Boris Johnson has said young people should get back to the office to stop their colleagues gossiping about them.
The Prime Minister has urged people to return to the office and stop the practice of working from home that was widespread during the height of the coronavirus pandemic to stop the spread of the disease.
But speaking to radio station LBC, Mr Johnson admitted he had not yet managed to get all his staff back into the office full time.
The Daily Mail reported on Tuesday that Mr Johnson would be using his speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Wednesday to tell workers it was time to return to their desks.
'Have you got 100% of your staff back behind their desks?'
— LBC (@LBC) October 5, 2021
The newspaper quoted a senior source as saying: “He (Mr Johnson) believes very strongly in the value of face-to-face working. It is critical for the training and development of young people. How can you learn a new job on Zoom?”
Appearing on LBC on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said he had “done a lot of Zoom meetings”.
And asked by host Nick Ferrari whether he had all his staff back behind their desks, the Prime Minister said: “No.”
He added: “The Cabinet Secretary has written a pretty good letter some weeks ago to everybody telling them to get back to their desks.”
It is understood that fears of another spike in coronavirus putting paid to plans for staff to return to the office – as it did last year – have subsided.
But Mr Johnson was careful not to rule out the prospect completely.
Asked whether he could say for certain that there would not be another wave, he told LBC: “We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature, and we’ve got to recognise that the disease can… or a new variant or another pandemic could always hit us.”
But he said: “The data that I see at the moment is very clear that we are right to stick to plan A, which is what we’re on.
“And that means opening up and encouraging people but always continuing – as we said at that press conference a few weeks ago – always continuing to do sensible things like washing your hands, having ventilation, all that kind of thing, making sure you’re sensible.
“But we are certainly encouraging people to get back to work in the normal way.”
The PM said: “I think that for young people in particular, it is really essential to be in a… if you’re going to learn on the job, you can’t just do it on Zoom.
“You’ve got to be able to come in and sit at the… you’ve got to know what everyone else is talking about.
“Otherwise, you’re going to be gossiped about and you’re going to lose out.
“You need to be there, and you have the stimulus of exchange and competition.”
Tory chairman Oliver Dowden told a Telegraph conference fringe event: “People really want the Government to lead by example, they want civil servants to get back to work.
“We have got to start leading by example on that.”
He added: “People need to get off their Pelotons and get back to their desks.”
Mr Dowden, who was moved from culture secretary in September’s reshuffle, said there were “a lot more desks occupied” in Conservative Campaign HQ than in his former government department.
It comes after former Cabinet Office minister Jake Berry urged civil servants to go back to the office, joking that their “woke-ing from home” must end.
Speaking at a fringe event in Manchester on Monday, Mr Berry, chairman of the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs and former Northern Powerhouse minister, said: “We have to end the Civil Service ‘woke-ing’ from home – sorry, I mean working from home, but, let’s be honest, it often is woke-ing.”
Official “work from home” Whitehall guidance was removed on July 19 and the Government told businesses they expected “a gradual return over the summer”.
Asked about Mr Berry’s comments, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman defended the Civil Service but emphasised the importance of “working in person” and said the Government wanted “to see a steady return of the public to working in person”.