COUNCIL staff in Dorset will remain working from home until at least March next year because the authority does not have enough space to ensure staff can safely socially distance in offices.

The home working arrangements will continue for around 2,500 workers.

Chief executive, Matt Prosser, says the advice is firmly based on public health expert guidance, despite the government's call for people to return to workplaces and offices where it is safe to do so.

It comes after councillors heard how home working had been beneficial for the council, with workers reporting more positive feelings about work, and productivity increasing in some cases.

A consultation has been carried out with staff prior to the decision being made, with unions supporting the moves.

Although around 2,500 mainly office workers have been home working since the start of lockdown the council has roughly 2,000 other staff whose positions are front line, or not suitable for working anywhere else.

In an email to staff Mr Prosser said: “The senior leadership team has made the decision, based on clear advice from Public Health Dorset, to extend current working arrangements through to the end of March 2021. We have made this decision for infection control. Our priority, as I set out, must be to keep the workforce safe and minimise risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus, so that we can continue to serve our local residents and communities."

The chief executive says that those who were identified as having a ‘critical need’ to work from an office, depot or other workplace, should continue to do so.

“It is essential that everyone respects this decision. I’m asking you all to play your part in keeping yourself and your colleagues safe,” he added.

“I know it can feel a bit confusing with different Covid guidance. You might question why it’s ok to go to the pub, but it’s not ok to return to your workplace. The fact is that there are different Covid-secure requirements for different settings: what is required in a pub is different to what is required in an office.

"You may have seen media reports suggesting that the Prime Minister is urging people to ‘go back to work’, but the Government guidance is clear this needs to be to COVID secure workplaces. We have measures in place at office locations to ensure they are Covid secure (such as allowing for 2m social distancing and allocation of individual desks), meaning we can accommodate fewer employees safely within buildings.”

The email also details ways in which staff can get support or change their arrangements in certain circumstances, such as building work at home, childcare issues or even a power cut, when they will be guided to special areas to work and the desks they use then quarantined for a period after use.

He says the council is also aware of the effects lone working can have on some staff and is encouraging ‘buddy’ arrangements, checking in with colleagues frequently and meeting up occasionally outside in small groups, maintaining social distancing, if this is helpful.

Staff are being encouraged to ask any questions about the situation at an online session on September 10.