Architect ‘scared to death’ after being told to work in the office

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The government said everybody should work from home until February unless they are unable to effectively do their job remotely, to protect lives and reduce demand on hospitals after infection rates increased massively following the Christmas break.

However, bosses at On Architecture emailed its 40 staff on Monday last week, following prime minister Boris Johnson’s statement, to say they would be expected to attend the office normally.

The email did not say why staff had to go in, but an email sent in November asked staff to attend the office during the second national lockdown, as ‘turnover and productivity from both London and Kent over the months that we were locked down showed that this was significantly reduced, hence it is not effective for us to all go and work from home’.

One On Architecture employee told the AJ: ‘I’m scared to death. I don’t feel safe going to work because I’m worried my health is in danger. One person at the practice lives with a doctor who works at a major hospital. One person lives with six people. Another person is a carer. These are risky situations.’

Another email from bosses at On Architecture in November told workers that if they were not willing to work at the office during the lockdown, then ‘we would need to mutually agree a period of unpaid leave based on individual circumstances, or it could be treated as unauthorised absence, which could result in disciplinary action’.

However, it is understood nothing similar was said following the January 2021 emails telling staff they were expected to go into the office. On Architecture said staff were ‘asked’ to attend the office, but denied they were forced to attend. They also said no staff member had reported feeling ‘scared to death’.

On Friday afternoon (8 January) the RIBA-chartered practice told staff it would now encourage them to work from home ‘wherever possible’, after several workers refused to go to the office following a meeting with the architects’ union, the Section of Architectural Workers – United Voices of the World (SAW-UVW).

Before that, On Architecture had told the AJ it was doing ‘everything we can’ to protect the health of its staff and had extended office opening hours from 6am to 9pm following discussion with staff who have underlying health conditions or other pressures such as childcare and home schooling.

David Weir, a director at On Architecture, said: ‘Like many businesses, On Architecture has taken independent expert advice and put in place a comprehensive range of measures to comply with government guidelines.

‘Our technical work for the construction industry, identified by the government as essential, means it is often not practical to create a large-scale masterplan for a housing development at a kitchen table on a laptop.’

But the On Architecture employee said: ‘I have lots of friends who are architects and all of them are working remotely. It is not our responsibility to have the right equipment to be able to work at home – our employer should be helping with that.’

They added: ‘It is also disingenuous to cite construction as an exception to lockdown rules about working from home. Clearly the government guidance is referring to people who are laying bricks on site.’

Alan Jones, president of the RIBA, said: ‘In addition to the 2020 Health Protection Regulations, which currently mandate employees can only leave home for work should their role require…



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