Office workers across the UK longing to return to their workplaces are set to have their hopes dashed by ministers preparing details of how to ease the nation’s lockdown.

White-collar employers will be expected to keep most staff working from home for several months to prevent public transport from being overwhelmed, senior government figures said.

The business department, which has been working closely with unions and company leaders to draw up plans for best-practice working in seven different types of workspace, will publish the recommendations next week.

Companies urged to restart operations relatively quickly will include non-food retailers, factories and warehouses, while offices will be encouraged to stay closed for longer. “If you are in an office space, then there is likely to be guidance that says continue working from home,” said one person involved in the planning.

Even when offices start to reopen en masse many will be expected to operate “red-blue” systems — with two teams alternating weekly in the office. But ministers are reluctant to forcibly close all offices because of the risk of some workers being exposed to domestic abuse if they have to stay at home all the time.

Other recommendations expected in the government advice will include wider walkways on building sites and the use of PPE in some factories.

Canteens will be kept closed unless they are able to maintain social distancing, while smokers will be asked to keep apart in modified smoking and vaping areas.

Companies urged to restart operations relatively quickly will include non-food retailers, factories and warehouses © Colin McPherson/Alamy Stock Photo

The government will suggest that work breaks are staggered throughout the day, to avoid people gathering in larger groups — one of the biggest concerns among business and union leaders.

Factories, offices and shops will be urged to offer hand-sanitiser dispensers to ensure that people keep their hands clean. There will also be general advice for people to consider using face coverings on their journeys to and from work and in crowded areas to help prevent the spread of the virus through coughing and sneezing.

When non-food shops open their doors they will be expected to follow the practices already used in supermarkets. Shoppers will queue outside at a distance from each other, while “marshals” will help them behave responsibly in stores.

When DIY retailer B&Q reopened this week, some stores had queues half a mile long outside.

Other ideas already being used in some workplaces include the expansion of car parks so staff can drive to work individually without sharing cars. There will also be advice for workers such as gas fitters and plumbers who need to enter people’s homes.

The government is expected to douse any expectations that pubs and restaurants will return to normal in the near future.

B&Q reopened some stores this week with long queues © Paul Ellis/AFP

Officials have asked restaurant, pub and bar operators for feedback on the viability of their businesses under four different social-distancing scenarios.

The owner of one big London restaurant group said it would be impossible to open any restaurants under the current social-distancing guidelines as a circle of two metres around tables would stop staff being able to serve customers and would only allow dining rooms to operate at 30 per cent of capacity.

Des Gunewardena, chief executive of D&D, which runs 38 restaurants in the UK, said he had been modelling restaurant layouts with tables 1 metre, 1.5 metres and 2 metres apart, as well as sourcing hand sanitiser, PPE and air purifiers.

Fast-food chains such as Burger King and KFC, which have reopened a number of sites for delivery in the past week, have installed clear plastic screens at till points and demarcated 2 metre spaces on the floor to keep customers apart. Staff have also been spread out further in kitchens, forcing the restaurants to offer limited menus of about 10 to 12 items.

A London bar owner said he was considering plastic cubicles to separate groups but said social distancing at entrances, exits and in the toilets would be impossible. “It’s not like a supermarket aisle where you can have one-way systems,” he said.

Cinema chains Cineworld and Vue are both reprogramming their online booking systems to only allow staggered seating and said they planned to show fewer films at any one time.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Eley and George Hammond in London

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