Working from home is set to remain in place in the UK after a minister said the Government did not have any intention to make it compulsory to return to the office.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse said there will be a consultation on more flexible working going forward, adding: "This is a situation for employers and employees to discuss and negotiate themselves.
"I know there has been some media about this over the last two or three days, we don’t have any intention to make it compulsory to return to the office.
"Our manifesto at the last election did contain a pledge to consult on more flexible working to allow people to work from home should they wish to, and we will be doing that later on this year."
Business leaders believe hybrid working will remain after the pandemic and one employment expert said that Government intervention was not needed, as firms decide what will work best for them and their staff when the lockdown finally ends.
Unions warned this risked a two-tier workforce, divided between those who can work from home being given flexibility, and those who cannot being given none.
One plan being considered by ministers is a default right to work from home which could become enshrined in law.
This comes despite ministers working on a separate cities recovery strategy that hopes to boost the attractiveness of urban environments for office workers and other groups, The Telegraph has learnt.
Cheaper parking and more outdoor dining in cities could be used to encourage people back to work later this year as the Government leans against ordering a return to the office.
The Conservative 2019 manifesto before the pandemic promised to legislate for flexible working, while ministers today talked about a "balanced return to work".
Kate Shoesmith, deputy chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: "Businesses and workers across the UK have proven that long-term remote working is possible and beneficial for some of us.
"It’s right that employees should have the right to request flexible working arrangements. However, remote working won’t be the best policy for everyone. Individual employers should think seriously about what is best for their business and consult with their employees before deciding their stance on remote or flexible working. This is a business conversation with their people, it does not need intervention from Government."
Joe Fitzsimons, senior policy adviser at the Institute of Directors, said many business leaders were taking a hybrid stance into the future following a year of mixed experiences with remote working.
He added: "Our research suggests that 63% of businesses intend to shift towards between one and four days of remote working per week.
"Ultimately different organisations have different needs, and they will be uniquely placed to work with their staff to find the best solution."
Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: "There is a real risk that we end up with a two-tier workforce, further divided between those who can work from home being given flexibility, and those who can’t being given none."
A spokesman for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: "The pandemic has clearly changed the pattern of work in this country, but lots of central London’s brilliant businesses depend on footfall that comes from office workers – whether our dry cleaners, cafes, shops or bars.
"Many employers are exploring a hybrid model of working whereby most staff split their time between remote and office working, and the mayor recognises there are benefits to people’s work-life balance of not being in the office every day Monday to Friday.
"But as we emerge from lockdown, seeing more people safely return to offices and workplaces will be an important part of our economic recovery."
Working from home could create new class divide
Increased homeworking could create a new class divide as people who cannot work from home have little access to flexible working, unions are warning.
The TUC said nine out of 10 people who worked from home during the pandemic want to continue doing their job remotely at least some of the time.
There is also strong demand for other forms of flexible working such as control over working hours, it was suggested.
A survey of more than 2,000 workers by the TUC found people in higher-paid occupations are more likely to have worked from home during the pandemic than those in working-class jobs.
Those who cannot work from home are significantly more likely to be denied flexible working options by employers after the pandemic, it was warned.
The TUC says ministers should bring in the right to flexible working for every employee, regardless of where they work or what job they do, and that every job should be advertised with flexible working options.
The call came amid growing evidence from business groups and unions that hybrid and flexible working arrangements will continue after the lockdown ends next month.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: "Working people adapted brilliantly to the challenges of the pandemic.
"Lots of people worked from home while others went out to work every day.
"As the UK gets back to normal, lots of workers will want to keep the flexibility of working from home, but no-one, whether they can work from home or not, should miss out on flexible working options that help them do their job and manage their other responsibilities too.
"The Government must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job. Otherwise people in working-class jobs will miss out while those who can work from home get the benefits of flexible working.
"This emerging class divide in access to flexible working is no way to thank those workers who carried on doing their job in workplaces throughout the pandemic.
"Ministers should seize the moment and make Britain a world leader in flexible working rights."
Rees-Mogg: Employers need to facilitate workers’ desire to return to office
Employers "should facilitate" workers’ wishes to return to work amid the pandemic, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.
Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs "the guidance is clear that if people need to go into work, they are allowed to go into work".
He added: "If employers think that they need their employees to come into work they’re entitled to ask them to come into work."
His comments came as Conservative MP William Wragg (Hazel Grove) called during Business Questions for a debate on working from home.
He said: "It’s been reported that a consultation will soon be launched, but what is being done to support those who wish to return to their place of work, but are prevented from doing so by their employers?
"Loneliness and isolation has become endemic during this pandemic and people’s experiences of working from home has been very different.
"We must have a balanced debate without relying on assumptions, not least because of the implications for our public transport system and the prosperity of our towns and cities."
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: "Even within the civil service, managers are advised to accommodate requests to work in the office where homeworking is not suitable for wellbeing reasons.
"It’s really important that we get back to normal, we want to have vibrant towns and cities, we want people coming back into work, we want commuting systems, trains, buses and so on that are financially viable, and that means people coming back to work.
"So as soon as we get back to normal the better, but in the meantime anyone who wants to go into work should have a conversation with his or her employer and say I want to come back into work, and employers should facilitate that."