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Anyone else being forced back into the office after working from home?

(110 Posts)
nothinglikemyname Tue 18-Aug-20 11:21:17

I work for a small company - the work we do is something that can be comfortably done from home as we have proved since March, although our company has never previously been keen on home or flexible working.

Our boss has just sprung it upon us that he wants everyone back in work from 1st September, 5 days a week - no staggered hours, breaks or anything. No exceptions.

We'll all be working in one room - I think there will be 1m social distancing between desks but certainly not walking past. Because we are in a shared building there will now be no access to a kitchen, water or any areas away from our desks. There is 1 shared toilet for women (5 of us) and 2 for men (10). Cleaning is weekly and they don't seem to have plans to change - unless they expect us to do it.

I'm far from the only one with concerns which we are raising but it's landing on deaf ears. They seem intent on us going back regardless. They're putting together the risk assessment and the guidance seems to be the first questions to ask are is it essential? Is it safe? Is it agreed? No no and no.

I'm at the point of panic attacks thinking about going back in these circumstances and I think what's worse is the lack of consideration for our wellbeing. Even if the office was truly "Covid secure" which I don't think it can be for all of us, the lack of consultation or understanding of our individual circumstances seems to be going against all guidance.

To give some context I've always suffered from anxiety (although not under medical supervision) which my employer has been aware of and I have expressed to my boss that the return to work that has been sprung upon us has meant I've had sleepless nights and trouble concentrating. This hasn't been addressed. I appreciate I'm probably more risk adverse than most but I am in a social bubble with my mum who is vulnerable and been shielding (I provide some care but not officially if that makes a difference) and aside from that I have only interacted with people in an outdoor setting maintaining social distance - all shopping online etc. I feel that going back to the office will mean I won't be able to see her - without intense worry about making her ill anyway.

Due to the role I'm in I have a huge network and do not know a single other business taking this blanket approach to returning if the roles can be done from home - everyone is either shifting to remote being normal or giving people the option to return to the office if they feel that is what they want to do - making smaller groups safer and providing a happy medium for everyone.

But appreciate this might not be the case across other industries - is anyone else in similar circumstances? There is so much conflicting advice online that I don't know where I stand. Can they really make me go back at the expense of my mental health and well-being, and if it will mean I no longer feel I can see my mum? Right now I feel like I would rather quit.

I know I am luckier than most that I have a job right now and have been working all through lockdown but I have also made huge sacrifices to protect mine and my families wellbeing which will just all be undone. The guidance for social interactions is still mixing with only 2 households and avoid using toilets in others houses etc so how am I expected to feel safe mixing with almost 20 others for 8 hours a day?

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nothinglikemyname Tue 18-Aug-20 11:21:48

Sorry that was long!

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lookingforamindatwork Tue 18-Aug-20 18:51:58

are you in a union? join one if not. Also speak to ACAS. If you do not feel safe, you can report the organisation to the HSE. You can also invoke your rights under section 44 of the employment rights act.

Vodkacranberryplease Tue 18-Aug-20 18:53:40

I had to get my team back to work recently and had one quit. Them working at home (they deal with customers by phone and in person as well as organise stuff within and outside the office) wasn't appropriate and I had one (the one that didn't want to come back) taking the mickey - to the point we got back and found all kinds of customer service issues.

We found communication between each other difficult at home - trying to tell everyone what needed to be done/had been done and find out what was happening was impossible. I spent all my time on slack.

I don't know your situation and it might be totally different but for many companies wfh has resulted in much lower productivity- not because people arent working but because they are having to send endless messages/emails instead of just asking the person next to them. It's a nightmare to manage and I am about to make two previously wfh staff redundant as I can't do it any more.

Also I noticed getting hold of people WFH was a nightmare. Everything just took longer. Some sectors lend themselves to it well. As do some jobs. But if your boss can clearly show why yours doesn't I'm afraid legally you need to go back if they have put safety measures in place.

