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When will offices reopen? When will working from home end?

According to reports, offices will be reopening across Australia in the coming weeks following the coronavirus lockdowns. However, answering the question, “When will work from home end?” isn’t as easy to answer, as it depends on a number of variables.

When will offices reopen in Australia?

The date is not definite, but we should expect to see the re-opening of offices in the coming weeks. Schools across Australia are likely to reopen before most offices do, due to the evidence there is minimal COVID-19 transmission between children. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is urging Australian employers and employees to start having conversations about a return to working from the office. Over the next few months, different industries will be opening in two waves. The first wave will be a return to the office before a vaccine has been developed. The second wave of workers will return to their offices after a vaccine has come to fruition. 

While offices will be re-opening, they are unlikely to resemble the workspaces we left in March 2020. Strict social distancing measures will be in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus. This will mean offices will be much emptier, with strict spacing between desks and in some instances, there will be protective shields, cubicles in place, and empty isolated offices may be utilised where they were not before. 

Social distancing updates

During stage one of the roadmap to recovery, Scott Morrison urges workers to continue working from home if they are in a position to do so.

Following a “testing blitz” that is in motion across Australia, an update on the working situation will be provided to Australians. This update is likely to be delivered in June.

Morrison says reopening offices and sending people back to work is an essential move for the economy. Meanwhile, Chief Health Officer Brendan Murphy says caution during this period is paramount to controlling, a somewhat inevitable, second wave of COVID-19; “We want to be testing 40,000, 50,000 Australians a day if necessary so that we can be absolutely sure”.

The National COVID-19 safe workplace principles are as follows: 

  1. All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace
  3. To keep our workplaces healthy and safe, businesses must, in consultation with workers and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks
  4. As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition
  5. Businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work, consistent with the latest advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), including considering the application of a hierarchy of appropriate controls where relevant
  6. Businesses and workers must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities
  7. Existing state and territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging individual variations across WHS laws mean approaches in different parts of the country may vary, to ensure business and worker confidence, a commitment to a consistent national approach is key, including a commitment to communicating that constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by COVID-19
  8. Safe Work Australia (SWA), through its tripartite membership, will provide a central hub of WHS guidance and tools that Australian workplaces can use to successfully form the basis of their management of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19
  9. States and territories ultimately have the role of providing advice, education, compliance and enforcement of WHS and will leverage the use of the SWA central hub in fulfilling their statutory functions
  10. The work of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission will complement the work of SWA, jurisdictions and health authorities to support industries more broadly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately, effectively and safely.

When will work from home end?

Working from home isn’t going anywhere fast and there is no set date for when working from home will end for many Australians. 

Which staff will return to the office is also uncertain, but it is likely to be dependent on whether or not it is a necessity for them to be physically present in the office. Those who can genuinely complete their daily tasks from a remote location can expect a longer working from home period. 

Until a vaccine has been developed, with an ETA of 12-18 months, there is no protocol out there that will eliminate all risk of coronavirus transmission. The more people that are in an office, even if social distancing is adhered to, the higher the risk of another outbreak.

Prepare to work from home indefinitely, for now, because if offices do reopen, you may not be part of the cohort returning right away. It is also possible you may return to the office and then return to working from home as different workplaces and guidelines come into play, and a second wave of transmission is carefully monitored. 

Read: Do people save more money if they work from home?