Businesses now have the backing of a “strong Government message” when it comes to encouraging their staff back to offices, the Housing Secretary has said.
Robert Jenrick acknowledged that the work-from-home guidance had been tough for England’s towns and city centres because of a lack of footfall from the usual office workers and commuters.
He was speaking to the Local Government Association virtual annual conference on Tuesday, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed people will no longer be instructed to work from home at the final stage of the road map.
Questioned on how councils could encourage firms to bring back their staff to offices in an effort to support high streets, Mr Jenrick said: “We have given quite clear signals to businesses now that they can encourage their workforce to return to the office if they wish to do so.
“It will be a judgment for those businesses, we are not going to demand that they do so. Businesses will come to different conclusions.
“I’m sure the work-life balance will change at least in part as a result of the experience of the last 15 months.
“But we do appreciate that the lack of office workers has had a profound impact on some of our towns and city centres and it would be better for some places in particular if we could now encourage those people to go back.
“So businesses have the support of a strong Government message now if they want to encourage their staff to return to the office.”
The Housing Secretary said that it was unlikely that office working would return to exactly how it was prior to the pandemic, but said this change could be beneficial in other areas.
He explained: “It will help us to do office-to-residential conversion, and meet our housing objectives on brownfield sites.
“It will also help us with levelling up, because people being able to work remotely will make it more viable for people to live in more rural communities in smaller towns and commute less regularly than they used to do.”
The Government will no longer instruct people in England to work from home at the next stage of the road map, which is expected on July 19.
Announcing this on Monday, Mr Johnson said: “It will no longer be necessary for Government to instruct people to work from home so employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace.”
However, businesses and unions have called for greater clarity on rules to ensure employees feel confident returning to their workplaces.