The UK government has introduced new social distancing measures not allowing gatherings of more than six people as thousands of Britons are due to return to the office
Following a surge in coronavirus cases nationwide, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now introduced new social distancing rules to further prevent the spread of the virus. The new national guidelines are the country’s first since lockdown measures were eased back in August. As thousands of Britons are due to return to the office, how will SMEs be affected by the new measures?
According to the most recent update from the government on September 9, people can no longer socialise in groups of more than six from September 14 onwards. At a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister announced: In England from Monday [September 14] we’re introducing the rule of six. You must not meet socially in groups of more than six. And, if you do, you will be breaking the law.” The new rule will now replace the existing guidance allowing two households to meet indoors of not more than 30 people. Therefore, family and social gatherings of more than six people, both indoors and outdoors, will be against the law.
However, educational institutions and workplaces are unaffected by this rule. Meaning, offices, workplaces, schools, colleges and universities can resume operations as per normal. Social venues such as bars and restaurants will now be legally required to request contact details of every member of a party and retain the information for 21 days. If they fail to comply with the new rules, they could face fines of £1000.
In Scotland, working from home will continue to remain according to Scotland’s government guidelines until at least October 1, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced. “For now, working from home will remain the default position,” Ms Sturgeon said.
As offices are gradually re-opening, workers, employers and policymakers are considering returning to the workplace as advised under the government guidelines. According to new research conducted by PWC’s global strategy house, Strategy&, continued working from home could see the UK’s GDP lower by £15.3 billion per year. The research shows certain factors that could attribute to this, including lower spending on good and services when working from home through supply chains and lower incomes for workers in affected sectors. Another factor that could contribute to lower GDP is the loss of interaction between businesses and workers. Research also showed that the negative impact on hours worked is equivalent to 250,000 jobs per year in full-time equivalent terms. However, the shift to working from home can also have positive impacts on labour productivity and the levelling up agenda.
Workers who used to work in inner-city offices can bring more economic activities to the suburbs and rural areas and cities that heavily rely on office workers may need to diversify and adapt, the study suggested. Business leaders can encourage their employees to return to the office by setting the right tone, Emma Holden, Global Head of Human Resources at Schroders said. “It’s an organic process because we recognise that the workforce is very fragmented currently. We have people with very different levels of anxiety around commuting and coming into the office,” she added. “We’re really trying to help people think through how they can manage that safely to give them a sense of security by flexing their start times or maybe coming in on a Monday or a Friday when transport tends to be quieter.”
Matthew Fell, Chief UK Policy Director of the CBI spoke about how the government can help ease the back to work transition for UK’s businesses: “I think clearly the government will need to act fast when the situation changes but the more pre-warning they can give helps companies plan. Making announcements during the working day would be one way of ensuring companies have sufficient time to notify staff of changes.
While COVID-19 has brought in new ways of working, it is important for SME to understand the benefits of both remote and office working and for businesses to make a better-informed decisions in a post-coronavirus world.