The hidden challenges of working from home
Working from home is here to stay for the next six months at least.
The latest restrictions announced by the Government mean that anyone who can effectively work from home should do so.
Thats a big change in emphasis from the position just a few weeks ago, when we were being urged to return to the office to help the economy recover from the impact of the March lockdown.
And for many employers, its a move which comes with a series of hidden costs.
During the initial lockdown, some of the challenges of staff working from home were not always apparent. We simply got on with making the transformation from office to kitchen table as quickly and efficiently as we could.
Its five years since the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) passed into law, and you dont have to look too hard to see that it is still a major issue in our national life.
There is plenty of evidence that the issue continues to be a blight and that there remains much misunderstanding amongst companies about their responsibilities in this area.
Thats a desperately sad situation. When applied correctly, the MSA can help lift those affected out of truly horrendous exploitation and also lead to much-improved morale among companies which might, unwittingly, have relied on forced labour.
Latest figures from the Global Slavery Index for the UK suggest that as many as 136,000 people are caught up by modern slavery though the Governments own figures put the number as between 10-13,000.
You will know by now that the Governments official advice to employees about returning to work changed from the start of this month.
Previously, it had been the Governments position that everyone who could work from home should do so to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
But from August 1, Boris Johnson says that employers can have more discretion in the matter meaning that homeworking could continue, or workplaces could be made safe by following the Governments guidelines and staff could be allowed back.
This slow return to the workplace will inevitably bring with it some anxiety on the part of employees. How will they know their workplace is safe? What if they live with someone who is shielding? What if they have to use public transport to get to work?
The relaxation of the lockdown from July 4 means that many businesses are now preparing to open for the first time in more than 100 days.
The three-month lockdown has been an incredibly frustrating period for very many companies particularly those in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors and it is understandable that they will want to get up and running again as soon as possible.
But there is much work which needs to be done to be certain that the workplace can be reopened safely and protect the employer from possible legal action by staff and customers in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.
A new report has painted a pretty bleak picture of life for working women during the lockdown.
Those forced to work from home even when alongside a male partner have often found their working day interrupted by the need to care for children or carry out domestic chores.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that in mixed-sex households where both partners work, women have picked up a disproportionate amount of the household management tasks, often at the expense of their own work.
And the IFS warns that this is no short-term event. The institute says there is likely to be a long-lasting impact on womens professional lives as a result of the pandemic including slowing down the progress made over the past few years in narrowing the gender pay gap.
The Government effectively made gender pay gap reporting optional earlier this year as the coronavirus took hold and the number of companies doing so has fallen by half as a result. Worryingly, early indications are that the gap has risen over the last 12 months. Analysis by the Financial Times found the average pay gap increased from 11.9 per cent to 12.9 per cent in the year to April.
Furlough fallout - Time to take responsibility?
The ending of the furlough scheme in a few weeks time is going to bring a period of major change for many people.
For some its likely to bring about redundancy and the search for new work in a hugely difficult market.
For others, the thought of returning to work will be laced with the anxiety of mixing with people again after a long period of relative isolation.
But for another group, the ending of furlough will also mark the end of an extended period where they have become used to literally being paid to do nothing. And there is no doubt that there is now a small group who will resist the return to work because they have simply become accustomed to and feel entitled to the perks of furlough.
Just about the most common question we are being asked at the moment relates to returning to work.
With the furlough scheme due to end at the end of October, its likely that many more employees will get a message from their workplace telling them to return to their office, factory or workstation.
But if you are genuinely concerned for your health and wellbeing, do you have to do what your boss is telling you.
Theres no straightforward answer but whatever your situation, the best starting point is to try to engage in an open dialogue with your boss.
The public conversation over Britains colonial past and our links to the slave trade has dominated headlines for much of the summer.
The removal or not of statues of people who had links to slavery, or profited from it, has been an ongoing theme in towns and cities across the country.
But the issue of slavery is not just a matter for historians or philosophical debate.
Modern day slavery is, unfortunately, all too common and continuing to exploit and destroy lives on a huge scale.
The start of this month sees the biggest relaxation of the coronavirus restrictions since the lockdown was imposed three months ago.
Shops, restaurants, museums, hairdressers and pubs are all being allowed to reopen in one form or another meaning tens of thousands of us are being asked to go back to our workplace for the first time in more than 100 days.
For many of us, this will be an anxious time.
We have got used to isolating and the thought of mingling with people again certainly whilst the virus is still at large in the population can be worrying.
But we all have rights which will help protect us in the workplace or even if we can continue to work from home and help keep us safe from the threat of Covid.
We like to think that we live in a hugely civilised, modern society.
But when something happens which upsets our way of life such as coronavirus - it doesnt take long for some old stereotypes to emerge.
With lots of us forced to work from home, the kids being unable to go to school, and a state of national emergency reducing us to lockdown, youd have thought that wed have all pulled together to share the burden of domestic chores and home educating.
But if you look at the latest figures, Im afraid they paint an entirely different story.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that in mixed-sex households where both partners work, its the women who have been picking up the extra burden of housework and looking after the kids during lockdown.
There has never been a more important time for employers to look after their staff.
As we start to think about a return to work, all employers will need to recognise they owe a duty of care to their workforce with regards to the impact of this unprecedented situation.
And mental health will be a key issue as people come to terms with a changed world, face all-too natural anxieties about mixing with people again as we start to return to work and adapt to the uncertainties which are certain to exist for many months to come.
Existing mental health issues, particularly anxieties are likely to be exaggerated during this situation. The worry, stress and uncertainty caused by living through an international crisis should not be underestimated and will test the coping strategies of a good many people.