What will the UK's post-lockdown workplaces look like?

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot

As the UK’s coronavirus cases begin to stabilise, calls for an end to the nation’s strict lockdown rules continue to grow.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to reveal a road map on Sunday, detailing exactly how restrictions will be eased in order for Britons to safely return to work amongst other things.

But the Government has also stressed that the nation’s battle with coronavirus will continue after lockdown measures are eased.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove has said Britons will need to live with “some degree of constraint” until a vaccination becomes available.

“Ultimately, unless and until we have a vaccine then I suspect that we are going to have to live with some degree of constraint because of the nature of the virus,” he said.

“But we obviously want to, wherever possible, and consistent with the measures on public health, restore people’s lives to as close to normal as possible.”

Many of us are likely to remain working from home for some time. Credit: PA

Draft documents from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), seen by the BBC and the Financial Times, set out a number of measures which businesses may have to implement.

Under the plans, millions of companies will have to draw up a Covid-19 “risk assessment” before allowing staff to return to work, the documents suggest.

The guidance also says social distancing will have to be maintained, whether on the shop floor, in shopping queues, or in communal spaces.

So, what could the world of work look like while social distancing is still enforced?

Close-working in offices is likely to be a thing of the past. Credit: PA


Since the lockdown conditions were first imposed on March 23, most of the nation’s office workers have become accustomed to working from home.

However, companies that are eager for workers to return to the office will need to make a number of changes in order to ensure the health and safety of staff is not compromised.

The draft documents are reported to suggest staggered shift times, less sharing of equipment and continued maximisation of home working are among a number of ideas listed as part of a draft government strategy to help businesses prepare for a return to work.

Increased hygiene procedures and the installation of protective screens in offices are also included in the plan.

The Financial Times reported that firms will also be told to lay on more parking spaces so that staff do not have to rely on lifts from colleagues.

Meanwhile, the Guardian says ministers are holding talks with technology firms over the creation of “health passports” which use “coronavirus testing and facial recognition” to prove which workers have had Covid-19 already and are thought to be immune to it.

The BRC has detailed guidance on measures to help retail stores reopen after the lockdown is lifted Credit: PA


Last month, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) published guidance for measures shops could introduce to help with the transition once restrictions are lifted.

The recommended measures include limiting entry and exit points, using floor markings to outline social distancing and keeping changing rooms closed.

The guidance also suggests installing cleaning stations with hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes at the front of stores.

BRC chief Helen Dickinson said the guidance measures would serve to ensure the safety and well-being of both customers and staff.

“Since the lockdown, many retailers have proved how shops can be run safely and effectively in line with the Government’s social distancing advice,” she said.

“Continued close collaboration with Government, including public support for the steps retailers are taking and adequate notice to get supply chains up and running, will mean that retail businesses can start trading again slowly and safely, and customers can feel confident that they are safe to return to shops.”

The voucher will cover up to £50 of the total cost of the repairs needed. Credit: PA

Public transport

Public transport is one of the biggest issues for many people as they prepare to return to the office.

Speaking to ITV News, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said one option the government is considering is asking companies to stagger employees' start and finish times.

He said that the public needs to "protect ourselves and fellow commuters by not all travelling at the same time - the peak hours" when public transport becomes "quite crowded, we cannot have that situation and keep sufficient social distancing.

"So we'll be asking companies and organisations to stagger work times."

He added that for the meantime, many others who can work from home should continue to do so.

"We've been looking at a range of different things on public transport to ensure that is safe when that time comes," Mr Shapps added.

Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Shapps added increased bus and train timetables would be implemented to help the public transport system cope with an influx in passengers while still adhering to social distancing recommendations.

“The first thing is, obviously, we’ll expand the number of trains and buses running,” Mr Shapps said.

He also pointed to active transport methods such as cycling as a way for people to take more personal responsibility over their welfare.

“The second thing to say is active travel, I think, is a very important part of this, by which I mean cycling, walking and so on,” he said.

