Two of the world’s top private equity firms have introduced coronavirus testing for staff and are paying for taxis to the office, as employees return to their desks after months of remote working. 

The measures come as governments push for workers to return to offices to boost struggling city centre businesses and highlight the challenges new ways of working present to an industry that relies on relationships and face-to-face contact. Industry leader Blackstone, with $564bn under management, has said it will pay for employees worldwide to commute by taxi.

It also requires staff to test negative for Covid-19 before returning to its New York headquarters. Testing will be voluntary at its smaller London office but all employees must register on an app that they have no symptoms before any return.

Advent International, the US-based firm that last year raised a $17.5bn fund, is providing home testing kits for UK staff every fortnight and has told them they will not be allowed into the London offices unless they have tested negative for Covid-19 within the past two weeks.

They must also have avoided public transport during that time. The company will also pay for taxis for people to attend team meetings but not for everyday commuting. It is only allowing flights for business if the trip is deemed “essential”. Returning to the office is optional at both firms.

“You forget how much value there is in seeing people face to face and the small interactions that take place,” said James Brocklebank, co-chair of Advent’s executive committee.

“By having people tested and being strict about public transport, we’re trying to create a safe environment.” At the start of September, 28 of Advent’s roughly 90 staff based in London returned to their desks, said Mr Brocklebank. “The safety of our people is the most important thing,” Blackstone said.

“Attendance remains voluntary and we’ve put in place stringent testing and health protocols. We continue to monitor the situation.”Last month Carlyle, another big private equity group, told employees worldwide to avoid the office if they had been on public transport in the past two weeks as it prepared to reopen its London office. 

Eighty-six UK businesses are using Bupa to test employees that are returning to the office, said Sarah Melia, managing director of Bupa Health Clinics. “Demand from businesses has risen sharply over the past few weeks, as more and more people start to consider their return-to-work strategies,” she said. 

Half of UK workers returned to their workplace in the last week of August, the highest number since lockdown began in March, according to the Office for National Statistics. More are expected to return this week as school summer holidays end.

The Sunday Times reported this weekend that 20,000 employees of media group Bloomberg will be able to claim up to $75 a day against the cost of returning to their desks.

Source: Financial Times

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