I had to consult a solicitor and send all the emails for the back and forth so am confident that my info is up to date. They key thing was could I prove that it was a job that couldn't be done at home and that wfh was negatively impacting the business.

It might be they have a tricky employee and have to get you all back because of them as well.

LimaFoxtrotCharlie Tue 18-Aug-20 18:56:07

You say they are putting together the risk assessment, so why not wait for that? I don’t think you can expect them to consult you about management decisions though.
Maybe working from home is too “comfortable “ and insufficiently productive.

Hercwasonaroll Tue 18-Aug-20 19:27:33

I'm going back to a classroom with no SD and 150 different students per day. (Which many people are happy with if you read the education threads).

Will your office be well ventilated?

Is there any room for a part time WFH? Do you know why they have insisted everyone back?

heartsonacake Tue 18-Aug-20 19:36:55

As long as they find it to be safe after a risk assessment then yes, they can insist you go back. They don’t have to continue to let you work from home as long as they have found the office to be safe.

They also haven’t “sprung” it on you; you’re not expected back tomorrow. You’ve got two weeks.

It sounds very much like you’re just catastrophising this in your head and expecting them to consult you at every turn; they don’t need to. As long as they’ve carried out the correct assessment and given you adequate notice they don’t need to tell you the reasons for their decisions.

blue25 Tue 18-Aug-20 19:38:32

Many people are having to go back into offices. If you’re that upset about it, look for a new job.

StaffAssociationRepresentative Tue 18-Aug-20 20:21:29


Many people are having to go back into offices. If you’re that upset about it, look for a new job.

That's what posters keep saying to teachers who want PPE and SD measures.

SleepingStandingUp Tue 18-Aug-20 20:25:29

I'm not sure how much notice you'd expect op. I'd assume the biggest issue is those who have kids who won't be back at school by then, some for a good few weeks.

I'd get a supply of masks (2 a day) and some antibacterial wipes. Keep mask on as much a you can, wrote down work station each morning, and other bits you might touch.

nothinglikemyname Tue 18-Aug-20 21:14:39

Thanks for the replies.

So to answer a few of the questions - productivity - we have had one of our most profitable periods in the history of our business - projects are being completed on time and by

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nothinglikemyname Tue 18-Aug-20 21:17:18

Sorry clicked send too soon. *Time and budget - most of the team are actually working more because they work into their normal commuting time so definitely no issues with productivity or communication

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nothinglikemyname Tue 18-Aug-20 21:18:53

I form part of the management team and we have a relatively flat hierarchy here - when I say they I'm talking about the two co-founders so it's not a "management decision" with multiple opinions.

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nothinglikemyname Tue 18-Aug-20 21:24:32

"Correct assessment" is actually what I'm worried about too. They weren't actually planning on doing a risk assessment until one of the team said they needed to - due to being an entirely digital business there is no one in the company with health and safety experience, so how can we actually know what is documented is safe?

I understand teachers and the like have to go back (shitty situation for them too I know) but obviously working from home isn't an option, but there is absolutely zero benefit for us to work in an office

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heartsonacake Tue 18-Aug-20 21:28:42

but there is absolutely zero benefit for us to work in an office

Clearly your employers think otherwise, hence insisting you all come back.

You might think it’s been great for the business working from home but for whatever reason they want that to end and would prefer you in the office, and as long as a risk assessment is carried out that’s their right.

wizzbangfizz Tue 18-Aug-20 21:31:42

I don't think you are being forced, there is the option to resign. Ultimately this decision is down to the business owner and needs to be respected however disappointing it must be. I'd wait and see what the risk assessment says, but ultimately even if you were awarded flexibility of working from home 1/2 a week which I think employers if they can should allow this probably wouldn't address your concerns.

Vodkacranberryplease Tue 18-Aug-20 21:31:50

@nothinglikemyname They arent getting you back for no reason. My team all thought they were more productive, & maybe they were in some ways. But my God the extra work that created for myself & another person... essentially we were having to do bits of support to enable them to work from home. I got nothing important done at all.

