Downing Street was urged to toughen up its ‘back to work’ message last night after a string of top firms said they would not be encouraging staff back to offices for months.
A Mail audit of big companies found many are not planning for the majority of workers to return to offices until at least towards the end of the year.
In another worrying sign for city and town centres, several bosses said they expected working from home to become the ‘new normal’ after the crisis.
Among the firms contacted by the Mail, consultancy giant KPMG said the majority of its 16,000 office-based workforce were unlikely to return until next year.
Education publisher Pearson, which has about 3,600 office staff, also said workers would not be expected to return potentially until 2021.
With offices closed and staff working from home, Canary Wharf remained eerily quiet on Monday
Canary Wharf is usually bustling during typical evening rush hours, with thousands working at the East London landmark
It came as reports claimed tech giant Google, which employs about 4,000 people in offices in the UK, had become another big name to announce staff may not have to return until next year.
In an email to employees, chief executive Sundar Pichai said workers could remain at home until July 2021 if they did not need to be in the office, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The firm did respond to requests for comment last night.
RBS is allowing nearly 50,000 staff to work from home until 2021.
Facebook, Coca-Cola and Vodafone are among other major UK employers to say workers will not be expected to return potentially until 2021.
The Mail’s audit found that many firms have sent only a fraction of staff back to the workplace, after many switched to remote working during the coronavirus crisis.
Consumer goods giant Unilever was among those that predicted it would never return to 100 per cent office-based working.
The firm’s boss, Alan Jope, said the company would likely move to a ‘hybrid’ system where people come into the office only a few days a week.
The Mail’s findings led to calls from MPs and smaller business groups for ministers to toughen up the ‘get back to work’ message.
There are growing fears city centre shops and eateries which rely on footfall from office workers face ruin if more employees are not encouraged to return.
On Monday, there were far fewer commuters passing through Waterloo than would normally be expected
Waterloo Station was one of London’s busiest terminals before lockdown measures saw commuter numbers plummet in March
Pictures have shown how many city centres and public transport systems are still relatively empty despite the easing of lockdown and warnings of major economic damage.
It came as health officials revealed there were just seven deaths from Covid-19 over the latest 24 hours, the lowest number since just one fatality was recorded on March 13.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told the Mail: ‘The Government needs to stop with its mixed messages.
It needs to stop being equivocal and be clear that it is safe to go back to work and take public transport. ‘If you’re under 40 and fit and healthy you have more chance of dying while riding your bike than dying from Covid.
People need to start properly weighing up the balance of risk. These employers are absolutely bloody mad for not getting more employees back – all the other small firms that rely on offices being back will go bust.’
A photo taken on Monday evening last week shows an almost empty Euston station, a far cry from its usual capacity
Euston before coronavirus: The station is one of the busiest in London and links the capital to other cities including Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow
Tory MP Andrew Murrison said: ‘We desperately need to get the economy motoring again. That means people going back to work. Otherwise the outlook is dire.’
Fellow Tory Andrew Bridgen said: ‘If ministers want to toughen up the message, the first thing is to get all the civil servants back into Westminster and Whitehall.
‘The Government needs to lead by example by doing this and then maybe private businesses will follow.’
The Mail’s audit found other major UK employers, including Rolls-Royce, Scottish and Southern Energy, BP, Aviva, Microsoft, Credit Suisse, GlaxoSmithKline, WPP, National Grid and HSBC, have no immediate plans for staff to return to offices, despite official guidance giving the allclear from August 1.
Just one quarter of firms surveyed have plans to bring staff back within the next two months.
They will instead allow staff to continue working remotely, dealing a blow to Boris Johnson’s plan to get Britain back to a semblance of normality.
A photo taken yesterday evening showing a very bare Glasgow Central station, usually a bustling transport hub
A photo from the pre-covid era showing people thronged together at Glasgow Central Station
Mike Cherry, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘A big chunk of the small business and self-employed community relies on commuter footfall and staff being in offices for work.
All over the country, cafes, restaurants, dry cleaners, stationers and convenience stores – plus IT, maintenance and cleaning contractors – are all suffering, especially those based in the middle of cities.
‘The more we can safely get people out and about spending with small firms, the better.’ Emma McClarkin, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: ‘All our pubs face a long road to recovery, but those in city centres and business districts have been among the hardest hit as they still remain quiet with everyone working from home.
‘Office workers returning to their place of work and supporting the local economy again will help save city centre pubs and pub jobs.’
Giants who have let fear keep UK plc locked down
RBS Currently has 49,000 staff working from home, around 10,000 staff in branches and offices. Most are not being expected to return to the office until next year.
