Freedom Day: What employers should know
Say goodbye to facemasks (at least if that’s what you want to do!) and locking yourself up at home. From July 19th 2021, almost all COVID-19-related restrictions in England will be ditched – a day many locals refer to as ‘Freedom Day’. After all, the country has seen over a year of restrictions, the burden on its national health service (NHS) and a rise in mental health issues arising from loneliness, fear and worry
One notable change on ‘Freedom Day’ is that the ‘work from home’ guidance will soon be scrapped. Whether you’re for or against retaining at least some degree of flexibility when it comes to work, the lifting of restrictions means that employers will need to implement a post-COVID-19 return to office policy. In this Pacific Prime UK article, we’ll give you a rundown of how the rules are set to change and your options for returning to the office.
What is ‘Freedom Day’ in England?
Initially planned for June 21st 2021, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that the last stage in the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions or ‘Freedom Day’ is scheduled for Monday, July 19th 2021. That being said, the final green light for this easing of restrictions will be given one week before on July 12th 2021. This is because the government would like to have the ability to introduce any further restrictions if they are deemed necessary.
Here are some of the ‘Freedom Day’ COVID-19 rule changes we can expect:
- Face masks: In all settings, face masks will become voluntary, and people can use their own judgement on whether to wear a face mask – especially when in an enclosed space with crowds.
- Social distancing and hospitality establishments: All hospitality businesses (including nightclubs) can reopen, with no caps on capacity or contact tracing efforts. Mass events can also go ahead with no limit on the number of attendees.
- Self-isolation: Individuals who aren’t fully vaccinated will be required to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19 or if they have come into contact with an infected person.
Note: From August 16th 2021, those who are fully vaccinated (along with under 18s in England) will have less strict criteria for self-isolation.
- Quarantine-free travel: As of now, quarantine-free travel is only possible for arrivals from green list countries. There will soon be plans to remove the need to quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals from amber list countries.
Further reading: Traveling to Europe in 2021? Here are some Brexit-related tips to know of.
- Working from home: The previous guidance for employees to work from home, if possible, will be dropped. As of now, there aren’t any new employment rights regarding employees who wish to continue working from home.
‘Return-to-office’ options for employers
Given that the ‘work from home’ guidance is soon to be scrapped, many employers may be keen to have all their employees back in the office, working full-time just like the good old pre-COVID-19 days. However, it’s important to carefully consider your return-to-office strategy. The last thing you want is to ignore your employees’ concerns and rush into ‘going back to normal’ because such a move will almost definitely alienate your staff.
As we know, human resources are the backbone of any successful organisation. Treat your staff well and they’ll stay and thrive, reaping immense benefits for your organization and the bottom line. Treat them poorly and they’ll be off at the first chance they get. So, how should you begin to plan your return-to-office strategy? Here, we’ll go over some key considerations for employers:
1. Consider what your employees think about returning to the offices
For employees that prefer to continue to work from home, are their concerns fair and justified? Has their performance dropped at all during the work from home period? Ultimately, you should aim to prioritise productivity over presenteeism.
2. Decide what your stance is on flexible working arrangement
You can look into remote working (Side note: Did you know it has surprising effects on one’s health?), hybrid working or even other flexible arrangements like staggered start and end times. It’s all about adopting a flexible mindset.
Case study: Bank of England
Despite the scrapping of the ‘work from home’ guidance, the Bank of England will be asking its staff to come to the office from September, starting with a minimum of once a week.
As reported in a BBC article, the Bank of England’s chief operating officer and deputy governor, Joanna Place, said that a recent survey of its staff hoped to continue working from home for at least two days a week:
“In this spirit, the governors and I have established a set of trial guidelines – and which we are positioning as a pilot – which encourage more flexible working and only ask that our colleagues return to the office at least once per week for ‘team days’.”
Further reading: Flexible working arrangements is an increasingly desired employee benefit, as found in our inaugural Global Employee Benefits Trends Report 2020.
Flexible working arrangements is a great diversity and inclusivity initiative
There are plenty of benefits of flexible working arrangements for employees – most notably, that it allows employees to work around their personal lives (especially female employees who saw their household duties rise amidst the pandemic).
In turn, it allows your company to attract and retain a more diverse group of employees. Their different values and experiences can bring a wealth of opportunities during team working, leading to creative ideas and innovative solutions.
Want to learn how to build a diverse and inclusive workplace? These Pacific Prime slides give you 6 tips to do so:
3. Make sure hygiene measures remain a top priority in the workplace
Despite vaccinations going at full speed and things slowly returning to normal, it’s vital that you ensure hygiene (i.e. frequent deep cleaning of the office) remains a top priority to make employees feel more comfortable and at ease.
4. Introduce employee benefits that address health and wellbeing
To further ease your employees’ concerns, it may also be a good idea to introduce comprehensive employee benefits addressing health and wellbeing. Some ideas include health insurance, employee assistance programs (EAPs) and more!
Get in touch with Pacific Prime UK today!
While things are looking promising in England, thereby prompting the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions this ‘Freedom Day’, the backlog of patients awaiting treatment on the NHS remains a concern. What’s more, the pandemic has also fundamentally shifted the way employees view their health and wellbeing, and the balance between their work and familial commitments.
This means that employers in England (and other parts of the UK) are highly recommended to look into their employee benefits offerings and flexible working arrangement policies. Not sure where to begin? As a global insurance brokerage and employee benefits specialist, Pacific Prime UK can help you design and implement tailored employee benefits plans and group health insurance UK to meet your company’s needs and budgetary requirements.
Please arrange a free consultation with our corporate team to learn more!
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