Hays boss insists no ‘turning our back on the office’ after Covid-19 lockdown

The boss of recruitment giant Hays has said there will be no “turning our back on the office”, and insisted employees will return to their workplaces once Covid-19 fears ease.

Chief executive Alistair Cox said full-time home working was unlikely to become permanent as lockdown restrictions ease and companies return to full capacity.

But the number and location of offices will change, as will the balance of remote and office-based working as the pandemic leaves lasting changes in the corporate world, he added.

Alistair Cox, Hays CEO
Alistair Cox, Hays CEO

It comes after a raft of technology firms – such as Twitter and Fujitsu – have given staff the option of working remotely permanently, with the likes of Facebook and Microsoft keeping home and flexible working in place into 2021.

Investment bank JPMorgan and City firm Linklaters also recently shocked the square mile by announcing the end of permanent office working, by allowing staff to work from home part-time indefinitely.

But speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Cox said firms switching to permanent remote working were still “in the minority at the moment”.

He said: “We’re not turning our back on the office.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a permanent thing – over time, people will start returning back to the office.”

His comments came after CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn urged the Government to lead firms in getting staff back to the workplace, warning commercial centres risked becoming “ghost towns”.

She said that returning employees to offices was as important as getting pupils back to schools.

Mr Cox said while the “eco-system that survives around office workers is facing its challenges”, it will only be a temporary issue.

Hays already has around 80% of its offices reopen worldwide, although just under a third of its office space can be used at any one time due to social-distancing requirements.

Mr Cox said: “There’s a big difference between writing code remotely versus having a more social communications role, like in sales-forces,” he said.

“We can do a lot remotely, but there’s some aspects, particularly around culture and team building where, frankly, you can’t find a way of creating that effectively without bringing people together.

“I can’t see us moving to a world where offices aren’t required,” he said.

But many workers still have their reservations about returning to offices and using public transport amid the pandemic.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called for more action on transport safety and an effective test and trace system before widespread returns to office working.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People hoping to get back to the office soon should not be put at risk from unsafe commutes, or workplaces that are not safely adapted.”