Published: 12:22 BST, 19 September 2020 | Updated: 17:29 BST, 19 September 2020
Business leaders are railing against Government proposals to impose a second national lockdown as they claim that working from home is bad for productivity, fuels loneliness and would finish the UK economy.
Bosses grappling with the shift by millions of people towards working from home fear the model could stifle creativity and wreck productivity over the long-term.
Some chief executives have reported being able to save money on rent for office space in expensive cities like London, while office staff who hate commuting enjoy working from the comfort of their own homes – or back gardens.
But there is a general concern among industry leaders that the model of work could lead to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness, and in turn hurt Britain’s productivity – already lagging behind other advanced economies.
Business leaders are now looking to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to soften the Prime Minister’s attitude towards coronavirus restrictions as Boris Johnson is advised by Government scientists to send Britain back into a second national lockdown.
Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JP Morgan, has lamented the lack of ‘creative combustion’ in his largely empty office and trading floors, noting that productivity at the bank, which employs 16,000 people in the UK, was noticeably lower on Mondays and Fridays – a nod to colleagues skiving either side of the weekend.
Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, ex-boss of Virgin Money, said: ‘I think it prevents those sparks that come from having a cigarette together or an informal cup of coffee.’
Robert Swannell, the former chairman of Marks & Spencer, recent bemoaned the lack of ‘chance conversations, social interactions and snippets overheard that allow networks to flourish’ at an FT City Network conference.
Meanwhile, Lindsell Train co-founder Nick Train said that solitary working was not good for him, and reflected that he was ‘losing the plot’ and missed ‘having a sobering cup of coffee with a respected colleague’.
It comes as a survey of 1,000 employers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development published this week found that 29 per cent felt working from home had helped productivity, while 28 per cent felt it had harmed productivity.
Business leaders are railing against Government proposals to impose a second national lockdown as they claim that working from home is bad for productivity (stock)
Lord Wolfson, chief executive of Next, has warned working from home means employees cannot learn from each other or enjoy spontaneous everyday conversations
Employers are concerned about their staff – and new recruits in particular – not learning and improving on the job as they would in an office environment where they absorb working practices from senior colleagues.
Rishi Sunak has urged Boris Johnson not to risk the recovery by going too far with any new lockdown rules.
Issuing his ‘sombre’ warning, the Chancellor highlighted the huge potential damage to the economy – including mass job losses.
A Government source said: ‘Everybody’s general health depends on the economic health of the UK – there is a way to bring in restrictions without going overboard.’
Government scientific advisers have modelled a range of new restrictions, including the reimposition of a temporary full lockdown.
But the Mail understands that the Prime Minister is facing intense pressure from his Chancellor to limit the impact on the economy.
At a meeting in Downing Street on Thursday, Mr Sunak urged Mr Johnson to minimise the number of businesses affected by any new curbs.
A Government source said of the discussion: ‘Mr Sunak gave sombre warnings – Boris said he was confident it will all be OK in the end.’ Allies of Mr Johnson insist he will try to balance both the threat of the virus and the risks to the economy.
Paul Manduca, chairman of insurance group Prudential, told the City Network conference: ‘Working from home works for a time within communities that know one another well but it is very hard to get to know and assess new employees unless physical interaction takes place.’
Bosses also fear that some of their employees will not be able to work as productively because of distractions such as children, hot weather and working in a shared flat.
Others have admitted that it is more difficult for line managers to monitor staff and make sure they are concentrating on their work. Andy Golding, chief executive of mortgage lender OneSavings Bank, said: ‘It is difficult for managers to do the performance observations they would normally do in the office.’
Lord Wolfson, the boss of high street retailer Next, warned about the damaging and ‘joyless’ effects of the new work environment on businesses.
The Conservative life peer also criticised video conference calls such as Zoom which have become vital for many companies as employees work from home.
He told The Telegraph that online meetings transformed ‘meetings from productive exchanges of ideas into boring, one-way lectures’.
It comes as many bosses fear that office staff will soon be back working from home within weeks due to the current testing fiasco – as supermarkets make contingency plans if workers can’t get swabbed.
The Government has come under fire after widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles to get checked and being unable to book a test at all – despite ministers pledging that testing capacity will hit 500,000 a day by the end of October.
The test and trace system has buckled under the pressure since children returned to school and the Government made a concerted effort to encourage people back into the office in order to try and kickstart the flagging UK economy.
Business leaders have displayed concerns about the current testing system and emphasised that it working effectively will be vital for getting employees back to work and boosting the UK economy.
Matt Fell CBI, UK Chief Policy Director, said if the Government wants to get people back to their desks, then the test and trace system will be a ‘key component.’
