Has England gone back to the office?

Ever since the order to work from home was lifted, workers in England have been heading back to the office – but mostly only a few days a week. Joanna Partridge looks at whether work will ever be the same again

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In July the government lifted its advice that people in England should work from home wherever possible. It ended a phase of the pandemic that for many has meant doing their jobs remotely with video conferences instead of meetings, and no water-cooler chat.

But while the daily commute has returned for many, it is not everyone and not every day. Instead a new form of hybrid working has emerged as a popular alternative: half a week in the office and half at home. But it is not working for everyone: for businesses such as coffee shops that rely on busy town centres five days a week, hybrid working means more lost business. Last week the prime minister suggested in his party conference speech that Britain needs a further push to get back to the office full-time.

The Guardian business reporter Joanna Partridge tells Rachel Humphreys that there could be other unintended consequences of retaining remote working permanently. In many cases, it will be those who have childcare or other caring responsibilities who decide to work more from home and in many cases this still means women. And as the gender pay gap continues to grow, this could set women back further. On the other hand, a workforce less concentrated in big cities could help the government’s highest-profile policy initiative of “levelling up” living standards and wages across the country.

A WeWork co-working space in Waterloo, London.
Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images
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