No back-to-office plan for millions of employees

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Media legendTara Tomes, business owner: “We are leaving our office forever”

Fifty of Britain’s largest employers polled by the BBC said they had no plans to fire all of their full-time staff to the office in the near future.

Some 24 companies said they did not have a plan in place to send workers back to the office.

However, 20 opened their offices for staff unable to work from home.

It comes as many employees return to work after the summer vacation, with the reality of an extended period of work from home becoming more and more likely.

The BBC surveyed 50 large employers, from banks to retailers, to find out when they expected to ask employees to return to the office.

One of the main reasons given for the lack of substantial return was that companies saw no way to accommodate large numbers of staff while social distancing regulations were still in place.

Many companies said they offer choice and flexibility to those who want to return, especially in banking and finance.

A few companies have already announced that they have no plans to return to the office until late fall, and Facebook has said it does not plan to return employees until July 2021.

Some small businesses decide to abandon their offices altogether. Tara Tomes runs a PR agency with an office in the heart of Birmingham’s business district.

Her team of eight can’t fit into the space they have if they have to obey social distancing guidelines, and they won’t renew the office lease in September.

“Personally, I don’t want to force my team to take public transport again,” she told the BBC.

“Not having four walls around us will not change the dynamics or the culture of the team. In fact, it will make us more pioneers in the way the world of work evolves.

“Rental costs, utilities, there are a lot of time and money benefits of leaving the office. “

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Birmingham Mayor Andy Street acknowledged that the challenges facing inner city businesses were severe, but said he hoped the climate would gradually improve.

“This is undeniably a very difficult situation for businesses that thrive on the presence of large office occupants. What we are trying to do is gradually build the confidence that it is safe to return to downtown. ”

He said Birmingham’s transport system is currently carrying around 20% of pre-covid numbers, but he hopes that will drop to 50% in the fall.

Nonetheless, that means downtown footfall – which is the lifeblood of businesses that rely on office workers and commuters – would be half of what it normally is at best.

Legend

Naomi says pandemic has been ‘devastating’ for her business


It can be a cold comfort for Naomi and her brother James who opened a new cafe in the heart of Birmingham’s business district earlier this year. They now get less than a fifth of the business they were counting on.

“It has been really devastating,” she told the BBC. “Office workers are absolutely essential to us. We hope things will improve in September, but if they don’t, we’ll have to rethink the whole business. ”

It is, however, too early to announce the death of the office, says Rob Groves of office developer Argent, his company having just completed construction of 120,000 feet of office space in Chamberlain Square in Birmingham.

While admitting that some future tenants were pushing the pause button, he also insisted that it would still be necessary to have a workplace where people could come together and collaborate.

“I would like to challenge people by saying that they will never need an office and ask them in 12-18 months if this was the right decision or just a reaction to what is happening now. “

Legend

Matthew Hammond, President of the Midlands Region for PwC


One of Argent’s premier tenants agrees. Accounting and consulting firm PwC has just moved into the neighboring property. It is supposed to accommodate 2,000 people, but currently only accommodates 150 per day.

But Matthew Hammond, president of the Midlands region for PwC, told the BBC the office is a must-have, especially for young workers.

“We have colleagues who may be working at the end of their beds or on a back unit in their kitchen. It is not sustainable or healthy in the long run. As employers, we invest a lot to provide the right environment, the right seats. , the right technology to keep people as productive as possible. ”

But as in the case of Tara Tomes, not everyone has enough pockets to afford such flexible workspaces. Kam Vara, a recruiting specialist from the Midlands, said many employees now expect working from home to be an option and even consider it a right.

“For many applicants, it is now a deciding factor if there is no option for working from home, and some say they want to work 100% from home without any physical contact with the office. . ”

The ripple effects of these changes on the world of work could be huge and lasting. If people don’t have to be in the office, they can be anywhere. And the cost of suburban subscriptions and expensive suburban housing near major cities is an expense employers could deduct.

However, Birmingham Mayor Andy Street says it would be “very premature” to call the death of the office and that the current change is simply a centuries-old story of urban evolution.

“Cities have reoriented themselves for decades… the coronavirus has just accelerated it. ”

It may be, but the short-term shock to the city’s business model is more like cardiac arrest than a gentle development. And the reluctance of workers and employers to return to the office poses a serious economic threat to the future of city centers.

For more help and advice on returning to work, download the BBC’s Your Work Your Money podcast de BBC Sounds.

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