Business leaders urge prime minister to encourage return to the office

5 Jul 2021 By Francis Churchill

Large employers call for ‘clear direction’ as Boris Johnson prepares to outline ending final phase of restrictions in England

A group of more than 50 top business leaders have written to the prime minister urging him to actively encourage a return to the office when restrictions end.

The open letter, signed by the bosses of Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Capita, John Lewis and BT, among others, said economic recovery after the pandemic would only be possible if commuters returned to city centres, and that working from home should no longer be the “default”.

“It is now critical that the government gives clear direction on the return to the office,” the letter, organised by London First, said.

The letter went on to say that for many months businesses had been dealing with “often complex – sometimes mixed” signals from the government, meaning many employers have tended towards a more cautious approach.

“At this critical moment, we believe that it is essential that the government is unambiguous in its communications that when the stage four restrictions lift, public transport is safe, offices are safe, and work-from-home is no longer the default,” it said.

“Employers can then move forward with plans for new ways of working, considering the needs of their staff, clients, and customers.”

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Despite the call for a return to the office, several recent studies have indicated that the majority of businesses are likely to adopt a hybrid model of working going forward. A recent poll of more than 500 business leaders by Ellis Whittam found more than three-quarters (77 per cent) believed their senior team fully supported hybrid working.

The letter comes as prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm later today that the last of the coronavirus restrictions will end in England on 19 July.

In a news conference planned for this afternoon, Johnson will set out the final stages of the government’s “roadmap” for ending restrictions, which will include the next steps for the ‘one metre plus’ social distancing rule; rules on face coverings; and the working from home guidance.

In his statement, Johnson will also announce the findings of government reviews into social distancing and Covid status certification – also known as vaccination or immunity passports.

The prime minister had previously planned to end the guidance to work from home, along with the other remaining Covid restrictions, last month. However, this was delayed because of a rise in cases of the new Delta variant of the virus.

Ahead of today’s statement, Johnson said that the success of the vaccination rollout has allowed the government to progress cautiously through its roadmap for reopening. But, he said: “I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks.

“As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from Covid and exercise judgement when going about our lives.”

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