There is a general concern among industry leaders that the model of work could lead to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness, and in turn hurt Britain’s productivity (stock)
‘Reports of people being unable to access tests in their area or waiting too long to get the results will be deeply frustrating for individual and businesses alike,’ he added. ‘No one doubts how much effort is going in to get it right.’
Meanwile, landlords last night warned that a second national lockdown could see pubs close for good unless the Government provides a support package.
Campaign for Real Ale, a voluntary organisation, has warned that a second lockdown could have a ‘terrifying impact’ on UK pubs.
It said that many pubs are making their venues Covid-secure and are still struggling ‘to return to growth’ two months after reopening following the first lockdown.
Chairman Nik Antona has urged the Government to introduce a support package for pubs to reintroduce the full furlough scheme amid fears of a shutdown.
Is there really another spike in hospitalisations? Public officials are warning that hospitalisations in the UK are doubling every eight days – but data show that even current hospitalisations are a fraction of those seen at the height of the pandemic
Campaign for Real Ale, which promotes pubs across Britain, has warned that a second national coronavirus lockdown could see pubs closing for good across the UK. Pictured, The Montagu Pyke in London on July 4
Mr Antona added: ‘The prospect of a second lockdown will be a terrifying impact on publicans who have invested money and time making their premises Covid-secure and who are still struggling to return to growth two months after reopening.
‘If another lockdown is announced, the Government must immediately introduce a new, comprehensive support package for pubs that includes extending the business rates holiday for another year, reintroducing the full furlough scheme, and announcing new hospitality support grants.
‘This will be the only way to avoid mass pub closures and job losses. The vast majority of publicans and pub-goers across the country are doing the right thing.’
Fears of a second national lockdown follow reports that Government scientists have spooked the Prime Minister with warnings of hundreds of daily coronavirus deaths, and telling terrified Mr Johnson: ‘There is no alternative to a lockdown’.
Mr Johnson is threatening to ‘intensify’ coronavirus restrictions as early as Tuesday as he blames the British public for the rise in cases – despite his repeated pleas for people to get back to offices and eat out to resuscitate Britain’s flailing economy.
The Government is mulling what has been described as a ‘circuit breaker’ in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.
But it would not be quite as draconian as the lockdown that was imposed at the previous height of the crisis in March.
Instead it would be similar to the lockdowns that have been introduced locally in areas with high infection levels.
Restrictions would be imposed nationwide for perhaps a fortnight, in the hope that short sharp action can break the chain of transmission.
The Prime Minister is looking to ditch his Rule of Six and introduce fortnight-long ‘circuit breakers’ nationwide for six months, following claims that it was ‘inevitable’ that a second wave would hit the country last night.
The new approach to get the UK through winter would see it alternate periods of stricter measures, including bans on all social contact between households and shutting down hospitality and leisure venues like bars and restaurants, with intervals of relaxation.
It is understood that the new ‘circuit break’ shutdown could be announced via television press conference on Tuesday, in a move reminiscent of the Government’s behaviour during the peak of the pandemic.
Visiting the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre construction site near Oxford, Mr Johnson said: ‘What I can certainly say about parents and schools is we want to keep the schools open, that is going to happen.
‘We want to try and keep all parts of the economy open as far as we possibly can – I don’t think anybody wants to go into a second lockdown but clearly when you look at what is happening, you have got to wonder whether we need to go further than the rule of six that we have brought in on Monday, so we will be looking at the local lockdowns we have got in large parts of the country now, looking at what we can do to intensify things that help bring the rate of infection down there, but also looking at other measures as well.’
Officials, including England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, are thought to be arguing for tough restrictions as panic within official circles grows.
Today the Government’s original lockdown architect, Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London, recommended ‘rolling back’ freedoms ‘sooner rather than later’ by ‘reducing contact rates between people’.
The scientist, who was sacked from SAGE for flouting his own lockdown rules, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Right now we’re at about the levels of infections that we were seeing in late February, if we leave it at another two to four weeks we will be back at levels we were seeing more like mid March.
‘That’s going to clearly cause deaths… I think some additional measures are likely to be needed sooner rather than later, the timing of any more intensive policy, temporary policy, is open to question’.
But the measures are thought to have been met with protests from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has warned against introducing new blanket restrictions by pointing to huge damage already inflicted to the economy.
Government sources claim that Mr Sunak gave ‘sombre warnings’ to the Prime Minister as he highlighted the severity of the damage caused to the UK economy as a result of the March lockdown – while Mr Johnson shrugged off the ‘grim’ economic forecasts, claiming that ‘he was confident it will all be OK in the end’.
