Returning to work

Deloitte Build Back Better series

Blog by Sharon Thorne, Deloitte Global Board Chair

Remote working has been a hot topic for a number of years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to adopt this model without hesitation. In some sectors, this has been an easy process, with applications such as Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom enabling colleagues to converse and collaborate as if they were face-to-face. This new way of working has been accepted as the new normal for many workers, with a recent Deloitte survey finding that most staff in the City expect to work from home more frequently when the lockdown has ended. The majority cited “less time commuting” as a key reason for this, because it has freed up more time to spend with family, or on health and fitness regimes.

However, this view is not all-encompassing. People will have had different experiences during lockdown: cramped apartments, taking care of children and a general lack of human interaction could have huge implications on employees’ mental health. Work and home have become one and the same, meaning people may have found it difficult to switch off, resulting in increased stress levels and anxiety. In order to protect all our workers, there needs to be an availability of choices between working from home and returning to work.

Indeed, this is not an easy challenge as workplaces have become exposed to an entirely new element of risk – whilst wellbeing of staff should be a top priority for all, the threat of a deadly virus has elevated this to a whole new level. Concerns around social distancing are sector agnostic, with retailers, offices and construction sites having to adapt their space to allow for the two-metre rule. There is also the issue of personal protective equipment and ensuring that there are sufficient supplies for each employee for every day of the week. What’s more, there needs to be effective risk monitoring processes in place for the health and wellbeing of each employee – both at home and in the office.

We can take inspiration from our other offices around the world. In Sydney, ‘COVID Captains’ have been appointed to ensure national safety measures are adhered to. Singapore has implemented a contact tracing app called SafeEntry, which provides information to help infected individuals stay away from the office to mitigate the risk of exposure, as well as compulsory temperature checks at front of house to ensure that staff feel safe at work. Manchester, as with many cities, will have to continue to adapt to ensure all of the necessary measures are in place.

As well as our workplaces, the city itself will also require a transformation similar to other global metropolitan areas. Barcelona, for example, is now very much open for business, and the authorities have outlined 21km of new bike corridors to replace traffic lanes. The city has also created safe routes at least four metres wide for pedestrians, which has resulted in an extra 20.3km of space. Amsterdam has limited motor traffic and reduced speed limits from 50km to 30km per hour, enabling safer roads for pedestrians and cyclists.

Manchester has the opportunity to be the UK’s trailblazer for safer commuting and workplaces, but we must act quickly. The initial focus was to respond to challenges presented by COVID-19, which encouraged working from home wherever possible. We are now in the recovery stage, and we must face the reality that many people will need to return to the workplace and businesses must pick up. If we are to build back better, our city must adapt and evolve, and I am calling on business leaders and those in government to initiate and implement the response.

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