Thursday 6 August 2020 9:10 am

UK workers slowest in Europe to return to the office

British office workers have been much slower to return to their desks than counterparts in France, Germany, Italy and Spain as they continue to work from home, according to new research.

Just over one-third of UK white-collar employees have returned to work since the lockdown, compared to almost three-quarters of staff in Europe, according to analysis from Morgan Stanley’s research unit Alphawise.

Read more: The return to work: Here’s when City firms are going back to the office

France holds the baton for workers returning to the office, after an earlier lifting of the lockdown has seen 83 per cent of white collar workers return to their desks.

France was followed in close second by Italy, which has seen three-quarters of its office workers return.

However, the UK has lagged far behind its European neighbours, with a later lockdown and higher death toll restricting a total return to work. 

Boris Johnson only changed lockdown measures this week to encourage staff to return to work, telling them to “enter discussions with their employers” to find the best way of doing so.

He also scrapped the guidance to avoid public transport unless absolutely necessary, paving the way for commuters to return to work.

However, the survey was conducted in mid-July, before the government updated its guidance for businesses.

Guidance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remains for staff to work from home where possible.

Video conferencing apps have enabled successful working from home for many companies usually dependent on offices, relieving the pressure from employers to send their staff back to the workplace.

This is particularly the case in London, where 69 per cent of employees are still working from home, compared to just 26 per cent of workers in Paris and 22 per cent in Barcelona. 

London currently has the highest number of staff working from home out of the big European cities. 

A separate survey of 100 business leaders by London First yesterday found that just seven per cent of London businesses have not brought anybody back to work.

However, businesses based in the City — where roughly 500,000 people work in financial services — have been more reluctant to send their entire staff back to their offices in the Square Mile and Canary Wharf. 

Tall buildings relying on lifts have kept most City workers at home, while big companies such as Natwest and Google have told staff they can keep working from home until 2021.

Read more: Office space provider IWG takes £156m hit on coronavirus crisis

But the UK government is keen to get workers back into corporate buildings to support local businesses. 

Sandwich chain Pret a Manger said in July it would permanently shut 30 outlets and could cut 1,000 jobs after sales plummeted as a result of staff working from home.

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