UK behind Europe on return to the office as Brits choose to work from home

The government's guidance to work from home was lifted in January, but new figures show journeys to workplaces are 23% lower compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Working from home is more popular in Britain than in continental Europe, new figures suggest.

The government's guidance to work from home was lifted in January, but the figures from Google's mobility report show journeys to workplaces were 23% lower last Thursday (May 12) compared to pre-pandemic levels, indicative of a 'new normal' for British workers.

This is more than double the percentage drop in European countries such as Germany, France and Italy, according to the same figures.

How the number of journeys to places of work compares to pre-pandemic levels

Travel to workplaces in the UK is not back at pre-pandemic levels. Credit: Google mobility report

It comes after Boris Johnson issued a renewed call for workers to return to their offices in an interview with the Daily Mail, saying staff were “more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas,” when they are in the workplace alongside their colleagues.

“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,” the Prime Minister told the newspaper.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has also pushed for a return to the office.

The minister for government efficiency has been criticised for leaving notes in “deserted” Whitehall workspaces with a message to civil servants working from home: "Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”

The United States and Canada have seen similar declines to the UK, with journeys to workplaces 20% lower than in February 2020, the Google figures show, whereas Germany and France saw an eight and 11% drop respectively.

The UK's work from home trend is particularly acute in London. Journeys to places of work in the capital city were more than 30% lower than they were pre-Covid, the figures show.

A survey of 33,000 people by WFH Research found the UK had the highest share of employees who said they would quit their job or look for a work from home job if they were forced to return to the workplace full time.

The survey also showed British workers believed working from home had increased their efficiency more than people in European countries.

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Bupa has said it may take the UK years to recover from the health impact of the pandemic, including the impact of working from home more often.

Research by the healthcare insurance company found that among those working from home more frequently, one in five (19%) are exercising less often, driven by the removal of the daily commute.

It also showed that physical (29%) and mental (34%) health of UK adults declined during the pandemic, exacerbated by lockdowns and the impact of increased remote working.

Meanwhile, some countries actually saw an increase in journeys to the office.

Poland has seen an 11% rise, the figures suggest, while Slovenia saw a more modest 2% increase.

However, Google notes comparing the figures across countries could be misleading due to local differences in categories.