The full return to offices has been delayed until next spring leaving many employees and businesses adrift trying to navigate through the changed plan.

So where does the Government policy on return to workplaces stand now and what about the right to request remote working?

Before the recent spike in cases, the official advice was for employees to return to the workplace on a "phased and staggered basis" from 20 September.

Employers have spent lots of money and time investing in the return to work, while also developing hybrid work policies to facilitate the move to remote working where possible.

Many workers had been allocated days to come in to the office so the return was staggered with numbers remaining low.

But life at the office was upended just three weeks into the new regime when Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn took to Twitter to comment on the sudden spike in Covid numbers.

Dr Glynn advised employees to work from home when possible, in a move that seemed to clash with the Government policy on a phased return to workplaces.

His intervention surprised many ministers and set off alarm bells among businesses who were confused about the advice.

Dr Ronan Glynn's recommendation caught ministers off guard

When NPHET met earlier this week, it recommended that all who can work from home should continue to do so, although the return to the workplace could continue on "a phased and cautious basis".

But on Tuesday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said a full return to the office would not happen until spring next year.

He said a staggered return to the workplace was possible, but he added that employers should facilitate those who can and want to work from home.

And this is where the confusion lies with two sets of competing advice.

The Opposition has accused ministers of mixed messaging. Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly has called on the Government to detail exactly what is expected of workers and employers over the coming months.

"While the public health advice is still for people to work from home where possible, the reality for many workers is that they have been summoned back to the workplace even though they could continue to work from home.

"It is not good enough for the Government to say a full return to offices will not be possible until spring without ensuring that workers can continue to work remotely, where possible."

And that is the nub of the issue.

The Government plans to introduce new laws to create a legal framework to give workers the right to request remote working.

However, the legislation has not yet been published following a consultation period earlier this year.

Many have been working from home since March 2020

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said the Heads of the Bill will be brought to Cabinet shortly and published before the end of the year.

But that means it is a long way from coming into force. And in its absence, the structure around asking to work remotely and the handling of those requests is not clear.

Also, despite the public health advice for people to work from home, there is no legal right to do so. Employees can only ask for such a request to be facilitated.

On this week's developments, unions have generally welcomed the advice to continue working from home. ICTU General Secretary Patricia King said continuing with a staggered return to the workplace was the right approach. She also stated that working from home had not reduced productivity.

Employers' group Ibec has stressed that it believes businesses must retain autonomy on how the return to workplace is managed.

The current official Government policy is that the return to workplaces should take account of appropriate attendance levels, with the use of staggered arrangements and attendance for specific business requirements.

But ministers also maintain that in the longer term, the aim is to encourage and facilitate remote working with blended working the new buzz words.

What's clear is that the Government is not planning to give people the right to work remotely, instead it is planning a framework setting out how such requests are considered.

Much will depend on the detail around whether a justification or rationale must be given for refusing a request and whether employees who are turned down could have somewhere to bring that complaint.

For now, businesses and employees will muddle through until the long-term plan becomes clear.