Business leaders are railing against Government proposals to impose a second national lockdown as they claim that working from home is bad for productivity, fuels loneliness and would finish the UK economy.
Bosses grappling with the shift by millions of people towards working from home fear the model could stifle creativity and wreck productivity over the long-term.
Some chief executives have reported being able to save money on rent for office space in expensive cities like London, while office staff who hate commuting enjoy working from the comfort of their own homes – or back gardens.
But there is a general concern among industry leaders that the model of work could lead to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness, and in turn hurt Britain’s productivity – already lagging behind other advanced economies.
Business leaders are now looking to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to soften the Prime Minister’s attitude towards coronavirus restrictions as Boris Johnson is advised by Government scientists to send Britain back into a second national lockdown.
Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JP Morgan, has lamented the lack of ‘creative combustion’ in his largely empty office and trading floors, noting that productivity at the bank, which employs 16,000 people in the UK, was noticeably lower on Mondays and Fridays – a nod to colleagues skiving either side of the weekend.
Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, ex-boss of Virgin Money, said: ‘I think it prevents those sparks that come from having a cigarette together or an informal cup of coffee.’
Robert Swannell, the former chairman of Marks & Spencer, recent bemoaned the lack of ‘chance conversations, social interactions and snippets overheard that allow networks to flourish’ at an FT City Network conference.
Meanwhile, Lindsell Train co-founder Nick Train said that solitary working was not good for him, and reflected that he was ‘losing the plot’ and missed ‘having a sobering cup of coffee with a respected colleague’.
It comes as a survey of 1,000 employers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development published this week found that 29 per cent felt working from home had helped productivity, while 28 per cent felt it had harmed productivity.
In other coronavirus developments:
- Sadiq Khan held an emergency meeting about the ‘accelerating speed’ of Covid in London and said that extra coronavirus restrictions would be required;
- A further 4,322 confirmed cases were recorded nationally – the highest total since May 8 – with public officials warning that Covid-19 was ‘spreading widely’;
- Local lockdown restrictions were extended to cover 13 million people, with 3.5 million more affected in the North West, West Yorkshire and the Midlands;
- The Scottish and Welsh leaders, as well as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, called for an emergency Cobra meeting for coronavirus
Business leaders are railing against Government proposals to impose a second national lockdown as they claim that working from home is bad for productivity (stock)
Lord Wolfson, chief executive of Next, has warned working from home means employees cannot learn from each other or enjoy spontaneous everyday conversations
A graphic shows where the latest restrictions are being enforced across Great Britain
Employers are concerned about their staff – and new recruits in particular – not learning and improving on the job as they would in an office environment where they absorb working practices from senior colleagues.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak begs Boris Johnson ‘Don’t go too far’ with new lockdown rules – hours after PM warns ‘inevitable’ second wave is coming in
Rishi Sunak has urged Boris Johnson not to risk the recovery by going too far with any new lockdown rules.
Issuing his ‘sombre’ warning, the Chancellor highlighted the huge potential damage to the economy – including mass job losses.
A Government source said: ‘Everybody’s general health depends on the economic health of the UK – there is a way to bring in restrictions without going overboard.’
Government scientific advisers have modelled a range of new restrictions, including the reimposition of a temporary full lockdown.
But the Mail understands that the Prime Minister is facing intense pressure from his Chancellor to limit the impact on the economy.
At a meeting in Downing Street on Thursday, Mr Sunak urged Mr Johnson to minimise the number of businesses affected by any new curbs.
A Government source said of the discussion: ‘Mr Sunak gave sombre warnings – Boris said he was confident it will all be OK in the end.’ Allies of Mr Johnson insist he will try to balance both the threat of the virus and the risks to the economy.
Paul Manduca, chairman of insurance group Prudential, told the City Network conference: ‘Working from home works for a time within communities that know one another well but it is very hard to get to know and assess new employees unless physical interaction takes place.’
Bosses also fear that some of their employees will not be able to work as productively because of distractions such as children, hot weather and working in a shared flat.
Others have admitted that it is more difficult for line managers to monitor staff and make sure they are concentrating on their work. Andy Golding, chief executive of mortgage lender OneSavings Bank, said: ‘It is difficult for managers to do the performance observations they would normally do in the office.’
Lord Wolfson, the boss of high street retailer Next, warned about the damaging and ‘joyless’ effects of the new work environment on businesses.
The Conservative life peer also criticised video conference calls such as Zoom which have become vital for many companies as employees work from home.
