time to return to offices.
Whilst reversing decisions to open up the country further, Boris Johnson continued to urge office-based workers, including accountants and those shielding for health reasons, to get back to the office.
It is easy to come up with a dozen reasons why this is a bad idea, but it is much more difficult to find more than one or two benefits to doing so:
Pros of returning to the office
- There is no doubt that social cohesion will be improved if all of your staff or teams are in the office together.
- Opportunities are more likely to arise when colleagues are around each other.
- For a small number of employees, it might even be necessary to maintain their mental health.
- If you are paying rent on a building, you might as well get some value out of it.
Cons of reopening offices
- It will be necessary to invest a significant sum of money in order to make any office Covid safe.
- There is also an obligation to make a detailed risk assessment.
- You will need to develop a policy to deal with anyone who refuses to return.
- If you get things wrong, then staff could become sick, die or, even through no fault of your own, take expensive legal action that may be difficult to defend.
- It seems unlikely that many clients would seek a physical meeting but, if they did, once again there is a risk that the virus could be conveyed.
- Most accountants I have spoken feel they have been more productive while working from home. If nothing else, they have been able to use what used to be travelling time to beaver away on client business.
- Nobody seems to have missed physical meetings with colleagues or clients. To be more accurate, the chance of an occasional team meeting, perhaps once or twice a month, might prove beneficial.
- As we saw over the weekend, even if you are brave enough to open up, the government could impose a lockdown without no notice at all, literally, to the point where staff who have rushed out without hearing any news might turn up one day and discover that they are banned from entering the building.
- Beyond government action, it may also be necessary to close the office summarily if staff get sick, which is far more likely if they are working together and travelling on public transport.
- At the moment, many staff may not be able to work given the need to look after children.
- Even if the schools do manage to go back in September, there is every chance that they will be opening and closing on a constant basis as the virus ebbs and flows.
- Looking at it more personally, if you work in central London then the choice for most is either to travel on crowded tube trains in the rush-hour or drive to work. In the latter case, the costs could be exorbitant, conceivably up to £50 a day, when you consider the price of parking plus the congestion charge.
- I am willing to bet a tidy sum that, based on past experience, masks will become compulsory in the workplace before too long, which would almost certainly reduce the feeling of kinship that may be the main reason for reopening. However, they are not compulsory in employee's houses!