Chancellor Rishi Sunak wants as many people as possible to return to offices as soon as work from home guidance is lifted on 19 July.
He said that young workers especially have been disadvantaged by remote working during the pandemic and highlighted that there is a benefit to employees being with their colleagues in workplaces.
He told the Daily Telegraph: “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.”
Sunak gave an example of apprentices he met at a mechanic training centre in Wolverhampton, who were “over the moon” to be back in the workplace after “six months trying to learn on Zoom and Teams”.
“They were saying actually being in, and most importantly, getting the support from their mentors, has been really valuable to them,” he told the newspaper.
Return to the office
However, he admitted that it was not for ministers to tell businesses what to do, stating: “Ultimately I trust people and businesses to make decisions for themselves.”
Sion Lewis, VP and MD EMEA at technology firm LogMeIn, said returning to the office should be an employee’s choice, especially if they have demonstrated they can still deliver results while working remotely during the pandemic.
“As such, many employers have rightfully come to the conclusion that the ‘bums on seats’ model of productivity is obsolete. If an employee is accomplishing their work, it shouldn’t matter where they get it done,” he said.
“From increasing productivity to improving sustainability, the data doesn’t lie – 61% of employees say they can get more done in an eight-hour day when remote, plus 83% of employees are more likely to stay at a company if given the opportunity to work flexibility.
“Now it’s up to the employer to put policies and a culture in place to support work from anywhere, and a hybrid work force. Tomorrow’s office is about engagement, freedom and flexibility. The return to the office debate doesn’t have to be a legal issue, if you give employees choice and allow them to do what feels comfortable now and into the future.”
With Covid-19 infections continuing to rise, however, a widespread return to the office could be undermined by employees being forced to self-isolate as Covid-19 restrictions are removed on 19 July.
A leading virus modeller, Professor Karl Friston, has estimated that England’s Euro 2020 success will lead to around a million extra cases of Covid-19 in the UK, as people are infected while watching the game and go on to infect others.
He suggested that 70,000 would have picked up the virus as a result of football-related activities on the day of the semi-final.
Although the government will remove the requirement for the double-jabbed to self-isolate from 16 August, many employees are still not fully vaccinated – especially younger workers who have only recently been invited to book their first jab.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said that the NHS Covid-19 contract tracing app used in England and Wales may need to be tweaked to prevent people wrongly being told to self-isolate when social distancing guidance ends later this month.