More Gloucestershire residents are heading back to the workplace, new figures from Google suggest.
It comes as the Government announces it will pay two thirds of the wages of staff in businesses that are forced to close under new coronavirus restrictions.
Google uses location data from phones and other personal devices to track trends in people’s movement in different areas of their daily lives, including where they work.
The most recent report shows activity in workplaces in Gloucestershire in the working week to October 2 was 30 per cent lower than during a five-week baseline period at the start of the year.
But this was a slight rise on the five days to September 25, when activity was 32 per cent below pre-lockdown levels, and the week to September 18 (33 per cent below).
Activity in workplaces across the UK was 33 per cent below normal in the most recent week’s data – the closest it has been to normal since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a strict lockdown on March 23.
As the number of Covid-19 cases fell towards the end of the summer, the PM launched a push to get people back to the office.
But as a second wave of the virus emerged within just a few weeks, Mr Johnson was again urging Britons to “work from home if they can” – bringing England back into line with the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have all advised people to work from home wherever possible.
The Institute of Directors said this recommendation, combined with the rise in infections, will naturally deter many from coming back to the office.
Tej Parikh, the organisation’s chief economist, said: “Due to the uncertainty around the virus, a number of companies have made blanket decisions to put off returning for the time being.
“While the pandemic has seen businesses from across the spectrum shift to home-working, the office still has its charms.
“It can help foster team-spirit, provide more informal development opportunities, and can simply be a better working environment for many.
“As a result, some companies have invested significantly in ensuring their workplaces are Covid-safe.”
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Firms will continue to rely on discussions with their employees to decide how and when to return to workplaces safely.
“Government guidance on day-to-day working must be crystal-clear in order to support business and consumer confidence at a delicate moment for the economy.
“Business communities need consistent communication, and strong forward guidance so they can plan effectively and keep trading.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed that firms whose premises are legally required to close because of restrictions will receive grants to pay the wages of staff who cannot work, with the Government paying two thirds of each employee’s salary (67 per cent) up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.
He said the expansion of the Jobs Support Scheme would protect jobs and provide “reassurance and a safety net” for people and businesses across the UK in advance of a potentially “difficult winter”.
In contrast to the rise of activity in workplaces, the Google figures showed Gloucestershire residents were visiting shops less.
Footfall in retail and recreation was 20 per cent below usual levels in the week ending October 4 – compared to 13 per cent below for the seven days before.
Across the UK, activity in shops in the most recent week of data was 26 per cent below normal, which was the furthest from pre-lockdown levels in two months.