Milton Park, a leading science and technology community in Oxfordshire, has found that 95% of business leaders based at the Park have a COVID-19 return to work strategy or plan in place or were working on one, and that people’s biggest worry about returning to work was ‘the ability to socially distance in the workplace’.

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

The survey findings included:

1. People’s greatest concerns on returning to work were, in order of their biggest worry:

i. The ability to socially distance in the workplace

ii. Managing my domestic situation ie childcare or living with a vulnerable household or living with a keyworker

iii. My commute

iv. Cleanliness of the workplace.

2. Turning to people’s sentiments about returning to work, people were asked their feelings about returning to the workplace.

– 24.73% said that, with the right safeguards in place, they were ready to be back in the workplace

– 22.16% said they were concerned and were worried about some elements of the return 

– 38.46% said they were very concerned and that, at this time, there were too many unknowns and would prefer to continue remote working 

– 13.55% said that they or someone they live with are vulnerable 

– 9.16% said it is not relevant to them as they have continued to work at the Park throughout the outbreak.

3. Reassuringly for employees, of those 57 Milton Park-based business leaders who replied, 95% said that they had a COVID-19 return to work strategy or plan in place or were working on one.

3. When business leaders were asked how they plan to reconfigure their physical workspace as part of their return to work strategy, eg to enable social distancing: 

– 24.53% said that they were considering making substantial changes to their physical workspace

– 49.06% said that they were considering making minor changes to their workspace 

– 11.32% said they didn’t yet know

– 15.09% said they will make no changes.

5. Turning to transport, of the people who responded, when asked how they usually travel to work, 81.64% usually travel by car, 12.55% by bike and 15.27% travel by bus. Most of those said they would continue to travel by car or bike, however, 20.22% of people said that they were considering changing modes when they return to work. 10% who usually use public transport are considering changing modes to travel by car or by bike and 5% of car drivers have said that they will start cycling or walking to work when they return.

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 50% 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.

“The survey also suggested that there will 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.

“On food and drink, as outdoor markets have started to reopen from 1 June, we are looking at catering facilities to make people’s return to work easier, from their daily coffee to grabbing a bite to eat at lunchtime. More news on this will follow.

“We were encouraged to see that there is a desire for more of cycling and walking in the future. We know from our recent travel survey that around 40% of occupiers at Milton Park use public transport, cycling or walking to get to work. Our data shows that cycling and walking levels in the area have surged during lockdown and many people are seeking to continue those activities on their daily commute, helping to keep Milton Park and the surrounding area greener and cleaner as people start to return.

“In response to feedback, we are also looking to reduce the Park’s speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph which will help people to feel safer when using the footpaths for walking and running while carrying out social distancing.

“For the first time, we have seen our loan bike hire being used from Milton Park to Oxford, showing that people are looking to change their habits.

“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 50% 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, including the footpaths on Kelaart Field to the north of the Park in between the Park and Sutton Courtenay, 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.”

People who took part in the survey were asked to nominate their charity for the chance of a donation of £250. Milton Park received nominations for 149 different charities, the most popular being Mind, the NHS Charities Together and many homeless and foodbank charities.

Simon Granger, CFO at OmPrompt, based at 67 Innovation Drive, was the winner who nominated Homeless Oxfordshire. OmPrompt has offered to match the £250 donation, so £500 will be arriving with Homeless Oxfordshire shortly.