Staff will quit if not allowed back into the office, chancellor warns

Rishi Sunak argues businesses will lose talent if they force employees into permanent remote work

Chancellor Rishi Sunak walking through a door

Workers who will be prevented from returning to an office once lockdown lifts will “vote with their feet” and defect to rival companies, chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the chancellor said that “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”.

His comments come as business across the UK are reassessing their physical office space requirements, with many opting to ditch this entirely in favour of full remote working.

Sunak warned that permanent home working policies risk alienating workers that want to commute to an office, and will likely prompt some to abandon their roles in favour of companies that offer more flexibility.

A recent Microsoft study found a fifth of UK employees would be reluctant to go back into the workplace once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, with 56% of respondents reported being happier working from home.

However, research by recruitment site Indeed also found that explicitly offering flexible working options would increase job applications by up to 30%.

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According to the chancellor, offices provide the opportunity for meetings to “happen by chance" and are especially important for young staff members and new joiners.

“Imagine you've just left college or university - you start this job in a big company and you're sitting at home on your own. How do you get to know your peers, how do you learn the culture of an organisation, how do you get those mentors, which are important for your career development?” he told the publication.

Sunak also urged companies that had benefited financially during the pandemic to invest the money in driving the UK’s recovery and “create jobs in the process”.

The comments from the chancellor come as Uber announced that it would reopen its San Francisco offices starting next week, albeit with a 20% occupancy rate and on a voluntary basis. The company said that those who choose to return will be obliged to follow safety protocols such as mandatory face coverings and social distancing measures.

Prior to the announcement, Uber had decided to extend its remote working policy until 13 September 2021.

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