The drive to get workers back to the office could be derailed by the lorry driver shortage and rising energy prices, Cabinet sources fear.
The Telegraph understands that senior civil servants are concerned about the “resilience” of their teams this winter if they are forced to return to the office when there are fuel or food shortages on top of what is likely to be a difficult flu season.
A Cabinet source added that businesses may allow staff to continue working from home if it means avoiding having to heat offices or worrying about travel disruption or food.
“Depending on how bad it gets, we could have the key workers only scenario again,” the source said, adding that in the last week management within the civil service had “clocked” the potential problems lorry driver and food shortages would continue to cause and “will not be forcing their teams to come into the office”.
They added that, as a result, it was unlikely civil servants would return to the office before January.
It comes after Boris Johnson used his speech at the Conservative Party conference last week to urge people doing jobs from home to return to their pre-pandemic employment habits.
He said: “We know that a productive workforce needs that spur that only comes with face-to-face meetings and water cooler gossip. If young people are to learn on the job, in the way that they always have and must, we will and must see people back in the office.”
Last week, Oliver Dowden, the Tory party chairman, also urged civil servants to get off their Peloton exercise bicycles and return to their offices. He said the Government ought to “lead by example” as he urged civil servants to “get back to their desks”.
However, a leading government scientist also appeared to deviate from the office return message. Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, urged the public not to grin and bear illness this winter but instead stay away from the office if they are feeling unwell.
She told Times Radio: “I think, particularly as we approach the flu season for example, whereas people traditionally in the UK have sort of grinned and borne their infectious disease and then gone into work and spread it around, I’m hoping that as we go through winter people, when they are symptomatic, will generally recognise that and stay away and be supported to do so.”
On the wider point of working from home, Dr Harries said: "If everybody returned immediately to work without due consideration, then I think it’s likely we would see more cases over a short period of time, depending on whether they were wearing face coverings, whether they were taking appropriate precautions.”
However, a health source insisted his was not a different message to the Government’s.
The Cabinet Office source warned that “a lot of people” within Government were not “clocking the potential dangers” of the workforce returning en masse amid the lorry driver shortage and rise in energy bills.
They added that as a result civil servants were “extremely concerned about the cost of their own living and expensive commute into London and a very difficult, stressful period for them coming up”.