'Customers are essentially doing self-service': People returning to work in lockdown on how coronavirus has changed their jobs


Many returning workers are finding a completely new way of carrying out their roles, with new precautions and measures in place

Thursday, 21st May 2020, 9:59 am Updated Thursday, 21st May 2020, 11:27 am People are returning to work (Photo: Getty)

People have been returning to their jobs this week following an easing of lockdown restrictions. For many returning workers, this has meant finding a completely new way of carrying out their roles, with new precautions and measures put in place as a result of social distancing and safety guidance.

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'We are all sitting in separate offices'

A Deliveroo food cycle courier stands outside a closed-down Greggs (Photo: Getty)

Joe Harvey, 19, works in tech for a truck parts company, covering everything from digital invoices to managing the website. Based in Greater Manchester, he has taken the difficult decision of isolating from his family in order to return back to work. "I was working from home for a period but took the decision to move into my grandfather's small flat nearby which is currently unoccupied as he lives in Spain," he told i.

He found managing his job increasingly difficult to do from home, and finding a way to keep his family safe while being able to facilitate going back to the office felt like a rare opportunity. Returning was a completely different experience to before, however. "We are all sitting in separate offices and not using the same kitchen or toilet areas," he said. "We've taken several precautions with deliveries in and out and we're working from 8am until 1pm." He's enjoying it so far as it gives him a greater sense of routine: "Up each morning and leaving the house is great for the mind - but it also provides the benefits of coming home at 1pm, avoiding major traffic and running into other people, and finishing my day from home."

'We had to make sure the right measures were in place'

Peter Hulatt is the managing director of Camden Garden Centre. He told i that one of the biggest challenges with returning to work has been making sure everything was ready for reopening with such little notice.

Garden centres were given the green-light to open in England for last Wednesday, and up until this point there had been speculation, but no concrete knowledge of when this would be. A leaked Government document on 10 May, saying they would be allowed to open imminently was the only warning he got, effectively giving him a full day to prepare. "We had to make sure the right measures were in place before we opened," Mr Hulatt said. "We took time to order everything in, segregate areas, get anti-bacterial gel."

Organising staff was another task, as all of them had been furloughed except one or two who were looking after the plants. It worked out well however, and the result has been checkpoints in the indoor area and outdoor areas to ensure people are social distancing, and there are restrictions on how many people can come in. He said that they are also wiping down trolleys with anti-bacterial gel each time too.

'Customers are essentially doing a modified version of self service'

But one Holland & Barrett worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said some of the measures introduced have left him uneasy, as many are not being followed effectively by customers. The 25 year-old explained that there has been a change in set-up at the till point where staff have screens, and scanners are now customer-facing.

"Customers are essentially doing a modified version of self service," he said. While this has been a good and important measure, he feels there has not been enough guidance on issues such as social distancing, leading to him putting down tape instructing customers where to stand based on what he felt was the right distance. "It's effectiveness is questionable because a lot of the general public are mostly ignorant to it."

In addition, there have been issues with payment, which during a financially vulnerable time is concerning. "We are getting 10 per cent extra in pay and a free drink per shift which is a nice gesture but from personal experiences and looking at internal colleague groups there have been wide ranging problems with people actually getting paid correctly," he alleged. "There is a process for this to be resolved and in some cases this is happening quickly, but the scale it's happening at initially is worrying," he claimed.

A spokesperson for Holland & Barrett said that PPE is provided to staff and anyone who experienced symptoms or living with someone with them, have been asked to self-isolate. The company has also set up a hotline for employees concerned about workplace safety and Covid-19 related concerns, and said social distancing is being enforced through a number of measures in stores. "We are working around the clock to ensure our teams are as safe as possible whilst staying open to meet the needs of our customers," they said. "We have provided gloves, masks and hand sanitiser to all of our store colleagues, installed shielding screens at the counter, and are following all other government recommendations on PPE.

The spokesperson added that online capacity was being worked on as quickly as possible to allow orders from home. "We have not accessed the Government's furlough provisions, and have worked hard to keep all of our teams fully employed while there is still customer need for our products."

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