The “default” location for workers should be in the office, Jeremy Hunt suggested as he warned that logging on from home could stifle creativity.
The Chancellor said he believed that the shift to home working during the coronavirus pandemic was being reversed by firms.
Speaking at the British Chambers of Commerce conference in London he suggested workers would return to offices unless they had a “good reason not to”.
“There are some very exciting opportunities created by the fact that we’ve all learned to use Zoom and Teams for meetings.”
He suggested that it helped with childcare – people could dial into meetings while looking after a baby – and it also helped workers with mobility issues.
But, he added: “On the other hand, there is nothing like sitting around the table, seeing people face-to-face, developing team spirit – and I worry about the loss of creativity when people are permanently working from home and not having those water cooler moments where they bounce ideas off each other.
“Not every great business idea happens in a structured, formal meeting.”
He said businesses were now calling for staff to come in, adding: “I think the default will be ‘you work in the office unless there’s a good reason not to be in the office’ and gradually we are getting there.”
Critics argued his approach ignores the potential of remote working to increase productivity for certain employees and warned that reduced flexibility would mark a “huge step backwards”.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: “As the Chancellor said, people with caring responsibilities and mobility challenges have benefitted hugely by the shift to greater homeworking, and it will be helping many people get into and stay in work.
“However, many people will have simply preferred this new way of working as it makes them more productive, has reduced commuting costs and improved work-life balance.”
The lessons from the pandemic allow the Government a chance to “re-write the rules” to allow for greater flexibility of working arrangements, he added, and rolling back on these changes would be a “huge step backwards”.