Returning to the office: Safety, flexibility and inclusion

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Burst by Shopify
8 June, 2021


If your organisation has an office space (either a standalone office or a co-working arrangement), what should you consider about the return to office working as lockdown eases? And are there any differences between private companies and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations returning to the office?

Whether you’re a manager, a trustee or an employee, this overview will come in handy. We also want to hear from you – tell us your organisation’s plans by emailing

Health and safety in your return to the office

In the height of the pandemic, government guidelines have been to work from home if possible, so this is straightforward. As things ease, there has been less formal guidance on what a COVID-secure office looks like, which has left many employers and staff confused. Looking at the VCSE sector, volunteers have been allowed to return to volunteer work in group settings, both indoors and outdoors, but most employees are still home-based.

  • ACAS has support on planning a return to the office. You can also arrange an appointment to talk to ACAS about your organisation’s concerns, and legal obligations versus best practice.
  • HSE has risk assessment considerations exploring different considerations for COVID-secure workplaces, such as ventilation, social distancing and hygiene. We recommend all managers carry out a risk assessment and talk to employees individually about what they need to feel safe.
  • Does your organisation offer home visits or using a community venue? See the government guidelines about visiting people’s homes for work, and reopening community centres. Think about the extra precautions for anyone travelling from a service user’s home or a community space to the office, and vice versa.

Flexible working is the new normal

Many employees have had different working patterns when at home, either because of home schooling, caring responsibilities, or a preference for different hours to help with the unusual work-life balance, such as starting earlier, taking a longer lunch break, compressing their hours, or finishing later. They might want to carry on these patterns in the office, so you should be prepared for these conversations.

Employers and trustees should think about any existing flexible working policies and what allowances they are willing to make. With the return to the office and a continued need for social distancing, you might prefer less of an overlap between staff hours, so there are fewer people in the space at any one time.

Now that employees have proved they can deliver the same quality work from home as in the office, there’s less of a trust issue around regular home working – gone are the assumptions that someone might be napping or watching TV instead of completing a project (though we’re not averse to the odd power nap in a lunch break!).

Video conferencing programs like Zoom, and cloud-based programs like Microsoft Teams and Google Drive, mean that you can share documents easily as well. This may change the way employers advertise new roles: could a job be partly home-based, with two days in the office? Could a job-share work, or condensed hours? The more flexible you are with working patterns, the more you will appeal to a broader range of job seekers.    

Making inclusion a priority for your organisation

Remote working has really helped many people with chronic or long-term illnesses, long COVID, those with mental health issues, and carers, taking away the need to travel, and allowing employees to work from wherever is comfortable in their home – that might mean a Zoom call in bed or a comfy chair when necessary to manage pain or low energy levels.

When you’re totally office-based, you potentially exclude employees with health conditions or caring responsibilities, making it harder for them to feel good and achieve results. In a recruiting context, people might not even apply to your organisation, despite being great for the role you advertise. For more insight on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), book our EDI: Principles into Practice course, or contact our VCSE Academy for bespoke training.

RNID hit the headlines recently for its move to permanent remote working from September. Without a bricks and mortar office, its staff can work from wherever they want. However, it has not been seen as a totally positive measure, with some people raising valid concerns about the lack of personal interaction and centralised meetings, plus the reliance on employees to merge their home life and work life long-term.

Not everyone suits home working. It can be lonely, and the constant reliance on technology is frustrating for those who would normally thrive on face-to-face meetings, flipcharts and heavily physical tasks. Some people lack the space, quiet, internet connection or security to work comfortably from home, especially in shared housing. That’s why it’s so important to talk to each employee about their work-life balance and the pros and cons of working remotely – don’t assume it fits everyone.

So, how will your organisation adjust to office life? Let us know, and we can build up a picture of the local VCSE sector’s movements.