To return to work… or not? That is the question for Milton Park workers

Milton Park’s Innovation Centre social distancing

“Can we successfully socially distance at work”? That was the biggest worry of workers being asked if they would be willing to return to their employers at Milton Park, a leading science and technology community in Oxfordshire.

The response from 95 per cent of business leaders based at the Park confirmed they have a COVID-19 return to work strategy or plan in place or were working on one.

Milton Park carried out its survey between 13  and 22 May 2020 which received 605 responses from people who work in many different roles at the Park and included 57 business leaders.

Along with worries about socially distancing, other concerns included workers managing their domestic situation (childcare, living with a vulnerable household or living with a keyworker), their commute and the cleanliness of the workplace.

More than a third of respondents said they were very concerned and that, at this time, there were too many unknowns and would prefer to continue remote working.

Philip Campbell, commercial director, Milton Park said: “With so many changes impacting so many people in different ways, several businesses have asked us about the return to work intentions of other Milton Park occupiers and we wanted to share the feedback we have heard from people in our community. The aim is for such results to assist our occupiers and people who work here so that they can understand how people are feeling and can plan for when people are ready to return to work.

“The survey showed us that by and large business leaders were more confident about returning to the workplace than employees. We believe this is because business owners will have thought about what they need to put in place and a better knowledge of what they need to do. Therefore, we believe that communication with staff around measures that have been put in place will be key.

“The survey suggests that between now and September, up to fifty per cent of our 9,000-strong community will return to work. This may be as staggered working or spread over a period of days.

“However, this will mean that socially distancing should be easier during this time as a significant proportion of people will remain working from home for various reasons, which will mean commuting might be easier too.

“We expect smaller companies to return to work more rapidly than larger companies which have tended to prepare space for people’s return, but they will stagger return to work times and days, and leave the decision to continue to work from home with the individuals.

Milton Park Social Distancing 2“The survey also suggested that there will be generational differences when it comes to returning to work. Those that are likely to stay at home are those who are vulnerable, live with a vulnerable person or with someone who is a key worker. Those with childcare issues or other domestic issues will face problems coming in every day until things in the outside work return to a ‘new normal’. Those younger people, who are not in the vulnerable category and may not have such domestic situations, indicated that they were keen to return to work and see colleagues.”

Philip added that as outdoor markets have started to reopen from 1 June, Milton Park is looking at catering facilities to make people’s return to work easier, from their daily coffee to grabbing a bite to eat at lunchtime.  

“We are fortunate that, as our name suggests, as a Park we are in 214 acres of ownership, of which 43 acres (20%) is open and landscaped space made-up of water, shrubs and grass and 2,653 trees.

“We have 80,000 sq m of grass, so with 9,000 people working here, this works out at nearly 9 sq m per person. With half due due back by September, that’s nearly 18 sq m per person. We believe it’s important to reassure people that there is plenty of open space to share for when people return.

“We encourage people to use our beautiful grounds, they are theirs to enjoy, from outdoor meeting to walking meetings, they can use the space to get fresh air.

“We already have nearly two miles of paths and we are working on more measures to improve outdoor working, outdoor places and walking and cycling options. We have nearly completed a new cycle link from Backhill tunnel to Kelaart Field which is nearly 0.62 miles of new shared pedestrian/cycle route which will include a new bridge over Moor Ditch and connect into a new cycle route which Oxfordshire County Council will be constructing to connect us to Abingdon and further afield.

“All the responses have helped our facilities managers and our team to plan for people’s return, so a heartfelt thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts.”