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Campaign toned down

Firms wary as new return to offices plan hatched

Financial services

Office area, such as the Glasgow financial district, are ‘eerily’ quiet (pic: Terry Murden)

The UK Government is expected make a renewed attempt to persuade millions of office staff to return to offices, though Scotland’s First Minister will resist similar calls in the wake of new concerns over the pandemic.

Further guidance will be offered to businesses in England on how to make their workplaces safer. It is not clear how or when the Scottish Government proposes to allow a reopening of offices.

Downing Street is keen to re-populate town and city centres to help cafes and shops which normally rely on trade from office workers.

However, it abandoned a “get back to the office” media blitz this week amid claims that companies could not offer guarantees on social distancing and therefore could not accommodate more than a fraction of their workforces.

Mr Johnson’s campaign came in for criticism from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who said she would not countenance any attempts to “intimidate” people into returning to work.

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A new and less aggressive campaign by the UK Government is expected to take the concerns of businesses into account and will promote the benefits of the office environment.

“We are working closely with employers across the country to help them make workplaces Covid-secure and give people confidence to go back to work during the coronavirus pandemic,” a UK government spokesperson told Campaign magazine.

“The Prime Minister has also been clear that he wants to see employers discussing working arrangements with their employees, in line with government guidance.”

A number of big firms including Schroders, Lloyds Banking Group, NatWest RBS and Standard Life Aberdeen have said that flexible working will be the norm for several months with few expecting all their staff to return at once.

US investment bank Goldman Sachs has issued an “invitation” to senior employees in London to return to the office. Rival JPMorgan has asked its new batch of junior bankers to come to the office this month.

The Bank of England’s governor, Andrew Bailey, gave evidence to a committee of MPs this week at which he said that economic activity in London remains low with the capital experiencing the weakest credit-card spending in the country.

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A major obstacle is public transport, with a survey by Redfield and Wilton Strategies on behalf of the “i” newspaper revealing that 57% of respondents believe it is unsafe to take the bus or train to work.

Nearly six in 10 of those currently working at home believe they will be doing so at least until 2021, with 12% expecting to work from home indefinitely.

As politicians and company leaders grapple with the problem, some firms have developed novel systems to help managements and employees feel more comfortable about a return to the office.

Scottish company eCom is providing a free app with a digital pass to enable employers to easily communicate with employees.

It helps employers with, for instance, staff working patterns and locations.

Glasgow-based Safe Shores Monitoring has launched a contact tracing and visitor management tool that will securely record details of customers, visitors and staff.

The data collected meets all contact tracing requirements and ensures that premises can maintain safe distancing by monitoring the number of people who have entered and departed.

The data is encrypted and deleted automatically after 21 days, which alleviates customer privacy concerns and meets data protection obligations.

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