More than 20 of the largest firms have no plans to call all workers back with some telling staff to stay away, Telegraph investigation finds. You can read more here.
By Hayley Dixon and Dominic Penna, 7 August 2020
Waterloo train station is deserted as workers do not want to return to the commute amid Covid-19 fears Britain’s biggest businesses are not expecting their staff to return to the office before next year despite the Government’s ‘back to work’ campaign, an investigation by the Daily Telegraph has found.
More than 20 of the largest companies in the country have said that the majority of their employees will continue to work from home and will do so for the “foreseeable” future.
Whilst the majority have told staff that they can come in if they wish, some are actively discouraging employees from attending the office.
The news comes despite a change in the rules this week which means that employers in England can demand their staff return.
Boris Johnson has called for “those of us who can” to return to offices, shops and restaurants in order to kick start the economy, warning: “If we don’t, I’m afraid we will see further job losses and a loss of some of those fantastic businesses that we see in our cities.”
But as the rules changes came into effect the Daily Telegraph surveyed 30 of the largest public companies headquartered in the UK and found that of the 23 which responded none were requiring all their workers to attend the office this year.
Concerns about social distancing and commuting to the office were cited as reasons to remain at home, as well as praise for the effectiveness with which employees have worked from home.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed yesterday that a quarter of working adults are still working “exclusively” from home, with just over half of Britons travelling to work in the past seven days.
Among the leading companies not rushing back to city centres is WPP, the advertising giant, which revealed that 99 per cent of their workforce are working from home and will continue to do so “until they feel safe commuting and coming into work”.
Vodafone said that those employees who can work remotely “will continue to do so until the end of 2020” and BP said that the “overwhelming majority” will stay out of the office for the foreseeable future.
British American Tobacco said that workers have “managed the transition to working from home brilliantly and while we would all love a return to normality, until it is absolutely safe to do, we will be encouraging them to continue as they are”.
Rio Tinto has not asked any of its staff to return to its London headquarters, which remain closed, and Royal Bank of Scotland said that “global guidance” means that they will be out of the office until 2021.
BT, which will start a “phased return” of its 40,000 staff who have been working from home in September, said that “the key concern for our colleagues is commuting and especially public transport”.
Legal & General Group were one of the few firms with a target for return, but even this was 80 per cent of the workforce attending for a day or two a fortnight with no set date revealed.
The companies follow tech giants such as Twitter and Facebook in telling staff that they do not have to commute.
But there are fears of the damage that the decision could do to the economy, which Britain’s city centres deserted and stores which support and feed office workers, such as Pret, warning of closures.
Research by Morgan Stanley has found that Britons are slower to return than their peers in France, Germany, Italy or Spain as only a third have gone back to the office compare to almost three quarters on the continent.
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Employers have spent a lot of time and effort preparing their workplaces for the safe return of their staff. While the guidance has changed, it will be up to individual firms to decide what’s best for their business and their people.
“Businesses have adapted well and are now thinking about their office requirements in the future. In any case, public health considerations must come first and companies know the return to offices must not risk an infection spike.
“Changing people’s behaviour and confidence will take time. The re-opening of schools and childcare support, continued improvements to test and trace, and public transport, will be key enablers to achieving that.”