Businesses demand clarity on return to office-based work

'Employers need to plan for workplace training and induction, organise cleaning and other services'
Businesses demand clarity on return to office-based work

Chambers Ireland: 'Given the increased virulence of the Delta strain, detailed guidance from Government regarding adequate ventilation in workplaces is needed.'

Business groups have said a firm date for the return of office-based work and updated guidelines are essential to allow them time to prepare workplaces, including employee induction and training.

The Government is to publish the latest update to its roadmap that is expected to include guidelines for the return of live entertainment and the return to office work.

Hundreds of thousands of employees across Ireland have been working from home since March 2020. The high take-up in vaccinations is expected to allow schools and colleges to reopen as expected with the focus then switching to live events and workplaces.

Neil McDonnell, chief executive of business group Isme, said the focus for businesses at the moment is when they can return to work in person.

“Schools and colleges are back shortly and families will need to prepare for childcare if they are returning to work," he said. 

"For employers, they need to plan for workplace training and induction, organise cleaning and other services. They cannot do that in the absence of a reopening date. 

“We were first given indications it would be August and then that was pushed back to September. 

Even if that date is moved back to October, the Government needs to give us that clarity so we can begin preparations.” 

Chambers Ireland chief executive Ian Talbot said businesses will need to assess the specific risks for their premises, and this may take considerable time for some offices. 

"For many people, their initial vision of a return to the office saw people introducing screens between desks, but as concerns have grown about aerosolised transmission, adequate ventilation is proving to be a concern.

"Given the increased virulence of the Delta strain, detailed guidance from Government regarding adequate ventilation in workplaces is needed.

"Many people are working in offices where there is low to no levels of ventilation; the only option in many cases is to open a window. How is an ordinary business to be certain that is adequate?"

Mr Talbot said the lack of clarity around these issues is as much a problem for firms as the issue of a date of return.

"There is also the issue of reduced capacity in many offices upon reopening. 

Reopening offices will have to be accompanied with flexible and remote working for many members of staff. 

"This means that reopening offices is likely to be a hybrid of both styles, with the costs and challenges that attend to both."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar this week published the report on the submissions the Government received on Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy. The submissions will help to draft the laws to give employees the right to request remote work. It is expected that the draft heads of the bill will be published by the end of September.

A submission highlighted different approaches from employers and employees to a range of issues, including workplace monitoring, reasons that remote working can be refused, and how long a worker must be employed before commencing remote working.

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