A permanent reduction to the number of staff working in offices in the wake of the pandemic could help the Government solve the housing crisis, Robert Jenrick has said.

The Housing Secretary insisted on Tuesday that businesses now had the backing of a “strong government message” when it comes to encouraging their staff back to the workplace.

His intervention came after Boris Johnson announced this week that the state guidance to “work from home” would be lifted at Step 4 of his roadmap out of lockdown, pencilled in for July 19.

While it paves the way for employers to instruct staff to prepare to return to the office, Mr Jenrick insisted that benefits could result if some people continued to work remotely and free up office space.

“It will help us to do office-to-residential conversion, and meet our housing objectives on brownfield sites,” he said.

“It will also help us with levelling up because people being able to work remotely will make it more viable for people to live in more rural communities in smaller towns and commute less regularly than they used to do.”

Doubt has been cast over the Government’s ability to meet its flagship target to build 300,000 new homes a year.

However, Mr Jenrick acknowledged that the work-from-home guidance had been tough for England’s towns and city centres because of a lack of footfall from the usual office workers and commuters.

Speaking to the Local Government Association virtual annual conference, he was quizzed over ways that councils could encourage firms to bring back their staff to offices in an effort to support high streets.

The Housing Secretary said: “We have given quite clear signals to businesses now that they can encourage their workforce to return to the office if they wish to do so.

“It will be a judgment for those businesses, we are not going to demand that they do so. Businesses will come to different conclusions.”

He added: “I’m sure the work-life balance will change at least in part as a result of the experience of the last 15 months.

“But we do appreciate that the lack of office workers has had a profound impact on some of our towns and city centres and it would be better for some places in particular if we could now encourage those people to go back.

“So businesses have the support of a strong government message now if they want to encourage their staff to return to the office.”

It came after the Prime Minister said on Monday that from Step 4, “it will no longer be necessary for government to instruct people to work from home so employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace”.

However, businesses and unions have called for greater clarity on rules to ensure employees feel confident returning to their workplaces.