UK banks order staff to return to the office

Unions and industry leaders have appealed for better testing for workers

Commuters on the Jubilee Line in London. PA

Business sectors across England are considering how fully they will return to work, with banking seemingly keen on rejoining the commuter rush-hour fray.

The work-from-home orders ended on Wednesday in England but not all will be returning to the office in the coming days, with hybrid plans also under consideration.

Unions and industry leaders have appealed for better testing so that workers know whether they are healthy or contagious.

HSBC banking group, Citibank and Goldman Sachs all said they plan to resume office life. Standard Chartered has given the office order that will take effect from Monday.

Some work-from-home options in banking will remain although it was not immediately clear how many people can or will choose to do so.

Insurance company Zurich said most of its 4,500 UK staff will work on a “hybrid” basis.

Commuters on London Bridge on Thursday. PA

“We had a flexible working policy prior to the pandemic, but [Covid-19] meant suddenly everybody was experiencing the benefits and some of the downfalls and we've learnt a lot,” chief operating officer John Keppel said.

“Most of our employees will be operating some form of flexible working going forward.”

Vodafone said it wanted staff to “work under our blended working model” from January 31. Google said it was keeping its guidance to staff in place until the end of the month.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday an immediate end to work-from-home orders and the ending next week of mandatory mask rules.

The restrictions were introduced to tackle a new wave of coronavirus driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Improved access to rapid testing was a priority, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said, so employers can ensure a healthy environment in the workplace.

“With infection rates still high, many firms are experiencing significant staff absences and will be cautious about teams rushing back to the office when that could result in further absences,” BCC Director General Shevaun Haviland said.

“Maintenance of testing capacity must also be a priority for government, with reports still reaching us of firms unable to access rapid testing at times when they need it.”

Unions also said they wanted a safe return to the office and for employers to offer flexible options when staff wanted it.

The Trades Union Congress wants the government to improve sick pay minimums to help workers who fall ill.

One union, the FDA civil servants union, criticised Mr Johnson for implying a return to work was necessary when staff had been working so hard from home.

“It's insulting because the PM said 'back to work' when everyone's continued to work hard whether from home or the office. And it's a strange world when Tory ministers feel able to lecture private enterprise on how to run their businesses.”

More people were travelling through rail stations on Wednesday but it was a slow increase rather than a drastic jump.

Network Rail reported an increase in passengers using its stations between 6am and 10.30am, up 1 per cent on Wednesday and up 10 per cent on a week earlier.

Updated: January 20, 2022, 5:35 PM