“There’s been a massive increase … hundreds of percent more people using the existing scheme where you can go to your employer and ask for a bike which you pay back through the loan and effectively before you pay tax, and that’s a very popular scheme and I think active transport, active mobility is something we’ve been doing a lot more of.”

Heathrow's chief executive has said airports are not large enough to accommodate socially-distanced queues. Credit: PA


Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye has warned that the nation’s major international airports do not have enough space for social distancing to be a solution for safe travel and business trips post-lockdown.

“Forget social distancing – it won’t work in aviation or any other form of public transport, and the problem is not the plane, it is the lack of space in the airport,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

“Just one jumbo jet would require a queue a kilometre long.”

Instead, Mr Holland-Kaye believes mandatory health checks for passengers, increased levels of hygiene and compulsory face masks would be more realistic options to enable airports to reopen and air travel to resume.

Could people be asked to wear masks and have their temperatures checked? Credit: PA

What about if people have jobs where a two-metre distance cannot be easily enforced?

Speaking on Monday, Cabinet minister Ben Wallace said a “range of methods” including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and shields could allow people to be less than two metres apart for periods.

Mr Wallace said the government would "do as much as we can to set out as much detail on the guidance and remove doubt".

He added there "will be interpretations and there will no doubt be exceptions but if there are exceptions to things like social distancing and the two metre rule, then what alternative can you use?"

The Tory MP gave the example of shields being used to protect cashiers in supermarkets, when a distance of two metres cannot be enforced.

Mr Wallace added PPE could also be used if people come into contact with others.

However, business leaders have said clarity is needed on issues such as PPE and whether firms can be held liable even if they fulfil their obligations to protect employees from coronavirus.

As more shops open, tape could be placed on the floor to help enforce social distancing. Credit: PA

What have businesses said?

Director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce - which represents 75,000 companies across the UK - Adam Marshall said the issue of PPE and social distancing is one of the “key questions we’ve asked”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We need as much specificity as possible so businesses can ensure they’ve taken all the steps they can in order to protect their people.

“And, as much as possible, we want to see consistency across the UK.

"It would be very confusing and costly for businesses if we saw different nations going in very different directions.

“They (bosses) will want to know that they’re not going to be held liable for horrible things that may unfortunately happen if they’ve done everything in their power to keep their people safe.

“Whereas, by contrast, you’d want to see those employers who didn’t take adequate steps face the consequences of that so the question of legal liability is extremely important.”

Mr Marshall said there is a need for “clear guidance” on PPE.

“We’re still waiting for more detail on that and it’s going to be hugely, hugely important for a lot of firms because the number of questions we’re hearing from businesses about protective equipment grows by the day,” he told Today.

A UK-wide procurement strategy will be “hugely important” in order to source and manufacture the necessary PPE, he added.

Avoiding public transport could help to avoid crowding on it. Credit: PA

What have transport providers said?

Rail union leaders have voiced “severe concerns” over any moves to increase train services as part of the expected easing of the lockdown.

The three main rail unions have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that increasing services would send out a “mixed message“ that it is okay to travel by train, despite official advice suggesting otherwise.

“This mixed messaging could be dangerous and lead to the public flouting the rules on travel and work,” said Aslef, the RMT and TSSA.

The letter continues: “We will not accept new working patterns that put the lives of railway workers and passengers at risk.

“To be clear – we are not convinced that there is any basis at this time for a safe escalation of services.”

Queuing outside shops is likely to become he norm. Credit: PA

What has Labour said?

Shadow Cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said it is "incredibly important" that employees feel safe in the workplace.

She said plans for ensuring safety and social distancing should be made several weeks before they come into force as workplaces are "likely to look incredibly different to how they were before" once the changes are made.

Ms Reeves said measures needed to ensure any "changes do not drive back up the infection rate".

The Labour MP urged the government to be "much more transparent" on how it hopes to ease lockdown restrictions and let the public know what is in store.

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