Capita boss credits remote working for low Covid-related absences

The boss of Capita, one of the UK’s largest employers, has credited its policy of allowing staff to continue to work from home for its low levels of absences because of Covid self-isolation alerts.

Jon Lewis, the chief executive of the outsourcing firm, said on Friday that a large number of his staff want to continue working from home, either permanently or part-time, in the future.

The vast majority of Capita’s 43,000 UK employees are still working from home, despite the removal of nearly all restrictions on gatherings in England and the dropping of the government’s guidance to work from home where possible.

Many companies in sectors across the economy complained of staffing shortages as coronavirus cases rose because the NHS’s contact tracing app was pinging large numbers of people with self-isolation requests following contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus. Hospitality, transport and retail companies were particularly hard hit because of workers’ daily contact with the public.

However, fewer than 1% of Capita’s workers were self-isolating when app isolation notifications were highest, Lewis told PA Media.

“That, in some ways, was surprising,” Lewis said. “I will say we have taken an extraordinarily cautious approach to how we operate the business through the pandemic: 40,000 of our colleagues today continue to work from home, we have very measured and appropriate guidelines in place and a very measured approach to returning to the office.

“I like to think that helped mitigate a good many of our colleagues being pinged, and therefore, the business impact has been minimal.”

He added: “That doesn’t stop them getting pinged from social activity. But when you think about the amount of time people spend travelling to work and in work … it has to be a significant reduction in their propensity to be exposed.”

Capita runs a wide variety of services, ranging from collecting TV licensing payments to managing London’s congestion charge zone. It is one of the UK government’s favourite contractors, and recently won a major contract to train people in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.

The company reported profits before tax of £261m in the first six months of 2021, after it lost £29m during the equivalent period in 2020. Adjusted profits, which do not take into account the proceeds from one-off sales of subsidiaries, were £45m.

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