On Tuesday, businesses across England were left struggling to reverse plans to return thousands of workers to their offices after the government scrapped its campaign to bring more people to work in cities and town centers.
Since August, the government has urged staff to return to workplaces, raising the pressure on companies to bring back employees after returning to schools at the beginning of September. But just three weeks later, after a surge in Covid-19 infections, the prime minister declared an abrupt U-turn, leaving businesses frantically rethinking plans for office workers.
The government confirmed additional restrictions in addition to the instruction to operate from home, including a nationwide 10 pm curfew and table service only for as long as six months, leading to warnings of job losses in the main Christmas trading season.
Trade body UKHospitality has warned that without more financial help, 900,000 jobs could be lost from the industry, a number that “can only go up” after Tuesday’s announcement, said chief executive Kate Nicholls.
On Tuesday, some employers of tens of thousands of employees in offices across the UK told the Financial Times that they would re-evaluate their plans in line with new guidelines from the government.
Alistair Elliott, chairman of the Knight Frank property group, who had urged more workers to return to his headquarters as the “default” place of work, said the group would “react and adjust” to suit the advice of the government.
He said, “We will do what’s best for our country.” Back at its London headquarters, Knight Frank has around 340 individuals and planned to double the amount as it reconfigured the structure to comply with the laws of social distancing.
Given the momentum that was building in individuals returning to the workplace, Mr. Elliott said this would represent a “great setback to our economy.” “Trust was building and that could substantially undermine that.”
Last week, an FT survey of some of the largest office employers found that thousands had returned since the beginning of the month. This month, professional services companies such as EY and Allen & Overy opened offices again for all employees who wanted to return for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Companies such as insurance broker Aon, which under the previous guidelines had built up to 20 percent of office occupancy, are expected to rethink plans under the new advice. Telecoms company BT said that, while the vast majority had been operating from home, it would change instructions for office workers. Barclays Bank said about 1,000 workers who had returned to its offices would now return home to work.