Boris Johnson has made a renewed call for people to return to the office, saying working from home does not work and that when he tried to do so he became distracted by making coffee and eating cheese.
The prime minister said staff were “more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas” when in the workplace with colleagues.
He said: “My experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”
He added: “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office. There will be lots of people who disagree with me, but I believe people are more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas, when they are surrounded by other people.”
In the latest figures released by Transport for London, usage of the London underground at the start of May was still less than 70% of levels seen in January 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced many to work from home.
Businesses in city and town centres were hit hard by the consequent collapse in footfall, which has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels despite the government telling workers they should return to offices more than three months ago, after the peak of a Covid wave caused by the Omicron variant.
“[Returning to the office] will get our city centres moving in the weekdays and it will be good for mass transit. And a lot of businesses that have been having a tough time will benefit from that,” Johnson told the Daily Mail. He is reportedly considering a campaign to try to get over-50s to return to the workplace.
The government has continued to criticise the civil service for staff continuing to work from home. The minister for government efficiency, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told the Telegraph he suspected staff were only working three days a week.
He has previously walked around government departments leaving notes on empty desks, saying: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon. With every good wish, Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.”
Rees-Mogg said staff were working from home on Mondays and Fridays because “they think that the working week is shorter than it really is”.
“One can’t help but be suspicious about the desire to work from home on Monday and Fridays,” he said, adding that he thought staff were working from home when sporting events were taking place or the weather was nicer.
Johnson has also criticised the civil service for what he claimed was a “post-Covid mañana culture”. Ministers have publicly blamed large-scale home working for the backlogs at the Passport Agency and the DVLA, and the Telegraph reported this month that in one government department only 30% of staff on average were at their desks on any given day.
It was reported this week that the prime minister had ordered 91,000 jobs to be cut in a cost-saving exercise, with unions warning they could ballot for strike action over the plans.
Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union representatives will meet government officials early next week.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the union, which represents about 180,000 public sector workers, said: “Our members are in a state of shock. That the first they heard of these cuts was when it was announced in the media tells you all you need to know about what the government thinks of civil servants.
“Our national conference in 10 days will debate taking coordinated strike action. If our members weren’t angry before, they are now, and rightly so.”
He added: “We shall fight for every job in the civil service. Not just on behalf of our members, but on behalf of every member of the public who relies on the services they provide.”