Government urges businesses to ‘ramp up’ return to office this summer

·3-min read

The government is keen for British businesses to use the summer to “ramp up” efforts to get staff back into the office, an education minister has said.

It comes as chancellor Rishi Sunak encouraged young people to return to the office, suggesting that it was “really beneficial” to their careers to be working alongside colleagues.

Gillian Keegan, minister for skills and apprenticeships, echoed those remarks – saying it was important for young people to “build that social capital, to learn from others, to be part of that working environment in the flesh”.

The minister also said firms in the UK should use the next few months to encourage employees of all ages to return, as the Covid crisis begins to ease.

Ms Keegan told LBC on Tuesday: “There was a time in the pandemic where we said, ‘Work from home’. We’re now saying, ‘That time has gone, it’s safe to go back to the office – use the summer to ramp up that’.

Since 19 July, the government is no longer instructing people to work from home in England, and guidance published online says it “expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer”.

In an interview with LinkedIn on Monday, Mr Sunak said it was “really beneficial” to be in an office at the start of his career. The chancellor said he met young people starting out in finance – an industry he had also worked in – during his recent trip to Scotland.

“I was telling them the mentors that I found when I first started my job, I still talk to and they have been helpful to me all through my career even after we have gone in different ways,” the chancellor said.

“I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my summer internship or my first bit of my career over Teams and Zoom. And that’s why I think for young people in particular being able to physically be in an office is valuable.”

Mr Sunak said the government would “expect and recommend” a gradual return to office working this summer “in keeping with everything else that we are doing, it’s been gradual, it’s cautious, it’s careful”.

The chancellor added: So there will be a gradual return back to the offices and I think that is what broadly will happen.”

Ms Keegan denied any government hypocrisy over the push to get people back into the office – after she told Times Radio that only around one in four staff in her own department had returned to work.

“In the DfE, I’d say 20 per cent to 25 per cent going in, on any one day … probably 25 per cent,” she said. “We [ministers] have been there the whole time, as have many civil servants who support us.”

She added: “We’ve led by example, and I think more and more people will [return to the office]. We’ve said, ‘Use the summer to get people back, get people comfortable coming back’.”

Lawyers have told The Independent they expect a wave of legal action against UK companies over attempts to make sure staff are double-vaccinated against Covid, amid growing fears some will introduce “no jab, no job” policies in the workplace.

“We’re definitely going to see a lot of employment tribunals on this,” said Elissa Thursfield, head of employment lawyer and a director at Gamlins Law – predicting a wave of vaccine-related discrimination claims in the months ahead.

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