Opinion – Are Scottish work-from-home restrictions damaging the economy?

Mark Taylor, Managing Director at Office Furniture Online

By Mark Taylor, Managing Director at Office Furniture Online

THE slowdown in easing lockdown rules in Scotland has led to an outcry from businesses claiming the advice to continue working from home is needlessly harming the economy.

With almost half the Scottish population remaining at level 2, including both Edinburgh and Glasgow, the central belt’s combined population of 2.3 million are still advised not to return to their offices.

The Scottish government’s COVID route map had previously scheduled an easing of restrictions down to Level 1 from Monday June 7. However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the majority of Scotland’s central belt will remain in Level 2 restrictions until June 28, when they are to be reviewed.

It is inexplicable that with all of the following environments now opened up across Scotland (even at level 2), that the guidelines still state that people should work from home and not return to their office workplaces. Level 2 allows for:

  • Six people from three households to meet socially indoors at home
  • Meet indoors in a pub or restaurant, and in all non-essential shops
  • Overnight stays with no social distancing
  • Travel around the UK is permitted

Inconsistent approach amongst fears of a third wave

The inconsistency of Sturgeon allowing indoor socializing while not allowing the return to work is baffling local businesses. Even when warning against complacency given the spread of the April 0.2 variant (formerly known as the Indian variant), there seems no basis for opening up socializing while not opening up covid-safe office environments.

While people will flock back to cinemas, gyms and seated indoor events with up to 100 people in attendance, business owners have been left without the benefit of being able to welcome their employees back to work to increase productivity and effectiveness.

Businesses under threat

Assurances over workplace safety measures have seemingly not been enough to convince the government that people in offices and other places of work can finally reunite with their colleagues, leaving many businesses facing another difficult period ahead.

Mark Taylor, managing director at Office Furniture Online, said: “The current guidance from the Scottish government on working from home is simply putting businesses under threat with no justification.

“Against the backdrop of close-contact services such as hairdressers, bars, restaurants, and tattoo parlours being fully open again, it is hard to understand why the Scottish government cannot relax restrictions on returning to offices.

“Businesses in other countries have already demonstrated they can confidently re-open and provide a COVID-safe office environment. Where is the confidence in Scottish businesses being able to do the same?

“Over half of all employees in Scotland are currently working from home continuously. The knock-on effect of this can’t be understated. With empty, unused workspaces still being paid for and office workers not spending money on local amenities, many businesses may not survive the year.”

Mental health impact

Taylor went on to underline the impact that working from home throughout the pandemic has had on people’s mental health.

In February 2021, the Royal Society for Public Health published the results of a survey that showed there are key health and wellbeing disparities between groups of people who worked at home as a result of COVID-19.

More than half of the women who responded to the survey (58 per cent) said working from home was likely to make them feel isolated, while 67 per cent of respondents said they feel less connected to their colleagues.

Furthermore, 56 per cent of respondents said they found it more difficult to switch off from their jobs while working from home, and 39 per cent said they had suffered musculoskeletal problems.

Taylor said that he feared even a drop in the restrictions to Level Zero across Scotland may not be enough to prompt the government to allow people back to work, and that encouraging people to continue working from home may be holding the country back.

“Even at Level Zero, people will still be advised to work from home, when every other aspect of life will be back to normal with no restrictions,” he said.

“If Level Zero means no restrictions and business as usual, then why still advise working from home?

“It is also important to highlight the impact this guidance will be having on employees themselves. Especially in terms of isolation, productivity levels, and the negative effect on people’s mental health.

“Another reason why the current position is not in the best interest of Scottish businesses or employees.”

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