Boris Johnson announces update to working from home - here’s what it means for you

Boris Johnson is relaxing the advice regarding working from home, and encouraging people to return to their workplaces - if it is safe to do so - from August (Photo: Shutterstock)

Boris Johnson is relaxing the advice regarding working from home, and encouraging people to return to their workplaces - if it is safe to do so - from August.

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But should you continue to work from home or head back to the office?

Here’s what you need to know.

What does the update on working from home mean?

The Prime Minister announced a number of changes to lockdown rules on Friday (17 July), including advice on working from home.

Mr Johnson said that from Sunday 1 August the government will "update its advice on going to work", with employers being able to have "more discretion", in order to make decisions on how staff can "work safely".

Does this mean I have to go back to the office in August?

It will be up to bosses to decide whether employees continue to work from home or head back into the workplace, but employers must make sure they have taken the necessary measures to ensure that workplaces are Covid-secure.

Mr Johnson told ITV News: "Whether people should go into work, whether they need to go into work, is not something that the government can decide.

"It is up to employers to decide, with their employees, whether they think the time has come for them to be more productive, in a place of work for a greater portion of the week, than staying at home."

However, some job roles may need to be done in the office or face-to-face.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Deputy-Director General, Josh Hardie, said: “Any plan for returning to work must ensure employees are safe. Businesses have made monumental efforts to protect their workforce. But concern about infection is still high.”

Mr Hardie explains that the government’s recent announcements regarding returning to the office will not change people’s concerns overnight, but that changes in messaging on transport and further testing can help build confidence, alongside helping those who do want to go back to the office.

“This matters. Some jobs cannot be done from home. Some homes are not good places to work from. And low demand and footfall on many high streets are leaving firms struggling, driving up unemployment,” Mr Hardie adds.

What if I want to keep working from home?

Many people have adapted to working from home during the lockdown period, and some may want to continue doing so.

However, Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at business support company Peninsula, explains, “Unless they are still under advice to shield or subject to local lockdown rules, employees can be asked to return to the office and, for the most part, cannot legally refuse.”

However, Ms Palmer acknowledges that the situation is likely not to be as clear cut as this.

“For many, the prospect of returning to work with the coronavirus continuing to pose a significant risk to the public may be very unsettling and cause them to act in ways they would otherwise not to,” she says.

“Therefore, while employers could consider disciplining staff who refuse to attend work, they should proceed carefully.”

Many employees have had to adapt to working from home during the lockdown period, with workers doing so quickly and efficiently. It may therefore now be more challenging to argue that staff need to be in the workplace to fully do their job.

Workers also have a right to request to have flexible working conditions, when they have been with the company for a certain amount of time, explains Ms Palmer.

“Employers should also bear in mind that employees who have worked for them for at least 26 weeks have the legal right to request flexible working, which can include homeworking,” adds Ms Palmer.

“Fundamentally, it is up to the employer if they choose to allow home working. However, they may find it more difficult to justify not permitting it now. If employers are willing to allow it on a more permanent basis, they should put together a clear homeworking agreement.”

Employers can show their staff that they are committed to keeping them safe if they do return to the office, by showing their efforts to deep clean workspaces and make hand sanitisers and protective wear available, alongside restricting the number of visitors allowed into the building.