Businesses expect costs and changes as they consider return to work, survey finds
21 May 2020: Businesses in England are prepared for costs and changes to get the country back to work, a survey by chartered accountancy body ICAEW shows.
• Businesses expect to incur cost making workplaces secure
• Clarity needed on the end of the furlough scheme, so businesses can plan
• A third of organisations with workplaces closed unlikely to reopen them following the release of goverment guidelines
Companies should engage with their employees to find ways to reopen, ICAEW said, but businesses need clarity on how the Job Retention Scheme will conclude so they can make decisions for the future of their businesses, such as when and how to remove staff from furlough.
ICAEW asked members working in large businesses about the steps they expected to make so workplaces could reopen safely, after government published guidelines for employers last week and people in England were encouraged to return to work if they could not do so from home.
Four-fifths of those who responded to the survey said at least some of their organisation’s workplaces had closed since lockdown began.
One third of those organisations that had shut workplaces were not considering reopening them in light of the guidelines, the survey found.
Two-fifths of respondents that can implement safety measures said their organisations would significantly change the way they operated as a result. Almost all respondents had already implemented remote working.
Overall, three-quarters of businesses that could implement changes to workplaces expected there to be some charge involved.
But it was too early to be able to put a figure on how much it would cost businesses to make their workplaces COVID-19 secure, ICAEW said.
Government guidelines on a safe return to work were written in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. The majority of respondents implementing these measures said the guidance had been helpful, the survey found.
Michael Izza, ICAEW Chief Executive, said:
“The physical world of work has been transformed, and these results underscore how many organisations across different sectors have shuttered their workplaces and moved to a remote working model.
“It is unsurprising to hear from members that a third of businesses in England who had closed premises are not yet thinking about re-opening them – echoing government’s recommendation that employees should continue to work from home if possible. There is widespread recognition that coping with the risk of COVID-19 will involve cost for businesses and changes to the way they operate. Businesses now want to understand how the Job Retention Scheme will be phased out, so they can make key decisions for the future.
“Government worked hard to listen to businesses and unions on the practical implications of making workplaces safer and the guidance issued last week has been well-received. Local dialogue between employers and with staff is the key to returning to the workplace.”
ICAEW has circa 130,000 members in the UK, working in and advising more than 3 million businesses across the economy. Interviews and polling were conducted over the past seven days.
Notes to editors:
 82% of respondents said some, most or all of their organisation’s workplaces have been closed since lockdown began.
 35% said their organisation was not considering reopening workplaces following the publication of the government guidance.
 43% of those whose workplaces could introduce safer working practices set out by government said that implementation of the guidance would require significant change to how they operate.
 98% of respondents said their organisations could or had already implemented working from home.
 74% of those whose organisations could implement changes said they expected a moderate or significant financial cost.
 An online survey was sent to senior ICAEW members working in larger businesses (250+ employees, a large proportion were 1,000+ employees). The survey was opened from 14 to 18 May, 245 responses were received.
 The full dataset is available on request.