No full-time return to the office for over a million


According to research undertaken by the BBC, almost all of 50 of the UK's biggest employers questioned have said they do not plan to bring staff back to the office full-time.


Some 43 of the firms said they would embrace a mix of home and office working, with staff encouraged to work from home two to three days a week. Four firms said they were keeping the idea of hybrid working, working from home some of the time, under review.


Currently, people who can work from home are still advised to do so. However, that is likely to change in June when the government hopes to end all social distancing restrictions.


“We're never going to go back to working the way we used to work,” said Mark Read, chief executive of advertising firm WPP. But the new ways of using the office require careful planning, he told the BBC.


“People are working from home three to four days a week so we probably need 20% less space, but we're not going to do that if everyone's working from home on Mondays and Fridays.”


Choice

Other companies cite “smart working” and “flexibility” as reasons for introducing hybrid working, with many suggesting that workers would be able to make their own choices about how often they come into the office.


Danny Harmer, chief people officer at insurance giant Aviva - which has 16,000 UK workers - said 95% of its workers said they would like to be able to spend some of their time working flexibly and remotely in different locations.


But she said the company had to be mindful that many staff appreciate being in an office, such as those who live alone or do not have a suitable place to work.


Recruitment firm Adecco, which has 34,000 UK workers, said about four-fifths of its staff now work remotely.

“Rather than having pre-set rules we are encouraging our leaders to engage with colleagues to implement strategies that work for their business,” it said.


The BBC questioned 50 big employers, ranging from banks to retailers, to get an idea of when workers may return to the office. The firms contacted by the BBC covered 1.1 million workers in the UK.


Businesses that depend on custom from office workers - such as cafes and restaurants - are keen for them to return as soon as possible.


“We rely really heavily on the office trade,” Joao Almeida, of Panda Cup Coffee in London's Blackfriars, told the BBC. He was one of millions of people unable to work from home during the pandemic.


“There are locations that have 5,000 people, but only 140 come to the building with most working from home or maybe once a week coming in. That makes it really difficult.”


Carl Forder, who owns the Pottergate Pantry sandwich shop in Norwich saw an 80% drop in business when workers, including 5,000 at the nearby Aviva office, were told to work from home where possible.


“We really hope a lot more office workers return to Norwich when it's safe for them to do so. It affects a lot of businesses, from the cleaners who clean the offices, right through to coffee shops and sandwich bars. We want that buzz back again.”


Government guidance

But there may not be a deluge of workers returning this month. The companies told the BBC they were opening offices “in line with government guidance”, which means many plan to reopen offices from 21 June.


Some have already reopened their offices to a limited number of workers.


Investment firm JP Morgan and recruiter Michael Page allowed workers to return from 29 March, while Adecco, recruiter Hays Group and WPP reopened offices on 12 April.


Investment firm Rathbones has allowed workers to return “if they wish”, subject to a 25% capacity. WPP reopened its UK offices at a 30% capacity but is increasing that to 50% this month.


Many have given workers the choice, with Michael Page saying staff could return to the office “should they choose to do so”.


But some other companies are delaying their office re-opening plans. Outsourcing giant Capita said workers have been told they will work from home until at least the end of June, while Lloyds Bank has asked staff to stay at home until at least the summer.

BBC News May 2021

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