Rishi Sunak says office workers unlikely to return in full after Covid pandemic – with fears of fallout for businesses

RISHI Sunak has said office workers are unlikely to return in full after the pandemic.

The Chancellor thinks packed offices will be a thing of the past – with fears of fallout for thousands of businesses.

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He said working from home was the "big unknown" to have come out of the past year which has had "big implications" on the economy.

Cafes and rail companies have taken a hit thanks to regular commuters choosing to work from home just one day a week, meaning 20 per cent less footfall, he added.

And shoppers are moving away from high street retailers in favour of online giants like Amazon.

Mr Sunak said this "existing trend" was likely irreversible, having been "accelerated" by repeated lockdowns.

The 40-year-old also said a full return to the workplace will "probably not" happen, with staff likely to try hybrid or flexible working and "hotdesking" in local hubs.

Speaking to Politico, he cited the rise of "neighbourhood" serviced offices springing up across New York.

These shared spaces are designed for workers who wish to work more locally but operate in a more professional environment away from home.

It comes just weeks after Boris Johnson quashed claims that workers would be happy to do business on Zoom calls once the pandemic is over.

The PM argued staff will want to rush back to the office "in a few short months".

He said Brits will be "consumed with desire" to get back to face-to-face meetings and hop on commuter trains when the nation opens again.

Addressing a Railway Industry conference he said: "I know that some people may imagine that all conferences from now on are going to be like this – held over Zoom, Teams or what have you. 

"And we've got to prepare for a new age in which people don't move around and do things remotely and they don't commute anymore. 

"But I want you to know I don't believe it, not for a moment, because in a few short months, if all goes according to plan, we in the UK are going to be reopening our economy.

"And then, believe me, the British population will be consumed once again with their desire for the genuine face to face meeting, that makes all the difference to the deal, never mind seeing our loved ones going on holiday or whatever."

Mr Johnson has also insisted that city centres and high streets will bounce back and will be "filled full of buzz and life and excitement again".

And Mr Sunak has shared the PM's desire to see city centres return to full health after the crisis.

He said offices are a "good and positive thing" for "teambuilding", "camaraderie" and spontaneity".

But he added: "Is it going to come back in exactly the same way? Probably not.

"Even small changes have quite big implications, whether it's for the economics of commuter rail, or a coffee shop that's used to servicing commuters.

"If people work one day a week on average at home, and everyone does that, that's 20 percent less commuting traffic — that’s not a small impact."

And discussing the use of shared office spaces, he said: "There's a new thing that's growing up in New York, this was in Brooklyn, a new business model of serviced offices, but in neighbourhoods, and very small so it's for people who are, they're not doing the commute in, but they don't want to work at home when they're doing their days at home.

"So it's a different serviced office hot desking thing in neighbourhoods, so you can leave your home, do kind of essentially working in your neighbourhood, rather than making the for commuting to work which kind of an interesting model and see whether that picks up."

The "work from home" order is likely to stay in place until June 21 as the Cabinet Office holds a review into social distancing rules.

They will also be looking at how people will safely be able to return to work.

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