Its also possible someone is taking the piss. Its not possible to get some people but not others in sadly even if the others are doing really well. Then the person that has been made to come in can sue. So great that we have laws to protect everyone buit one bad apple can really change the way a company has to operate.

latticechaos Tue 18-Aug-20 22:22:33

I'd join a union, ask to see the risk assessment, (politely) question the 1m as it should be 1m+ so masks or screens etc, and consider taking a small amount of time off unpaid rather than quitting immediately.

Sorry this is happening, lack of government guidance means different offices will have wildly different standards.

Do you think they'll be pleasant or awkward about self isolating and sick pay etc.?

ohthegoats Tue 18-Aug-20 22:35:56

Time to get on with it
Can't hide away forever
If you don't like it, resign
Other people have been at work like this throughout

There you go, that's what teachers get told. Chin up ducky.

nothinglikemyname Tue 18-Aug-20 23:24:19

I think that's what it boils down to - The lack of advice out there. If there were definitive rules to follow it would make things easier. Most of the advice from ACAS, CIPD etc seems to indicate that to pass the risk assessment there should be essential reasons not to continue to work from home if it has been working well and employees need to be in agreement. But what this all means in practice is so open to interpretation. As are things like "increased cleaning"... from what to what?

Conversation has already been broached about part time in the office, staggered return, working in bubbles - formal request from one employee to work from home 2 days for childcare reasons. All denied so far.

Sick pay? Ha. No. We don't get that anyway.

Beginning to wonder why I'm working here at all to be honest but yes I know resigning is an alternative but it hardly seems like the most sensible time to be looking for something new, particularly when it's a forced choice between my career and my and my family's wellbeing. Hardly feels like a fair choice.

I'll look into joining a union I don't think there is one for our industry so I'm guessing Unite would be the way to go. Seems unclear if they can help if the situation is already ongoing but worth a look for some support.

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Hercwasonaroll Wed 19-Aug-20 06:52:52

Beginning to wonder why I'm working here at all to be honest but yes I know resigning is an alternative but it hardly seems like the most sensible time to be looking for something new, particularly when it's a forced choice between my career and my and my family's wellbeing. Hardly feels like a fair choice.

Try being a teacher..... We'd have to stay until Christmas even if we do resign.

FiddlefigOnTheRoof Wed 19-Aug-20 07:00:52

Stop second guessing how your bosses are running their business.

loulouljh Wed 19-Aug-20 07:13:17

A lot of organisations are now requiring people to go back into the office. It is not unreasonable after all this time. You were employed initially to work in an office after all.

chatterbugmegastar Wed 19-Aug-20 07:22:08

but it hardly seems like the most sensible time to be looking for something new,

I think that's the thing. There ARE jobs out there but hundreds of people applying

It's a very difficult job market atm

If the risk assessment is done and covers distance (1 metre plus) and you can get to toilets which are cleaned after each use, get to water which area is cleaned after each use and you are provided with a well ventilated office and lots of sanitiser and anti bac wipes - then that's ok

Tape of caress around each working 'Pof' Double bag all waste. Have a plan for deep cleaning should someone become Covid sick .... have a rule for self isolating after annual

It doesn't seem unreasonable to me to get back to the office

FredaFox Wed 19-Aug-20 07:22:19

I think come September most offices will be open, ours have been opening since July. The final ones in October.
Nobody has got ill
There are some people who are desperate to get back in the office, some are desperate to wfh (many are the more work shy ones in my opinion) if people have childcare issues they don’t have to go back till September, if people are shielding they stay at home (I’m a carer for my mum who is on the government highly vulnerable list, I’ve been in an office a few times and actually loved being back in that environment but my normal office hasn’t reopened yet)
You are contracted to work in the office, unless your business already had a wfh policy you go back in or they find someone else, there are millions of people currently who would jump at the chance

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