With Christmas on the horizon, came the happy news that employees who are able to do so should be working from home again. The governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had already advised people to work from home if possible.

In Scotland, people should work from home where possible until at least the middle of January 2022. This is now the case in all parts of the UK on the back of worries about the Omicron variant, its severity, and the effectiveness of vaccines against it.

The UK government and devolved administrations have stopped short of making home working a legal requirement again BUT employers will need to consider their approach to the ‘work from home if you can’ guidance and have communicated it to workers ahead of Monday 13 December 2021.

For example, employers should consider which, if any, office workers are in roles which must be completed in person.

The government guidance (Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread) also recognises that employers will need to consider whether home working is appropriate for workers facing mental or physical health difficulties, or those with a particularly challenging home working environment.

All employers have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business. The way to do this is to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, including the risk of COVID-19, and to take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks identified.

The Working Safely guidance currently sets out a range of mitigations employers should consider including:

  • Communicating to staff and customers the measures you have put in place.
  • Ensuring that staff and customers who are unwell do not attend the workplace
  • Improving ventilation
  • Providing hand sanitiser to enable staff and customers to clean their hands more frequently, and cleaning surfaces

Sadly, this may not be the last restriction the government will reintroduce, in a bid to contain the spread of variants. It appears the start of 2022 will be almost as uncertain as the 21 months that preceded it. The message is clear, however: employers should encourage and facilitate employees to work from home where possible.

In conclusion, the increase in working from home since the beginning of the pandemic (or isolating of course) has in some cases meant a crossover between work and home life, which in many cases has led to stress and burnout.

For some, the flexibility that often comes with homeworking can feel like ‘sleeping in the office’ rather than ‘working from home’! I certainly can see that.

The Acas guidance on health, safety and wellbeing in relation to homeworking (available here) recommends, among other things, that those working at home might experience problems such as finding it harder to switch off from work, working longer hours and feeling pressure to work while ill (‘presenteeism’).

The guidance states that everyone should make sure that they:

  1. look after their mental and physical health, for example, having support and doing regular exercise
  2. take regular screen breaks and the rest breaks they are entitled to, and switch off their work equipment at the end of the working day; and
  3. manage their work-life balance by, for example, having clear start and finish times.

With this as the final update for this year, can I firstly on behalf of Spire wish you a very happy and healthy Christmas, but urge those who don’t to take up the above 3 step plan, whether as a new year’s resolution or a present to yourselves.

Give yourselves the most precious of gifts for the New Year, that of some time for self-care.

Regards to all, enjoy the festive season, and stay safe.