Chancellor warns employees may quit if offices don’t reopen after lockdown

Sunak urges businesses not to completely abandon physical workspaces once restrictions are lifted or risk workers ‘voting with their feet’

The chancellor has warned employers that failing to reopen their offices after lockdown could spark an exodus of talent.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Rishi Sunak urged employers to reopen their offices when lockdown restrictions are lifted, and said employees expected to work from home full time could end up “voting with their feet” and leaving for another company.

He told the newspaper that working from home was no substitute for a physical workspace, which allowed for “people riffing off each other”, and that an office space was of particular importance for younger workers keen to get a sense of a company’s culture.

“You can't beat the spontaneity, the team building, the culture that you create in a firm or an organisation from people actually spending physical time together,” he said.

However, while the chancellor’s appeal will likely be welcomed by many workers tired of home working, research has suggested many UK employees remain reluctant to return to the office.

A recent poll of 1,000 UK workers by Personio found one in four said they would resign from their current job if they were forced to return to the office, and a similar survey by So Pure Air of 2,000 UK adults in February found more than two in five (44 per cent) were reluctant to go back to their physical workplace.

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Working parents were among those to have reportedly benefited most from the increase in flexible working in the wake of the pandemic. The recent Modern Families Index Spotlight survey found almost a fifth (18 per cent) of working parents wanted to work completely remotely after the pandemic, and two-fifths (42 per cent) of women said they needed to be able to work flexibly due to childcare commitments.

At the time, Ben Wilmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said going forward flexibility would be key, and that employers should ensure they are supporting the uptake of a wide range of flexible working arrangements for those who can’t work from home, including flexi-time, compressed hours, term-time working and job sharing.

The CIPD is also calling for the right to request flexible working to be made a day-one right as part of its #FlexFrom1st campaign.

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of work-life balance charity Working Families, echoed this. “It’s becoming abundantly clear that there’s no going back to business as usual in a post-Covid working world.

“Employers have realised that many more jobs can be done flexibly than had ever been considered before, and now is the time for these employers to invest in creating long-term strategies to support robust flexible and family-friendly policies and practices,” she said.

Not all the research indicates a reluctance to return to the office, however. A recently published YouGov poll of 1,039 UK workers, conducted on behalf of Indeed, found that more than two-fifths (44 per cent) wanted their work life to return ‘largely’ to the way it was before, while a third (31 per cent) wanted it to return exactly to the way it was before the first lockdown last year.