Government to launch campaign to encourage workers to return to offices

People will be encouraged to return to the office, starting next week, as part of a major media campaign to be launched by the government.

Employers will be asked to reassure staff that it is safe to return by highlighting the measures they have taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

The television and newspaper messages will promote the government’s aim to reduce the number of employees working from home, after business leaders warned of the damage being done to city centres as people stay away from offices.

Labour has criticised the plans as being “unconscionable” while the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) said any return to work push should involve a “hybrid” approach that did not force people to return.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "What we're saying to people is it is now safe to go back.

"Your employer should have made arrangements which are appropriate to make sure it is coronavirus-safe to work.

Mr Shapps said there was a "limit" to the use of video-conferencing software, such as Zoom, in being able to get "some types of work done".

Downing Street has distanced itself from those reports and Mr Shapps called for "common sense" between employers and employees on the return to workplaces.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he cared more about how employees performed than where they were working.

Hancock said getting staff back to work was a "matter for employers"

"Some of them have been working from home, some come in sometimes, some are in full-time - and what matters to me is that they deliver and, frankly, they've been delivering at an unbelievable rate," the health secretary told Times Radio.

The new adverts will be in a similar format to previous government information campaigns such as the "stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives" media push.

A survey of businesses by the Office for National Statistics showed that, between 27 July to 9 August, 42% were working at their normal place of work.

This compared to 39% working remotely instead of at their place of work.

The industries with the largest proportion of employees working remotely were education, information and communication, where the figure was more than 70%.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has said that remote working "should remain the default position for those who can".

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "In Wales, we continue to advise people to work from home where possible."

"Employers are under a duty to take all reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus, which will include ensuring they do not require staff to return to workplaces in the absence of a clearly demonstrated business need."