A spokesman said: ‘We told colleagues last Monday they will continue to work from home until 2021 because we’re prioritising customer and colleague health and wellbeing.’
Ernst and Young Has about 11,200 office staff.
The firm said it had consulted them and offices would reopen from September 7, but on a ‘reduced capacity basis’.
A spokesman said: ‘EY offices will open at a significantly reduced capacity and increase steadily over time in line with the guidelines set by the UK.’
Deloitte Most of its 20,000 office-based staff are still working from home.
Plans to open more offices are ‘being considered’, a spokesman said. They added: ‘We opened a small number of our offices in early July, to improve the health and wellbeing for our people where circumstance means they cannot work from home.’
KPMG No more than 10 per cent of its 16,000 UK office staff have returned for ‘business critical reasons’.
The vast majority will work from home for most of the year.
Anna Purchas, head of people at KPMG, said: ‘We will continue to follow Government guidance and adapt our approach as required, but we anticipate that the majority of our people will work from home for the majority of 2020.’
BT 52,000 office-based staff in the UK, with around 40,000 working from home.
Around 10,000 in ‘critical customer and network operations teams’ have continued to attend the office.
Staff will only return when ‘safe to do so’.
A spokesman said: ‘We will only start to return colleagues to the workplace when we are confident it is safe and in line with Government guidelines. We have not made a decision at this point.’
AstraZeneca Pharmaceutical giant says 75 per cent of its 8,300 UK workers based in offices are still working from home.
They will not start returning until September, when a ‘phased approach’ will begin.
PWC Consultancy giant has around 22,000 office workers, with only around 1,500 having returned to the office part-time.
Only around 50 per cent will have returned by the end of September under current plans.
A spokesman said: ‘We are encouraging our people to return to the office where it is safe to do so and, in particular, where they do not need to travel by public transport.’
Rolls-Royce Only a ‘very small percentage’ of its more than 14,000 office-based staff had returned.
The company did not have any detailed plans to announce when office staff would be asked to return.
A spokesman said: ‘Many of our officebased employees are continuing to work productively at home throughout this period and depending on the nature of an employee’s role, flexible working arrangements have been expanded and made available.’
Scottish and Southern Energy The energy firm employs about 10,000 office staff.
The majority will continue to work from home until at least October.
A spokesman said: ‘The safety of our employees, customers and the general public is our top priority, as such we conducted an in-depth survey of our employees’ experiences and opinions and are acting on their feedback. Work continues on a phased return plan.’
Unilever The firm has about 2,000 office staff.
Boss Alan Jope said he foresees it being ‘many more months’ before staff begin returning to the office as usual, and may never return to normal.
Mr Jope said: ‘We think we’ll never be back to 100 per cent of people’s office-based work time being in the office. We see a hybrid future of work, where people might spend a couple of days in the office and two or three days at home.’
BP 6,500 office staff.
Only a ‘small number’ of people are returning, and it may be months before things return to normal.
A spokesman said: ‘We are only at the very beginning of this process and the number of staff who have returned to our offices is still extremely low.’
Vodafone About 7,850 office staff.
Only around 80 – or 1 per cent – have returned. The firm broadly expects ‘to stay as we are’ until the end of the year. It expects to use a mixture of office-based and remote working in future.
Aviva Firm has about 17,000 office workers.
The vast majority will remain working from home ‘for the time being’. Only about 500 have returned to offices.
A spokesman said: ‘The majority of employees will remain working and serving our customers from home for the time being.’
Admiral insurance 7,500 office staff.
Only about 1,150 have returned to its offices in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. A spokesman said: ‘At the heart of decisions around office returns is the wellbeing of our staff and ensuring we follow the guidelines that exist.’
Microsoft Microsoft has 4,500 UK office workers.
Staff will not be required to return until at least November.
A spokesman said: ‘We have a hybrid workplace strategy in place as worksites slowly start to open.
National Grid 4,000 office-based staff.
There are no plans for them to return until at least October.
A spokesman said: ‘We are reviewing next steps and expect a return to the office to be a gradual and carefully managed process. We expect to maintain our current working arrangements until at least September.’
Airbus 3,000 office-based workers in Bristol.
Only about 20 per cent of its staff have returned. It said a phased return will begin from mid-August.
A spokesman said the firm would be ‘working with our management teams to get our office-based employees back on site’.
HSBC The bank has more than 12,000 office based staff in London and Birmingham.
The company said it did not have any plans to announce an imminent return to the office.