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Government calls for return to work

Published: Tuesday 14th July 2020

As the government calls for a return to work, others appear less eager. Speaking during an online Q&A, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “The faster we can get back to the status quo the better.” The announcement is a big shift from the official government guidelines which until now have been “work from home if you can”. The move is a direct attempt to combat the huge drop in footfall seen across town and cities. Despite shops now being open, figures show there is still a reluctance to return to the high street. Retail footfall in June was 65% lower than the same month last year. Research data company Springboard also revealed an 81% drop in central London for the same period.

Shop worker holding an open sign in response to government calls to return to work

Will shopping ever be the same?

Major cities have been the most affected by the coronavirus shutdown. Analysis of mobile phone data by the Centre for Cities revealed footfall in London, Liverpool and Manchester was just one-fifth of what it was before the shutdown. Cities with stricter lockdown measures, such as Cardiff and Edinburgh saw bigger drops, falling to just 12% and 14%, respectively. High streets and central shopping centres have struggled because they rely so much on a mixture of people, including workers, students and tourists. Government advice to only use public transport when needed has added to the issue.

However, such dire numbers are not being seen everywhere. Online shopping has soared, whilst footfall at retail parks has begun to show recovery. Visitors to out-of-town retail parks in June dropped just 32% from last year. This is compared to inner-city shopping centres which have seen a 62% drop in footfall. This has led some to predict a shift to suburban shopping, away from large, built-up cities.


Man working from home speaks to colleagues on a laptop as the government calls for return to work

Will everyone follow government calls for return to work?

Despite government calls for people to return to work, many seem reluctant. The coronavirus lockdown has shown many people they are able to do large parts of their jobs at home. Bright Horizons, a nursery provider, recently surveyed 1,500 working people. Results revealed that just 13% wanted to return to pre-pandemic ways of working. It went on to reveal that most preferred a maximum of three days in the office, with many believing their employers will agree.

What do UK employers think?

A growing number of employers are also beginning to see the benefits of remote working. Banks and law firms are just two of the sectors viewing working from home as a success. Ian Dyson, City of London police commissioner, said finance firms in the region were already changing how they work. He revealed 30 of the biggest employers in London’s financial district were intending to allow between 60% – 80% of employers to continue working remotely. This was reinforced by the chief executive of Barclays, which occupies a 33-storey office building in Canary Wharf. During an interview, he said, “the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.”

Such changing attitudes could have a significant impact on the many industries wanting a return to normal, everything from transport and real estate companies, to the many small businesses that rely on these thousands of office workers.


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