Government unwilling to tell people to stop working from home

·3 min read
Commuters in London
Commuters in London

Downing Street has no plans to run a nationwide campaign to get people back to work in offices as they did last year, meaning working from home could become the norm for many.

Boris Johnson formally lifted the guidance that told people to work from home if they could earlier this week and has often predicted office working will continue beyond the pandemic.

But polls conducted by industry bodies suggest many employees hope to continue flexible working, leaving employers who are keen to restore traditional office set-ups facing an uncertain path forward.

Some Tory MPs are pressing the Government to speed up the return to work in Westminster for civil servants as the pandemic shows signs of easing this summer.

For most of the Covid crisis, the Government has urged people to work from home if they can in an attempt to limit the potential spread of the virus.

But the new government guidance which took effect from July 19 reads: “Legal restrictions have been lifted, all businesses can open and the Government is no longer instructing people to work from home.”

The change in the rules theoretically paves the way for scores of workers to return to the office and the Government has said it expects this to happen.

“The Government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, so employers can start to plan a return to workplaces,” the guidance for employers reads.

“During this period of high prevalence, the Government expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer. You should discuss the timing and phasing of a return with your workers.”

But there remains doubt about whether working patterns will go back to something closely resembling pre-coronavirus times.

Multiple well-placed government figures have said there are no plans for a major campaign encouraging the return to pre-Covid office working in the near future.

Such a campaign had been planned for last summer but was ditched when Covid cases began to surge again.

Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs, urged the Government to do more to encourage civil servants to safely return to their offices.

Mr Harper told The Telegraph: “The question for the Government is what action does it take to get civil servants back to the office.

“I am looking forward with interest to hear about what ministers decide as far as that is concerned when Parliament is back in September.”

The Treasury is urging government departments to consider whether they can make pandemic cost savings by scaling back offices through hybrid working.

'Jobs are coming back'

To encourage department heads to find cost savings, the Treasury has said any savings identified can be used for new areas of spending as departmental budgets are agreed in the autumn.

Mr Johnson talked up hopes for the economic recovery in an interview on Wednesday with LBC, in which he said there were signs “jobs are coming back” after the Covid recession.

Mr Johnson said: "It’s clear that if we’re sensible and we continue to take a cautious approach that we can see a very, very strong recovery.”

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, made clear his belief in the opportunities that office work can bring in an interview with The Telegraph earlier this month.

Mr Sunak said: “I think for young people, especially, that ability to be in your office, be in your workplace and learn from others more directly, is something that's really important and I look forward to us slowly getting back to that.”

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