A senior minister has said there is a “limit” to working from home as the Government pushes the message that companies should be encouraging their staff back into offices.
During a stream of interviews today, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps reinforced the message in the run-up to a major media campaign next week in which employees will be encouraged to return to their workplaces.
The move comes amid fears town and city centres are becoming empty and ghost areas as commuters stay away.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, wrote in the Daily Mail earlier this week: “Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade.
“This comes at a high price for local businesses, jobs and communities.”
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Sandwich and café chain Pret a Manger, whose business model relies on heavy footfall in business districts and transport hubs, has announced plans to axe 2,800 roles from its shops and head office this week.
Pret said 30 sites would close as trading had fallen by around 60 per cent year-on-year because of the coronavirus lockdown.
Former Tory chairman Mr Shapps admitted there were “challenges” for the public transport network when it came to dealing with greater passenger numbers.
But he stressed trains and buses are much less full than before the pandemic, making social distancing while wearing a face covering possible even if more people opt to revive their commute to work.
The Government is planning an advertising campaign across newspapers and televisions to encourage people back into their offices.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been calling for employees to start returning to their place of work for more than a month and Chancellor Rishi Sunak has previously ruled out extending the furlough scheme beyond October as the Government looks to entice people out of their lockdown habits.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Shapps said: “I think there’s a limit, just in human terms, to remote working.
“And there are things where you just need to spark off each other and get together in order to make progress.”
Mr Shapps said a “buzz” is being felt again in his own Department for Transport building in central London as officials returned, with management “encouraging people back now”.
Ministers could face an uphill battle in motivating staff back into town and city centre workplaces after newly published research suggested employees would like to continue home working after the pandemic.
Nine out of ten people in the UK who have worked from home during lockdown want to continue doing so, according to the report, called Homeworking in the UK: before and during the 2020 lockdown.