October 3, 2023

Office work should be the “default” for employees, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt told business leaders on Wednesday, saying logging in from home could stifle creativity.

He told a British Chamber of Commerce conference that he thought firms were paying attention to the transition to working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His comments came after Elon Musk said that working from home is not only unhealthy for productivity, but also “morally wrong.”

The Tesla and Twitter billionaire discussed the need to return to the office, which has raised serious concerns among Silicon Valley tech workers.

CEOs at many US firms such as Amazon and Salesforce have demanded employees return to the office amid investor concerns about productivity.

Musk called tech workers “laptop classes living in la la land.” told CNBC in an interview that it was hypocritical to work from home expecting service workers to continue to commute and show up in person.

“People should get off this damn moral high horse with bulls working from home ***,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of performance. I think it’s morally wrong.”

However, a tight job market means firms are struggling to enforce back-to-the-office policies.

Comprehensive post-COVID study by management consultants McKinsey showed that workplace flexibility is now the number one reason employees accept new jobs. When choosing a job with the same pay or benefits, the ability to work flexible hours can be a deciding factor, he says.

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Mr Hunt said workers would return to offices unless they had “a good reason not to.”

“I think business should find its own way,” he said. Work-at-home technologies have helped with the care of children and people with disabilities.

But he added: “On the other hand, there’s nothing better than sitting at a table, seeing people face to face, developing team spirit – and I’m worried about the loss of creativity when people are constantly working from home and don’t have those cooler moments when they exchange ideas with each other. Not every great business idea comes from a structured formal meeting.”

He said businesses are now encouraging employees to come, adding: “I think the default will be ‘you work in the office unless there’s a good reason not to be in the office,’ and we’re gradually getting closer to that.”

A recent survey of 500 London workers with offices in central London, conducted by Bloomberg Intelligencefound that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) would quit their jobs if they were no longer able to work from home for some part of the week, and only a significant pay increase would change their minds.