Outsourcing firm Capita will shut down more than a third of its UK offices permanently, according to the BBC.
The company, which is a major government contractor, will end its leases on nearly 100 workplaces.
Business lobby group CBI has warned that declining office work is damaging downtown economies.
It comes as the government prepares to launch an advertising campaign encouraging more people to return to the workplace.
The BBC understands that Capita has been considering various measures for some time to help it simplify its operations, such as moving to more flexible work, supported by its employees.
So far, Capita has decided not to renew the leases for 25 offices.
A spokesperson for Capita said: “We take seriously the responsibilities we have to the communities in which we operate and are aware of the impact that potential office closures could have on small businesses.
“Capita’s 45,000 employees work from offices across cities across the UK – we are committed to ensuring that this continues both now and for the long term.
Increased flexible work
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which represents HR professionals, there was a taboo around flexible working before the pandemic – but seeing how employees worked from home during the coronavirus lockdown has opened eyes to many employers.
“This is the greatest experience we’ve ever had working from home,” CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese told the BBC in an interview in July. “Bosses are starting to focus on evaluating production, rather than the number of hours spent in front of the computer. ”
A recent BBC study found that 50 large UK employers did not intend to fire all staff in the office full time.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson is keen to reassure the public that more people can return to their workplaces safely, the CIPD is more wary of ensuring that employees do not feel pressured to do so .
The CIPD wants employers to consider:
- Is the return to work essential?
- Is it safe enough to do this?
- Does this agree with the worker?
“Working from home has proven to be a great success for many people and organizations. Recent CIPD research has found that a majority of employers believe homeworkers are either as productive as other workers or more productive, ”said Mr. Cheese.
“However, it is important that all employers take steps to support the mental health of their employees and address any concerns they may have while working from home. ”
The CIPD says managers should check in regularly with their staff, discuss their well-being and, where possible, ensure that decisions about working from home or returning to work “are based on choices and individual preferences ”.
But the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned this week that the thousands of local businesses that depend on the transient trade of office workers are suffering.
Downtowns could become “ghost towns” if employees do not return to work, noted CBI boss Dame Carolyn Fairbairn.
Both CBI and CIPD support the use of effective testing and tracing systems.
Change business processes
However, a growing number of employers say working from home – which was initially introduced as a temporary foreclosure measure – could become a more permanent situation.
Law firm Linklaters said this week that all of its 5,300 employees could now spend up to 50% of their time working remotely.
Lloyds Banking Group is reviewing its office needs and working practices after concluding that most of its 65,000 employees worked efficiently from home during the crisis.
Others, including NatWest, Fujitsu, Facebook, Twitter and HSBC, have also said they plan to allow much more flexible working in the future.
Experts say it could allow businesses to lower rents and lower utility costs, while providing employees with a better work-life balance.
However, the CIPD does not believe that masses of white-collar workers will end up working from home permanently to cut costs.
Instead, he believes office spaces will become places where only a few staff are based, or employees work in the office at different times and days on a rotational basis, and that office space will be used more for face-to-face meetings. .