This is what some of Wales’ biggest employers think about you working from home


One of the surest signs life is returning to normal after the coronavirus lockdown is the resurgence of the normal weekday commute.

Slowly but surely, as companies re-open to their employees, office workers across Wales are donning their smartwear and heading out the door at 7am just like old times.

But the return to the office is far from ‘normal’ with antibody testing, temperature monitoring and social distancing becoming de rigueur before you can even sit down at your desk, and that’s if you’re returning at all.

Some of Wales’ biggest businesses have not only come to accept their staff working from home, but are wondering if there are more benefits to be had by keeping them there.

One such business is The Principality Building Society.

It has told staff they won’t be back in the office until at least 2021. But while working at home doesn’t suit everybody, the company has tried to give its staff options.

Mike Jones, interim CEO at Principality Building Society, said: “The safety of our colleagues and members continues to be our main priority as we adapt to the evolving issues raised by the pandemic. We’ve confirmed to colleagues that those working from home are likely to be doing so until at least the end of the year.

“While our colleagues are supportive of this approach, we appreciate some may find this challenging so we have measures in place to enable colleagues to work from our Cardiff headquarters if they feel working from home could be negatively impacting their physical or emotional well-being. The numbers using this option remain very small.”

Feedback from staff has indicated “a desire to have the option of remote working on a more permanent basis and it is something our executive team are considering”, Mr Jones added.

For the 270 staff at GoCompare in Newport, there’s no rush for them to be back at their desks

For the 270 staff at the Go Compare headquarters in Newport, there’s no rush for them to head back to their desks either.

Alex Currie, vice president of people and talent at GoCo Group, said: “While the two metre social distancing rule applies, the capacity at each of our offices is significantly reduced. However, we are fortunate to be able to operate remotely, as we have the infrastructure and tech support available to ensure that everyone can work productively and comfortably away from the office.

“We aren’t planning to rush back to the office, and the business is not at a disadvantage as result. We will continue to monitor official guidance and, as always, put our employees’ health first.

“We operated flexibility across our sites before lockdown, giving our employees the autonomy to choose the working patterns that best enable them to perform their roles. Greater flexibility will be offered as needed when we eventually return to the office.”

Are you happy working from home or are you desperate to return to the office? Tell us your views by posting a comment.

Insurance company Admiral, which has 7,500 staff all based in offices in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, said around 15% of its workers had now returned to the office with all locations operating “stringent distancing measures”.

A spokesman for the company said: “Our plan is to create a flexible workforce with a mix of remote, office and hybrid.”

It is this ‘hybrid model’ which will help reduce burnout for employees working from home, according to Tracey Holloway, the quality and control director at Office Space in Town, who is also a Welsh Government business mentor.

She said: “According to OSiT’s recent survey, as many as 34% of people working at home lack a designated workspace, which has an immediate impact on focus and productivity — 42% of people reported an increase in distractions while working remotely.

“This raises serious long term risks of burnout for employees. For businesses looking to navigate the financial costs of the pandemic, working from home might seem a sound solution, but in shifting to long-term and universal remote working, business output, company culture and employee wellbeing would suffer. People thrive on the water-cooler moments and in-person collaboration of the office, where operators can continue to support their clients through the changes and challenges brought by COVID-19.

“This is prompting businesses like Admiral to rightly consider a more “hybrid” model that combines flexible workspace with regular remote working options.”

It will be a phased approach back to work at L&G offices in Cardiff, with staff heading to the office just once a week

Financial services giant Legal & General, which has 6,400 staff spread around the UK, said 96% of its workforce moved to working from home when lockdown started. Only around 300 remained office-based.

Currently, around 1,200 employees are working out of their offices. The company, which employs around 2,000 people in Cardiff, said it was taking a “measured, step-by-step approach” as different locations and individuals had different requirements.

It added: “The return to the workplace is likely to be gradual rather than binary so our approach is to adapt offices to create enough capacity so over 80% can safely spend some time (eg a day or two per fortnight) in the office. This will happen in stages.”

Wales & West Utilities has put office working for its 600 staff on hold until at least September, thanks in part to the success of home working during the past few months said CEO, Graham Edwards.

