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London Returns to Office

24 January 2022
 

London transport and offices have experienced a boom in traffic after the government announced the end of Plan B measures.

Officially in place from Thursday this week, the relaxation of COVID-19 prevention rules will include scrapping mask necessity and COVID passports for many events. This has also seen a big turn in the working from home advice, with many people already returning to places of work today. Mayor Sadiq Khan is keeping mask wearing as a condition of travel on Transport for London services currently.

Data this morning indicated that there was around 820,000 entry and exits on the Tube by 9am – that’s an increase of six per cent when compared to last Monday, and a 14 per cent rise from a fortnight ago, showing that thankfully the return to the offices has been happening gradually under guidance from employers rather than as a sudden rush after the announcement.

 

Civil Service Occupancy

 

Even so, the Civil Service will lead the way in a return to office working, with Ministers working with their Permanent Secretaries and departments to put in place measures to monitor office use and get people back to normal, pre-pandemic arrangements, with clear Ministerial expectations put in place.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: “Now we are learning to live with COVID and have lifted Plan B measures, we need to move away from a reliance on video meetings and get back to the benefits of face-to-face, collaborative working.

“I’m grateful to the Civil Service for managing the challenges of the last two years. It is important that we now see the maximum use of our office space being made from next week, as we build a strong recovery after the disruption of the pandemic.

“The Civil Service has played a leading role in helping the country tackle the pandemic, with many front-line workers and office staff remaining in their places of work throughout the pandemic and many more working from home.

“Following the removal of Plan B measures, it is however vital that more staff return to the office so they can once again benefit from collaborative working in their public service delivery – this is particularly important for the learning and development of new members of staff, who have joined the Civil Service during the pandemic.”

The Minister’s call for government departments to enable a return to full capacity has been reiterated by the Cabinet Office’s Permanent Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the Civil Service, Alex Chisholm, who has written to leaders across Whitehall asking them to support a significant and swift return of staff to the workplace.

 

Proceeding with Enthusiasm and Caution

 

Public health officials are warning commuters to stay vigilant with hygiene as the network becomes busier again. There were over 9,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases in London on Sunday. Despite this, there is palpable excitement and hope that the economy will benefit from a much needed boost. A new report by the Centre for Cities showed central London lost 47 weeks of sales between the first lockdown and the Omicron wave hitting.

The Evening Standard spoke to some workers in Victoria station this morning. “I’ve really missed the people,” said Ellen Hart, 23, travelling to her property consultancy. “That may be cheesy to say but I’m a graduate and still learning from people. It’s all the little things that you overhear in the office that stick with you. You can’t get that cooped up at home.”

This is an opportunity for working arrangements such as hybrid schemes to progress as a compromise between new and old idealisms for both employers and employees. Many will still be uncomfortable with the change – according to ONS figures, of working adults currently home working, 85 per cent wanted to use a "hybrid" approach of both home and office working in future. At the time of going to press, the official government guidance prioritises six main actions to protect their staff and visitors.

Paul Novak, deputy general secretary at the TUC, highlighted this in a conversation on BBC Radio 4. “What’s really important is rather than blanket mandates or unhelpful language about latecomers getting back to the office, employers have sensible conversations with their staff about how that return will happen, over what time scale, people’s preferred patterns of working, and crucially what can employers do to give people confidence that their workplace is COVID-secure and is as safe as possible.”

 

Picture: people on a busy London train. Image credit: Kyle Bushnell, Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/WwgncYF7GYM

 

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 24 January 2022

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