UK lags behind Europe on returning to office

empty office

Could empty offices be here to stay?

Office workers in the UK have been comparatively slow to return to their desks in relation to employees in Europe, now lockdown has eased.

According to analysis from US bank Morgan Stanley’s research unit AlphaWise, only one-third (34%) of UK white-collar employees are commuting again, well off the pace of their European counterparts, where almost three-quarters of staff (68%) have done so.

In France – the leading European country among returnees – 83% of office staff have returned, whereas in Spain, Italy and Germany three-quarters (around 75%) are now heading back in.

Office workers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still advised to work from home as much as possible but the prime minister has urged staff in England to return to their workplaces, a request that has not been taken up by many so far.

When it comes to all staff, half of UK workers surveyed (52%) have returned to their normal workplace, compared with 82% of French employees and 72% across the other three European economies surveyed.

Morgan Stanley’s figures – accurate for mid-July – also showed that workers in London were far more likely to continue to work remotely than their counterparts in other European capitals including the Paris region, Madrid, Berlin or Rome.

In Paris only 26% of workers, and in Barcelona just 22% had not returned to their workplace, whereas in London 69% had not done so. Half (49%) of London office workers were working from home for five days a week, whereas in Madrid the figure was 33% and 30%, researchers found.

The survey found that workers across mainland Europe had similar views about where and how they would work in future.

Most (82%) of more than 4,300 office workers questioned in all five countries who have worked from home during the pandemic said they would like to continue remote working.

However, the majority of employees who wished to continue working from home said they would like to split their time and go into the office on certain days. Some 82% of office staff thought they would be allowed to stay at home for between one and two days a week.

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