Mr Edwards said: “In a time of uncertainty, we’ve done everything we can to reassure our colleagues. For example, with challenges around childcare, before the school summer holidays we made the decision that we wouldn’t be changing working arrangements until at least September.

“We will review Government guidelines again in September and listen to the views of our colleagues before we make a decision on returning to our offices. We have worked to make our buildings compliant with social distancing guidelines and we anticipate that when we start welcoming office-based colleagues back, we will do so slowly and on a voluntary basis.

“The pandemic has changed the way we work and the expectations of our colleagues. We anticipate that in the future we’ll continue to take advantage of technology and encourage our colleagues to work flexibly in or out of the office, further supporting them in balancing the demands of their busy lives in and outside work.”

Chief executive of Wales & Wales Utilites, Graham Edwards

Other large Welsh companies like Redrow and Iceland have said they are still encouraging their staff to work from home “wherever it is practical” and where it is aided by technology such as video conference calling.

Iceland, which has its HQ based in Flintshire, said all but essential head office colleagues were instructed to work from home at the start of lockdown and they had fulfilled their roles “effectively while working remotely”. However, the supermarket giant was keen to get its 800 workers based in Wales back to the office as soon as possible.

We went on trains and buses on the day face masks were made compulsory on public transport:

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A spokesperson said: “We are conscious that face-to-face contact drives engagement and colleagues have begun to return to our Deeside head office in greater numbers, and more frequently, as we have started to move back towards something like normality in recent weeks.

“We are currently looking at the working arrangements for our head office teams to ensure the most effective ways of supporting our stores, but are happy in principle to allow some continued flexibility on working from home so long as engagement amongst our teams remains high.”

BBC Cymru Wales’ new HQ at Central Square in the centre of Cardiff

BBC staff were due to move into their plush new purpose-built office in Cardiff’s Central Square just before lockdown hit. Some are now beginning to return to the BBC offices but must adhere to the new safety procedures in place, including one way systems around the buildings, socially distanced queuing systems for canteens and resource hubs, a reduction in the number of desks, and regular temperature checks.

A spokesman added: “We will certainly be looking at lessons learned during this period in terms of home working although it’s too early to tell what our working arrangements will be in twelve months time.”

The bunker is under the Welsh Government offices in Cathays Park
The Welsh Government offices in Cathays Park

It’s not just the private sector looking at how working patterns might change. Public sector organisations like health boards and even the Welsh civil service are looking at making it a more permanent arrangement too.

There are 2,5000 staff working at the Welsh Government offices in Cathays Park in the Welsh capital. Most of them are still working from home and there is “potential change” for this to become permanent. If nothing else, doing so will help Welsh Government staff reduce their transport carbon emissions.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The safety and well-being of our staff remain at the heart of our planning. While the great majority of Welsh Government staff are continuing to work successfully from home we are currently testing our arrangements for limited safe working from our buildings in our four main office hubs – working closely with our Trade Unions and health and safety advisors.

“We’ll also be consulting staff about greater levels of remote working being part of a potential change in the way we will work long term. Remote working has a positive impact on reducing our transport carbon emissions as well as allowing staff to work easily from locations across Wales.”

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said the pandemic had effectively created a “five-month pilot on agile working” and it is already looking at ways to keep the best bits going forward. It employs 13,000 people, two thirds of whom are involved in direct patient care.

For those who can work from home, however, they may never have to return to the office.

A spokesperson said: “The Health Board has been developing its agile working strategy for some time and the opportunity to work from home has been available where appropriate. The pandemic has rapidly and profoundly changed the way we have all worked.

“It has effectively delivered a five-month pilot on agile working and much of what we have learned we will want to sustain going forward. Where staff are able to undertake their role from home we are encouraging them to do so and we will want to continue this going forward.”

Three-quarters of people say they don’t miss the commute to work according to Office Space in Town, meaning many of those commuters standing bleary-eyed on the platforms at 7am are reluctantly heading back to their normal routines. It is important to note that while working from home does buy us more time without the daily grind of travelling to and from the office, there are also significant downsides too, says Mrs Holloway.

She warned: “Over half of respondents to OSiT’s survey reported that working from home had not improved their work-life balance and 37% felt unable to unplug from work.”





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