By Peter Martin | Feb 24, 2021
Its confidence-building role will be especially important when it comes to coaxing office workers back into our city centres. While some may be chomping at the bit to escape their domestic confinement, others may need more encouragement and reassurance to resume the daily commute and mix again with the rest of humanity.
While hospitality may be focusing on reopening its own businesses, it also needs customers. With our urban centres so vital for out-of-home food and drink venues, getting the bustle back into our town and cities must be a top priority. That doesn’t just mean safely opening buildings, but getting public transport networks back on track too.
The Government has announced that in-work testing is now being offered to more companies in England. As of this week, all businesses with more than 50 employees are able to join the rapid workplace testing scheme, initially to test staff who cannot work from home during lockdown.
But it’s not hard to imagine the use of lateral flow tests, which can produce results in less than 30 minutes, becoming an every-day part of business life well into the future as other measures are gradually relaxed.
Martin Williams, CEO of Gaucho and M Restaurants, is already championing the idea, working with a group of business leaders in the City of London, many from big finance firms, along with the Lord Mayor, to create a testing culture, and is offering his own premises as a centre.
Temperature checks became part of the daily ritual for many bar and restaurant teams going into work during the summer when the sector first reopened. Introducing Covid testing, either on-site or nearby, would seem the obvious next step for those same front-line staff - to give both them and consumers that extra confidence about the safety of hospitality.
Testing looks certain to become a long-term prerequisite for international travel – and just like the post 9-11 security measures for airlines, we’ll probably soon think nothing of it. So, why not extend it into other areas?
Over the coming months, all employers face the challenge of creating safe, Covid-secure conditions for staff. How teams are going to react this time around is not entirely clear, especially as more contagious strains of Covid-19 and worries about vaccine efficacy, no matter how unfounded, are causing increased nervousness among many.
This lockdown is also different from the last two. People are altogether gloomier, with a recent ONS survey showing happiness levels in Britain as low as at any time in the past year. Whether that means people will be more eager or more wary about getting back to work is not obvious either. We all hope they’ll be enthusiastic.
But we also know that staff awareness of employers’ obligations around safety is growing too. Some companies believe that other technology could provide part of the solution too.
Wearable tech in the workplace is not new, for example. Businesses around the world have used tracking devices to monitor everything from employee stress levels to sleeping habits, yes really. But might using their potential to ensure safety become part of the future of work? One major broadcaster is reported to have introduced new proximity devices to aid social distancing, which buzz to alert wearers if they come within two metres of other people.
But this sort of tech comes with challenges, not least around privacy. Then again there’s a potential legal issue around workplace testing too. Can you make it compulsory? Government guidance suggests it should be up to the discretion of individual employers, so leaving an opening for the lawyers. Not everyone will want to embrace the new.
Going down any of these routes will be all about good communication between management and staff. But providing safe environments for both teams and customers is going to be paramount as we start to get back to work – and adopting new solutions will be inevitable. Taking a test on the way to work may be just one of them.