James Forsyth

When will Boris urge workers to return to the office?

When will Boris urge workers to return to the office?
(Getty images)
Text settings

One of the big post-Covid unknowns is whether people will return to big city centre offices or not. As I write in the Times today, the truth is that no one in government can be quite sure of what is going to happen.

The Government does have some levers it can pull if it wants to nudge people back to their desks. At present it is instructing people to work from home, advice that’s not due to be reviewed before 21 June. There is also the question of social distancing. If the one-metre rule remains in place after 21 June, it will restrict how many staff any business can accommodate.

The government can set an example if it wants to. If it orders civil servants back to their desks post 21 June, many companies will take that as a signal that it is safe for them to do the same.

One of those who has worked with Johnson for years says: 

'He is longing for things to get back to normal. If he has decisions to make, he will likely default to that.' 

But there is a recognition that you can’t push people to crowd onto public transport until you can be sure it is safe.

Some ministers think there should be no great return and that a work-from-home culture would aid the levelling-up agenda. High earners would be spread more evenly across the country. If people head to corporate offices in the big city on only a couple of days a month then the number of places they can live expands dramatically.

Others in government are more sceptical. Break the link between being physically present in the office and working for the company and it very quickly turns from a levelling-up story into an outsourcing one, they warn. British workers could find that people in many other parts of the world can work from home more cheaply than them.