Boris Johnson has dismissed a permanent shift to remote working - but when could work at home rules end?

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 12:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 12:16 pm
Do you prefer working from home? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Months of being away from offices could soon come to an end as the Prime Minister dismissed the idea that lockdown would lead to a permanent shift towards working from home.

While Boris Johnson has said that home working should continue “wherever possible” until the restrictions can be eased, workers may not have a long wait to return to normality.

When could working from home end?

The government’s work from home guidance has been in place for almost one year and is likely to remain in place until the summer, according to the PM’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Mr Johnson has said that all restrictions on social contact could be lifted on 21 June at the earliest, allowing people to legally return to work as usual.

The easing of restriction will be done in four stages, with each step to be assessed every five weeks. The government has said it will assess its work from home rules ahead of the fourth and final stage, which is likely to be mid-June.

However, some companies expect to allow employees to return to workplaces ahead of June, with possible capacity restrictions in place, providing it is safe to do so.

Howard Dawber, head of strategy at Canary Wharf Group, Britain’s biggest office and retail complex, has said that he expects some workers to be back in offices by the end of March.

Mr Dawber stressed that while people may still want to divide their time between the workplace and home, people are missing office and city-centre life, and home working has left many feeling “fatigued”.

More than 100,000 employees work in offices at Canary Wharf, but only around 6,000 people are currently on site. Mr Dawber said he expects all employees to return eventually as lockdown restrictions are slowly lifted.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, he said: "We've got about five or six thousand staff working on the wharf at the moment.

"We expect over the next few months a gradual increase there - obviously the government's advice is still to work from home and I think everyone is sticking to that.

"But from March 29 onwards I think we will see people starting to return to the workplace and particularly as we get towards June when things like bars, restaurants, services, hairdressers open up I think we will start to see people back in offices and we are expecting significant numbers back over the summer."

Working from home fatigue

It is expected that many companies may adopt a ‘blended’ working model in the future, allowing employees to switch between home working and being office based, suggesting the pandemic will bring about a long-term change to work culture.

Mr Dawber said he expects employees to divide their time between home and the office, and added that it will be more socially acceptable to allow staff the occasional day to work from home.

He said: "Where the technology makes it possible to work from home, I think the processes and attitudes of businesses have caught up now to the point where I think it's going to be more socially acceptable to take the occasional day working from home.

"So it may well be that some people may have a desk at Canary Wharf but choose to work from home one day a week or a couple of days a month, and that's a good thing.

“We've got to the point where there is fatigue out there. Working from home last year when the sun was shining and people were perhaps enjoying a more flexible environment, there was a sense it was going to be a short-term process and we would get through it and return to work.

"I think now people are missing that opportunity to collaborate and just see their friends in the office and to do all the life admin things you can do in a city centre."

When announcing the lockdown roadmap, the PM said we “cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions” and later dismissed the idea that lockdown would lead to a permanent shift towards home working.

He said: “I know that some people may imagine that all conferences are going to be like this, held over Zoom, Teams or what have you, and we’ve got to prepare for a new age in which people don’t move around, do things remotely, they don’t commute any more.

“I don’t believe it. Not for a moment. In a few short months, if all goes to plan, we in the UK are going to be reopening our economy.”