Black Country firms welcome end of home working

Many businesses in the Black Country and wider West Midlands are happy to see the end of the 'work from home' guidance that was introduced to combat the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Kevin Rogers of Paycare
Kevin Rogers of Paycare

Black Country Chamber of Commerce chief executive Corin Crane said: "Whilst we understand that Covid-19, and its variant’s remain with us, it is encouraging to hear those cases of Omicron are falling and news of the end of work from home guidance will now be welcomed by business, particularly those based in city and town centres across our region which rely on footfall from office workers.

"The removal of the requirement for vaccine passports will also be positive for our members in the events sector and night-time economy."

He said many firms were still experiencing significant staff absences and would be cautious about teams rushing back to the office when that could result in further absences.

"As we move forward, businesses will now want to know what the Government’s longer-term contingency plans are to support firms should a new variant create a fresh wave of serious infections and require restrictions.

"As we move out of restrictions, the Government must make positive interventions to power forward our economic recovery, by making strides on key issues such as growing our export base and levelling up local economies."

Chief executive of Wolverhampton-based Paycare, Kevin Rogers, said: "I think the the changing policy will be welcome by pretty much all the businesses in the area."

Most of Paycare's staff are currently working from home.

"It certainly will be fantastic to try and get back to normality whateverthe 'New Normal' looks like. I'm pretty sure it won't look like pre March 2020.

"What we have found from from talking to other people is that they really welcome more of the flexible working model and that's what we will be looking to accommodate, after all it is nearly two years now that we have been working pretty much remotely, but I think we still missed contact with each other," added Mr Rogers.

Law firm FBC Manby Bowdler, which has an office in Wolverhampton is urging businesses to consider their return to work strategies ahead of time to aid a smooth and safe transition back to the workplace.

FBC Manby Bowdler’s head of employment, Julia Fitzsimmons, said: “The guidelines may be relaxing but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the way every employee feels about returning to the office and employers need to be aware of that. Workers may still feel more comfortable in a more spaced out and socially distanced office environment if they are required to work from the premises, and measures should still be in place to protect the health and safety of employees from the Covid virus."

Mental health has been a big focus for employers throughout the pandemic. When the Plan B guidelines relax, FBC Manby Bowdler will be encouraging more of its staff to work from the office to ensure their mental wellbeing.

FBC Manby Bowdler managing director Neil Lloyd said: “We introduced hybrid working at the firm during 2020 in response to the pandemic, but our employees enjoyed the added flexibility so much that it was made a permanent thing.

“We are happy to continue to offer our colleagues the chance to work from both home and the office, but as the restrictions are easing we’ll be encouraging them to spend a greater portion of their time in the office. This helps us not only to provide more support and guidance, but it also helps us to monitor and support their mental health and wellbeing, which is difficult to do over a phone or video call.

“I believe overall any changes to the work from home guidance will be a positive thing, particularly for those town and city centre businesses who have suffered as a result of the reduction in footfall. Ultimately, we need to start living with Covid as a part of our daily life.”

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce said the easing of Covid-19 restrictions must be accompanied by a comprehensive package of support for businesses

It believes that many firms and individuals will remain vigilant to help stop the spread of the virus.

Henrietta Brealey, the GBCC’s chief executive, said: “As we have learnt repeatedly over the past two years, the nature of the virus is unpredictable and uncertain, and the situation can change drastically with little notice.

“England’s move to Plan A – and the proposed removal of other measures such as the self-isolation requirements – must be accompanied by a comprehensive package of support to alleviate the business community’s concerns about the future – particularly for those that have seen their overheads and debt levels rocket as a result of the pandemic.

“Support measures should include reintroducing free testing kits for businesses, implementing enhanced financial support for businesses impacted by Covid-19, and maintaining the VAT reduction beyond March 2022 to help hospitality and non-essential retailers."

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