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Will Freedom Day see a rush back to the office?

6 July 2021

The government will remove the vast majority of COVID restrictions from 19 July - although it is urging people and businesses to remain cautious - but not everyone thinks a mass return to the workplace is a good idea.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced that after 19 July, the government will no longer instruct people to work from home and it will be up to businesses to manage a safe return to the workplace for their employees.

However, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has urged businesses not to go back to the way things were before COVID once restrictions are lifted.

Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive, said: "Freedom Day shouldn't signal a mass return to workplaces, but it could signal the start of greater freedom and flexibility in how, when and where people work … Businesses shouldn't rush to simply revert to how they used to work now we have experience and evidence that it can be done differently, and with positive impacts on employee health and wellbeing, inclusion and productivity."

Cheese also urged employers to be careful, saying: "Regardless of any changes to official guidance from 19 July, employers should continue to ensure that they have the necessary measures in place to give confidence to workers that their workplace is safe … This will be particularly important in these early weeks while the vaccination programme is still ongoing."

However, a new survey of over 2,000 office workers by Find Out Now for Ezra suggests that many workers are keen to get back into their workplace. Its findings show that 30% of office workers have already returned full-time and a further 24% have returned on a part-time basis. Workers polled were asked what positive impact a return to the workplace has had on their lives - 29% cited work-life balance, 23% said their productivity had improved and 13% said returning to the workplace had improved their opportunities for career progression.

Even so, 26% of office workers surveyed said they would be willing to take a reduced level of income in order to maintain a flexible working lifestyle and the same number said they would look for another job if their employer failed to offer flexible working.

"It seems as though the shine is starting to fade on the working from home culture with more and more of us choosing to return to the office, perhaps with a little encouragement from our employers in some cases," said Nick Goldberg, founder of Ezra. "The process of going to a place of work allows us to define clear boundaries and allows us to switch on and off more effectively when it matters. As much as we need to perform professionally, the ability to rest and recuperate at the end of the day is also incredibly important and this is something we've lost since our homes have become our offices."

Interestingly, it seems that the number of cyberattacks on UK companies has fallen in the past three months since workers started returning to the workplace. It is the first drop in cyberattacks in the UK for almost three years according to a new study by Beaming.

Sonia Blizzard, managing director of Beaming, said: "Cyberattacks on businesses surged when the UK went into lockdown last year as criminals sensed the opportunity to take advantage of under-protected home workers… These new normal working practices are inherently insecure and increase the risk of a breach."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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