The heads of the UK’s largest business lobby group and two major City employers have warned against giving workers the legal right to demand remote working, claiming it would harm young employees and city centre economies.
Lord Bilimoria, the president of the CBI, said that while employees should be able to request the option of working from home, flexible working arrangements must be allowed to evolve in their own way.
“The worst thing possible would [be to] have any legislation that entitles people to the right to work from home,” he said, speaking at the City Week conference on Monday. “They should have the right to request it. But every employer should make that decision about the mix of working from home [and the office],” he said.
Downing Street confirmed last week that the government was considering legislation that would make working from home the “default” option by giving employees the right to request it.
The CBI head said it would be harder to train new recruits within a workforce that was working remotely, echoing concerns raised by major banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which have taken the most hardline stance on demanding that staff return to the office. He also said cafes and restaurants would suffer unless staff got back to city centres.
“There’s so many benefits from being in the office, particularly for young people, particularly for new starters: the mentoring, what you learn, the innovation, the creativity, the buzz,” Bilimoria said. “All [of] that takes place when you’re face-to-face in an office environment, let alone everyone else that benefits from being surrounded by an office – both the restaurants and all the other businesses that rely on an office economy.”
Bruce Carnegie-Brown, the chairman of the insurance market Lloyd’s of London, also speaking at the event, agreed with Bilimoria, saying legislation would be “inappropriate” and that different sectors should be allowed to adapt as they saw fit.
He also raised concerns of a two-tier workforce, where people who worked from home could feel excluded if their office-based colleagues ended up getting more face-to-face time with bosses. “It will take different kinds of management skills to be inclusive of people who are working remotely to the same extent as you can be in the office. This is something that needs to develop over time,” Carnegie Brown added.
Deutsche Bank is hoping that investment banking graduates will take advantage of looser Covid restrictions by coming into the office five days a week, despite planning for a future of hybrid working. TiinaLee, the chief executive of Deutsche Bank UK and Ireland, told Business Insider that grads and interns “should want to spend as much time in the office as they possibly can” as they kick off their careers, even if it is not mandatory.
Anne Richards, the chief executive of the asset manager Fidelity International, told theevent employers needed to start thinking about the office as a hub for brainstorming, collaboration and training.
“You don’t necessarily have to be in the office five days a week, 300-odd days a year in order to do that. So I think the point that we’re making is to try and find the right balance,” she said, adding that flexible employers who treated staff like grownups could end up having a “competitive advantage” in the job market.