Go back to office if you want to get on, Rishi Sunak tells young workers

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak has told young people that going into the office can be “really beneficial” to their careers and warned that video conferencing was no substitute.

The chancellor said that working from home would not have enabled him to build strong relationships that had stood the test of time and he cautioned against allowing remote working to become the norm.

Ministers have dropped formal advice to work from home and instead “expect and recommend a gradual return over the summer”.

Businesses are taking a cautious approach, with millions of workers expected to spend more days at home than in the office after the pandemic triggered a revolution in working patterns. Some ministers believe that the shift may be permanent.

In an interview with LinkedIn News, Sunak highlighted his experiences and a recent visit to Scotland where he met those starting careers in financial services. He said: “I was telling them that the mentors I found when I first started my job I still talk to and they have been helpful to me even after we have gone in different ways. I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my internship or my first bit of my career over [Microsoft] Teams and Zoom.

“That’s why I think for young people in particular being able to physically be in an office is valuable.”

Last summer the government ran a campaign urging people to return to their place of work as the nation emerged from the first wave of the pandemic. This was abandoned as the second wave took hold.

Sunak said: “We’ve kind of stopped saying that people should actively work from home and have now left it up to businesses to figure out the right approach. In terms of a return to work . . . in keeping with everything else that we are doing it’s been gradual, it’s cautious, it’s careful, so there will be a gradual return back to the offices.”

Ministers are increasingly concerned that city and town centres could be damaged by the shift away from offices. Boris Johnson has raised the issue repeatedly with Conservative MPs.

American companies have taken a more hardline approach than those in Britain as they try to get workers back into the office, particularly in the financial sector. James Gorman, chief executive of the investment bank Morgan Stanley, told employees: “If you want to get paid New York rates, you work in New York.”

David Solomon, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, said in February of the work from home culture: “It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show a significant shift in working patterns from the height of the pandemic in the UK. In February 37 per cent of employees said they were solely working from home compared with 34 per cent who were travelling for work. At the end of last month 20 per cent of people were home working and 50 per cent were working fully in the office. Home working was highest among those aged 30 to 49 years, at 45 per cent, falling to 34 per cent for those aged 16 to 29.

Data from the Business Insights and Conditions Survey suggested that 24 per cent of businesses intended to use increased home working as a permanent model, while 28 per cent were considering the merits of such a move. Thirty-six per cent of employees believed they would spend the majority or all their time home working in future.