Firms wave the white flag over working from home: Thousands of office staff will carry on remote working into the autumn despite change in official guidance, audit shows
- Vast majority of UK firms have no plans to make staff return to office in autumn
- These include HSBC, BP, British Gas owner Centrica and the publisher Pearson
- Fewer than one in five workers returned to office since Freedom Day on July 19
Hundreds of thousands of white-collar workers will carry on working from home well into the autumn, a Daily Mail audit has found.
Despite the change to Government guidance in July, the vast majority of firms had no plans to compel staff to return to the office when surveyed.
The businesses sticking with remote working are some of Britain’s biggest and span a variety of sectors, from banking giant HSBC to energy firm BP, telecoms provider Vodafone, British Gas owner Centrica and publisher Pearson.
Most said they would leave it for workers and managers to decide, with some planning to downsize their offices or introduce hot-desking.
It comes as it was revealed this month by research from the Centre for Cities think-tank that fewer than one in five workers had returned to their offices after Freedom Day on July 19.
At housebuilder Redrow, some offices have even been scrapped altogether and replaced with conference rooms.
And at online grocer Ocado, travel agent Tui and Pearson, staff will potentially be allowed to work from anywhere in the world.
Last week Apple became the latest big firm to delay a return to the office as it told staff – including 7,000 in the UK – not to come back until next year.
It means that vast swathes of office workers will still be able to choose where they work following the shift to remote working during the pandemic.
But yesterday business leaders and MPs warned that the trend risks hollowing out towns and cities.
More and more employers are expected to persist with flexible working arrangements going forward (stock image)
High street chains last year issued a cry for help, warning that working from home had triggered an ‘economic emergency’. Bosses also said that the shift could lead to job losses.
And the Government has been criticised for withdrawing its work from home guidance on Freedom Day but not replacing it with a recommendation to return.
Meanwhile, one Cabinet minister suggested this month that civil servants who refuse to return to the office should be paid less than those back at their desks.
They claimed it is unfair that those still at home should get the same benefits as those commuting in.
And Kevin Ellis, boss of accountants PwC, said endless working from home will ‘blight the careers of the young’, who will miss out on mentoring from older colleagues.
Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative Party leader, said offices were vital for building company culture and added managers should tell staff ‘if you don’t come in, then go and find another job’.
He said: ‘It’s up to management to decide how to get people back, not the Government.’
And Richard Bernstein, a veteran fund manager in the City, said activity in the Square Mile still resembled ‘a Sunday’ during the week as many banks and financial firms have avoided ordering staff back in.
But he added: ‘It is hard for managers because the lockdowns and the uncertainty around the government guidance have caused this culture change and some workers may say “I don’t need to come into the office any more, so why should I risk getting Covid?”‘
Several industry leaders have voiced support for office working as a way to build stronger teams, boost creativity and instil company culture.
However, their employees – who have saved on commuting costs and can now spend more time with their families – have pushed back, leading many employers to change tack.
Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative Party leader, said offices were vital for building company culture and added managers should tell staff ‘if you don’t come in, then go and find another job’ (File photo of man working from home)
More than 30 firms surveyed by the Mail, employing 600,000 office staff between them, said they will now move to a hybrid model, where staff spend part of their week working from home and part in the office.
Only six firms said they would require staff to come back in September and mostly for only two to three days per week.
They were BP, easyJet, Taylor Wimpey, Rightmove, KPMG and PwC.
Sir Douglas Flint, chairman of investment giant Abrdn, has voiced his opposition to home-working, saying that it ‘morphs into sleeping in the home office’, adding: ‘Life needs to be compartmentalised.’
But despite this, the company has not set a date for when it wants its 5,000 office-based staff to return.
And Mr Ellis of PwC said staff can work from home for a maximum of three days per week from September because it is important ‘to observe, network and socialise’ in the office.
The Government said it ‘expects and recommends a gradual return [to the office] over the summer’.
Additional reporting by Mark Shapland
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