It doesn’t seem as though very much has been happening over the last three months, apart from lockdown. I feel as if I have got lockdown fever! One advantage is that I’ve become a pretty good expert at estimating the distance of two metres.
The nation has rightly become obsessed with social distancing, or at least the nation’s press has. The time not spent in lockdown has been spent in interminable queues for one thing or another. Perhaps inevitably, all of my thoughts are now turning to a safe return to normal working. I’m probably joined by around half the country in that regard, who secretly miss work and the structure that this provides in their lives.
Actually, life as a family lawyer could never really be described as ‘normal’ but it is quite impressive how we have adapted to the ‘new normal’. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we are back to the ‘normal normal’ but that will have its challenges. Firstly, will we ever get used to new fashion trends such as the ‘trikini’ (bikini and matching face masks), or even the ‘quadrikini’ (adding a fetching and matching head scarf)? But on a serious note, Britain’s businesses have been dealt an extremely crushing blow by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment claims have increased by more than 70% despite the variety of ‘rescue schemes’ and measures implemented to meet the needs of commerce and society as a whole. Also, hard cash (as well as handshakes) could now be a thing of the past, putting a strain on the cash-in-hand labour force. It goes without saying that the pandemic will affect the way we work, the way we do business and the way we run our businesses for some time to come. There are a number of factors to consider. Health factors are at the top of the list, because the risk of infection and transmission is a fundamental and serious one. Serious breaches may result in prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive.
Secondly, there will obviously be logistical factors - how do we reconfigure our business premises to make them safe? Businesses with more than five employees must undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment with a view to making the workplace safe. The assessment and its recommendations may well result in practical difficulties for many businesses. For example, it may not be physically possible to seat employees in a way which accommodates social distancing norms.
Finally, there are economic and financial factors to take into account - for some, the costs of making the workplace safe may be problematic and even prohibitive. All this at a time when the lockdown has already dealt a hammer blow to many businesses’ finances.
Working from home may be an answer for some. However, for many businesses, working from home may not be a complete answer due to, for instance, contractual obligations in relation to leases on their premises and business equipment or the business model requiring face to face interaction with the public. Getting back to ‘normal’ may not be possible for some, no matter how much they miss work.
I must say that probably the part of ‘normal working’ that I miss most is the ease of client interaction, normal association with other professionals and the odd chat with work colleagues. I look forward to being able to doing all of these things again. All at an appropriate distance, of course!
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