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Marianne O'Sullivan discusses the 'New Normal' in her Journal Column


What the ‘new normal’ in September might look like is now being discussed with schools reopening and lots of debate around working from home and offices reopening.

The Government has set out a campaign to encourage people to return to offices, but instead of trying to scare or force people back into offices as some recent headlines have indicated, it needs to focus on issuing clear guidance and helping employers make workspaces safe.

Encouraging people to visit, shop, eat and drink in our town and city centres will be more complicated than reopening offices. People will need confidence in the track and trace system, public transport and to have access to childcare to allow them to return to the workplace.

Our town and city centres have undoubtedly been heavily impacted by the sudden increase in home working by many businesses. The Chamber in a recent report highlighted the need for support for some of the hardest hit sectors such as hospitality, leisure and arts through Government funding to adapt to social distancing or to enhance their digital offering. An extension of the job retention scheme for certain sectors will also help to bridge the gap until training schemes and support are available to people.

Employers and employees will hopefully be able to collaborate and agree the best way to allow them to work effectively.This may be a full return to the workplace or a mix of home working and using the office for specific tasks.

A lot will depend on the sector and role people work in and their home circumstances. People with limited home working space may want to return to the workplace whilst others may feel less safe.

Workplaces are useful for collaborative working and training however home working can also have benefits for people with less time spent commuting and more flexible hours. We may see an increase in flexible working with people working from home certain days a week or having more flexible hours.

Businesses will need to work with their employees to agree the best way for people to work productively. We will need to adapt and be flexible to suit changing circumstances rather than trying to force a return to the same as usual.

In the Chamber we are supporting our business community to find the best balance for their teams and sharing stories of how challenges have been overcome so everyone can learn from each other.