Commuters will return to offices “in a few short months”, Boris Johnson has predicted, dismissing the idea that lockdowns will lead to a permanent shift towards working from home.
Speaking at a rail industry conference via video call on Friday, the prime minister said he was confident workers would return to traditional work patterns when lockdown restrictions were eased.
“I know that some people may imagine that all conferences are going be like this, held over Zoom, Teams or what have you and we’ve got to prepare for a new age in which people don’t move around, do things remotely, they don’t commute any more,” he said.
“I don’t believe it. Not for a moment. In a few short months, if all goes to plan, we in the UK are going to be reopening our economy. And then, believe me, the British people will be consumed once again with their desire for the genuine face-to-face meeting that makes all the difference to the deal or whatever it is.”
The government is expected to instruct people to continue remote working until 21 June, when wider lockdown restrictions are set to end.
The chair of Network Rail said the pandemic had accelerated existing changes in commuting patterns, adding that sales of season tickets had dropped significantly even before coronavirus hit the UK.
Numbers of travellers on national rail currently stand at around 14% of 2019 levels, and Sir Peter Hendy predicted that it would take several years before rail use returned to more than 80% of normal levels.
Earlier this week, the boss of Goldman Sachs also rejected the idea that working from home would become the “new normal”, describing it as an “aberration”.
Having had less than 10% of Goldman Sachs staff in the office throughout 2020, David Solomon said that remote working did not suit the working culture at the bank.
“I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible,” he told a conference on Wednesday.
However, other firms including Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter have announced that their employees will have the option of working from home permanently.
According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, less than half of UK adults travelled to work in the week ending 7 February. About 47% travelled to work, either every day or in combination with remote working, and 36% exclusively worked from home.