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Nearly five in six office employees will stay at home today, survey reveals

Almost five in six office employees will stay at home today despite the Government’s drive to get staff to return to their workplaces.

A Mail audit of 30 of Britain’s biggest firms, representing 320,000 employees, found that just 17 per cent of office-based staff would travel to work this week.

Boris Johnson had heralded today – the first Monday in August – as the day ‘work from home’ guidance ends and Britain should return to the office.

He said Britons could go back to the workplace at the ‘discretion’ of their employers and would no longer be advised to stay away from public transport. 

But many businesses are not planning for most workers to return to offices until at least towards the end of the year, while the likes of Facebook and bank RBS said staff will not go back until 2021.

Just one firm surveyed, investment bank JP Morgan, had set a target for a substantial return to the office today – just 2,400 of its 19,000 staff. 

On Radio 4’s Today Programme the chief executive of British Land, who of the largest commercial landlord’s in the country, said that some businesses may not return to the office until early next year.

Chris Grigg said: ‘I don’t think we are going to see an instantaneous return and I think we are going to see a big variety. We are talking to some people who want most, if not all of their people back but in September, which seems to be a key time.

‘But others are going to wait longer I think, throughout the rest of the year and in some cases into early next.’ 

He added that public transport and kids and schooling were factors impacting the return of staff to offices.

Mr Grigg added: ‘That issue of how to look after your children with both partners working is something which I think employers have to be sensitive to.’ 

The approach taken by white-collar workers is in stark contrast to building sites, warehouses, shops and restaurants where staff have been at their workplace for weeks. 

The Government has been criticised for failing to hammer home its back-to-work message. 

Kevin Ellis, chairman of accountancy giant PwC, which has 22,000 staff in Britain, said he believed his employees would only spend three or four days per week at work even after the pandemic.

It had 5,000 staff in its offices last week and he hoped to reach 11,000 by the end of this week.

The Mail contacted 60 of Britain’s biggest firms and half provided a response. Of the 320,000 workers, there are just over 53,000 going into the office.

Three companies said their employees would not return to work until 2021, while a further nine had not confirmed a date.

Barclays boss Jes Staley, who still has 60,000 staff working at home, said the return to the office would happen ‘over time’. Aerospace firm Airbus said staff would return from the middle of this month. 

Four firms, including Vodafone, will return from September, Microsoft will bring staff back from November and the London Stock Exchange will bring 30 per cent back in December.

WH Smith and catering company Compass said their offices were open, but the decision on whether to return is voluntary.

Unilever will ask staff to return from September in a ‘hybrid’ system where people come into the office only a few days a week. BT said it would only ask staff to return ‘when we are confident it is safe’. 

The Mail’s findings come as a report published today said London’s pubs, shops and restaurants alone had lost £2.3billion in lunch and after-work trade between March and June.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research calculated the cost of lockdown to ‘ghost town’ London’s hospitality sector at £25million per day. I

t said the ‘new normal’ – where close to one in three work from home on any given day – will drain £178million per month from London’s hospitality and retail sectors.

The alarming analysis has re-ignited fears there will be a bloodbath of businesses across cities such as Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh, with consequences for the wider economy. 

Around 6,000 jobs have already been lost at baguette seller Upper Crust and Pret a Manger, and city centre burger chain Byron has shut half its restaurants and axed 650 staff.

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