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Rishi Sunak urges companies to reopen offices when lockdown eases

Emma Bowden and Benjamin Cooper
·2-min read

Rishi Sunak has called on firms to reopen their offices when coronavirus restrictions ease as he warned that staff may quit if they are made to work from home full-time.

As the UK emerges from lockdown, the Chancellor declared the traditional workplace superior to remote working and said the opportunities afforded in an office cannot be beaten.

He suggested staff could “vote with their feet” and defect to rival employers if they are not allowed to work from the office, as companies look at how to tackle the issue of remote versus office working beyond the pandemic.

Some firms have already announced plans to close offices, prompting fears for city centres that have already been devastated by months of Covid-19 restrictions and closures.

But in an interview for the Conservative spring forum, Mr Sunak touted the benefits of the physical workplace due to meetings “by chance” and “people riffing off each other”.

Watch: Chancellor urges firms to reopen their offices once lockdown ends

“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,” he said.

Young people also reaped the benefits of proximity to experienced mentors when working in an office, the Chancellor added.

Budget 2021
Mr Sunak said young people reaped benefits from working closely with experienced colleagues (Tolga Akmen/PA)

“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,” Mr Sunak said.

“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?”

It comes after prominent figures – including Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey – declared in recent weeks that they believe the five-day-a-week office commute is over.

During the wide-ranging interview, the Chancellor also indicated that the Eat Out To Help Out scheme will not return this spring or summer once lockdown eases.

The scheme sought to encourage diners to return to restaurants and pubs with a state-backed discount in a bid to boost the economy, but Mr Sunak said that people are still expected to “get out there” once hospitality reopens.

Asked what incentives he was considering to encourage Brits to spend their savings, he said: “Last year we were worried about whether once things reopened people would get out there and spend.

“I think this time around, we know now, both from our experience and from looking around the world, that actually once you reopen things it seems that people will get out there and do what they do best, which is go have fun.

“So, I think there is probably less (of a) role really for government to encourage or incentivize that.”

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