Business leaders echoed the Chancellor’s concerns and warned that a second lockdown would tank the economy, with the British Chambers of Commerce saying: ‘Uncertainty and speculation around future national restrictions will sap business and consumer confidence at a delicate moment for the economy’.
The threat of a second national lockdown, just as the UK’s resilient economy shows signs of recovering from the first, is a thoroughly depressing prospect.
It illustrates so clearly the dilemma of a government under pressure to save the vulnerable from the scourge of Covid-19, but also wanting to avoid plunging the citizens of Britain back into the worst economic slump they have seen in peacetime.
And it would be an irresponsible government which ignored the health data, the pressures on the NHS and the safety of its citizens.
That is why the lack of adequate test and trace systems, after months to prepare for the great return to work and full time education, is so frustrating.
The threat of a second national lockdown, just as the UK’s resilient economy shows signs of recovering from the first, is a thoroughly depressing prospect. Pictured: Boarded up pubs and shops in Edinburgh in April
Similarly, fear of the disease explains why the public has generally been so stoically supportive of the ‘rule of six’ restrictions.
But there also needs to be recognition that with every new restriction placed on the lives of citizens, from curfews to hospitality closures, the economic, health and well-being consequences for the country could be infinitely damaging.
Indeed, the improving outlook for jobs and prosperity is built on public confidence and could be crushed in an instant, throwing the UK back into a debilitating slump that could take decades to remedy.
The tragedy is that the looming prospect of a second lockdown has been thrust sharply into focus at a moment when it seemed that the British economy, the worst performing among the richest countries in the first six months of the year, was coming back into its own.
Certainly the huge amount of assistance that Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Bank of England have poured into business and the pockets of furloughed workers is starting to pay dividends.
Yes, when the nightmare of this pandemic is halted by new medicines and vaccines there will be £2 trillion of national debt that will need to be eventually paid back over the decades.
However, it is not inconceivable that such a goal can be achieved without permanent scarring to the economy and mass unemployment.
It seemed that the British economy was coming back into its own. Certainly the huge amount of assistance that Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured) and the Bank of England have poured into business and the pockets of furloughed workers is starting to pay dividends
When the nightmare of this pandemic is halted by new medicines and vaccines there will be £2 trillion of national debt that will need to be eventually paid back over the decades. Pictured: Cars line up at a testing centre in Abercynon
Personally, as someone who months ago predicted the very worst for Britain as a result of the pandemic, I have been pleasantly surprised by our much discussed ‘V’ shaped recovery.
Even the great sceptics at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who just a few months ago delighted in highlighting the UK’s dismal slump earlier this year, this week posited that the UK will be the fastest growing economy in the Western world in 2021, expanding at a Chinese-like 7.6 per cent.
But there still needs to be a recognition of how fragile the recovery could be and how easily it could be knocked off course should the nation be locked down again, even for a temporary period.
The very prospect of more restrictions on commerce yesterday was enough to send shudders through the stock market values of British Airways owner IAG and the country’s biggest engineer Rolls-Royce, with values pummelled by up to 10 per cent.
Meanwhile, among the most encouraging aspects of the recent upturn has been the return of faith in the housing market and signs of a mini-consumer boom.
According to the latest retail figures, sales in August jumped 0.8 per cent – and were 4 per cent higher than pre-virus levels.
Strong sales numbers from big high street names including Next and John Lewis have added to the belief that they can return to some sort of normal.
Nevertheless, among top retailers there is an underlying fear that if shops were to be closed again or retail parks emptied out, it could be disastrous in the run-up to Christmas when John Lewis, among others, takes as much of two-thirds of its annual income through the tills.
There still needs to be a recognition of how fragile the recovery could be and how easily it could be knocked off course should the nation be locked down again, even for a temporary period. Pictured: Windows of a pub in Dublin’s Temple Bar are boarded up, as further restrictions in Dublin were imposed on Friday
At its regular interest rate setting this week, the Bank of England was much more cheerful, noting that GDP in July was 18.5 per cent above its trough in April, though still 11.25 per cent below 2019 levels.
On the employment front, it noted that online vacancies have started to rise and that in August the flow of new redundancies was less severe.
The continued progress for GDP, jobs and prosperity would be closely connected to the development of the pandemic and the measures taken to protect public – a veiled warning of how catastrophic a further lockdown could be.
Already damage has been done to swathes of the British economy, not least in the hospitality, aviation, aerospace and creative industries.
But there is no reason to believe that, with the right policies, these parts of our economy cannot be revived.
And so much as I believe in the sanctity of life and the health of the British people, one cannot escape the fear that a renewed lockdown would destroy the progress Britain has already made, and be an unnecessary hardship for years to come.
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News – Working from home is BAD for business: Bosses accuse staff of skiving