He told The Telegraph that online meetings transformed ‘meetings from productive exchanges of ideas into boring, one-way lectures’.
It comes as many bosses fear that office staff will soon be back working from home within weeks due to the current testing fiasco – as supermarkets make contingency plans if workers can’t get swabbed.
The Government has come under fire after widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles to get checked and being unable to book a test at all – despite ministers pledging that testing capacity will hit 500,000 a day by the end of October.
The test and trace system has buckled under the pressure since children returned to school and the Government made a concerted effort to encourage people back into the office in order to try and kickstart the flagging UK economy.
Business leaders have displayed concerns about the current testing system and emphasised that it working effectively will be vital for getting employees back to work and boosting the UK economy.
Matt Fell CBI, UK Chief Policy Director, said if the Government wants to encourage people into their workplace safely then the test and trace system will be a ‘key component.’
There is a general concern among industry leaders that the model of work could lead to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness, and in turn hurt Britain’s productivity (stock)
‘Reports of people being unable to access tests in their area or waiting too long to get the results will be deeply frustrating for individual and businesses alike,’ he added. ‘No one doubts how much effort is going in to get it right.
‘The prize is having a faster turnaround in getting results which will let people know where they stand and whether they need to self-isolate or can return to work quickly.’
Meanwile, landlords last night warned that a second national lockdown could see pubs close for good unless the Government provides a support package.
Campaign for Real Ale, a voluntary organisation which promotes British pubs, has warned that a second national coronavirus lockdown could have a ‘terrifying impact’ on pubs across the UK.
It said that many pubs are making their venues Covid-secure and are still struggling ‘to return to growth’ two months after reopening following the first lockdown.
The national chairman Nik Antona has urged the Government to introduce a support package for pubs to reintroduce the full furlough scheme amid fears of a second coronavirus wave.
Is there really another spike in hospitalisations? Public officials are warning that hospitalisations in the UK are doubling every eight days – but data show that even current hospitalisations are a fraction of those seen at the height of the pandemic
Campaign for Real Ale, which promotes pubs across Britain, has warned that a second national coronavirus lockdown could see pubs closing for good across the UK. Pictured, The Montagu Pyke in London on July 4
Mr Antona added: ‘The prospect of a second lockdown will be a terrifying impact on publicans who have invested money and time making their premises Covid-secure and who are still struggling to return to growth two months after reopening.
‘If another lockdown is announced, the Government must immediately introduce a new, comprehensive support package for pubs that includes extending the business rates holiday for another year, reintroducing the full furlough scheme, and announcing new hospitality support grants.
‘This will be the only way to avoid mass pub closures and job losses. The vast majority of publicans and pub-goers across the country are doing the right thing.
‘They are acting responsibly and willing to do whatever is necessary to provide a safe, Covid-secure place for people to enjoy the wellbeing benefits of having a pint with friends and family.’
A 10pm curfew has already been imposed on pubs and restaurants across the northeast of England, as further lockdown measures are imposed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the measures, which also ban people from mixing with other households, in a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday.
Mr Hancock has further warned that another blanket national lockdown was the ‘last line of defence’ but said now is a ‘big moment for the country’.
Another swathe of England is being ordered into coronavirus lockdown as Mr Hancock today admitted that a new national Covid squeeze is on the cards.
Curfews on pubs is also being introduced from Tuesday across parts of the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire as the Government tightens restrictions in high-risk areas.
Some supermarkets and food retailers have already put contingency plans in place if the testing system buckles.
Brakes, a food wholesaler, who have been operating throughout the pandemic, said: ‘We’ve got very strong contingency plans in place which include temperature checks before being allowed on site.
‘Only essential people on site and stringent policies once people are there, which has meant that so far we have had very few people showing COVID-like symptoms.’
The Co-op group said that funeral care staff are on the key worker list so can get priority testing, but their food workers are not.
A spokesman said: ‘We’ve built a model where we know that we have access to variable colleague resources at fairly short notice, so we have some resilience on that.
‘Clearly we all hope that the testing capability will continue to strengthen and improve but we’ve got some protection in place, because the Co-op has had to deal with this throughout.
‘It’s clearly a real challenge and anything that can be done to help the [testing] situation [is welcome].’
Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told the Financial Times that the Government needed to improve the testing facility ‘immediately’.
‘A truly comprehensive test and trace programme is essential if the UK is to manage the virus without further lockdowns which will cripple businesses’, he said.
‘Continuing delays and a shortage of tests saps business, staff and consumer confidence at a fragile moment for the economy.’