Lord Mayor of London urges more workers to return to their desks

The new Lord Mayor of London today urged businesses to get more staff back to their desks as it was revealed the City remains half empty and as much as 80 per cent of UK office space is still not being used. 

Big businesses have even started offering ‘goodies’ such as free breakfast and lunch as well as beer and wine at the end of the day to encourage workers to come back after the easing of lockdown restrictions failed to prompt a mass return.

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme said this morning that industry data suggests that just 20 per cent of office space is currently occupied in the UK. And staff surveys from over the summer revealed that fewer than one in five workers had returned to their offices since ‘Freedom Day’ in July.

A recent poll also found that the majority of people now want a ‘hybrid’ of office and working from home with big businesses including NatWest concluding that five days in the office for most staff is over. 

Many of these hybrid working staff have been branded ‘TWaTs’ – because they only commute in Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday – amid claims fewer than one in five workers have returned to their offices despite the vaccination rollout and fewer Covid-19 deaths compared to a year ago.

Vincent Keaveny, who is also a partner at international law firm DLA Piper LLP,  will be installed as the 693rd Lord Mayor of London today, and is urging businesses to keep pushing for workers to come in.

He said: ‘The City is coming back to life. It’s a really important thing for the younger people in our sector to get the training they need, creativity and the collegially that being back in the office together brings.

‘The buzz around the office is fantastic. I think every company is coming at this from a different angle – and we won’t be telling them how to do it – but the pubs, bars and restaurants are really busy now. The City is there and we would love to see more people coming back’.

Lord Mayor of London elect Vincent Keaveny said today that staff who go back to the office will benefit from the ‘buzz’ of being with colleagues

Recent data shows that the City of London remains half as busy as it was before the pandemic and office space out of London is even quieter

Recent data shows that the City of London remains half as busy as it was before the pandemic and office space out of London is even quieter

A study by Orbital Insight, a California-based firm able to monitor movement of people through satellites and mobile phone data, found that the most recent data for London, the City was half full compared to before the pandemic. 

In mid-October the Square Mile was at 51% of February 2020 levels while Canary Wharf, home to HSBC and JP Morgan, was at 59%. Wall Street in New York was slightly higher at 66%.

While traders at many banks are now in five days a week, anecdotally, the majority of of staff are in for no more than two days a week.

In order to ease people in, HSBC rolled out ‘refresher weeks’ for employees returning to the office, to tease people away from working at home.  They still require employees to book a desk in advance for “internal track and trace purposes” and while there is no diktat to return, internally staff are being encouraged to come back in at least one day a week.

As social distancing between desks and in lifts was scrapped, Goldman Sachs said recently that around 50% of its 6,000 London staff were back at its Plumtree Court headquarters.

While JPMorgan, the world’s biggest investment bank, said around 40% of London employees were coming into the office.   

The ability to save money while at home and avoiding packed trains and Tubes are cited as the main reason for staying at home, especially workers with families. 

Research commissioned by the South Westminster Business Alliance last month revealed that half of London office workers would be prepared to work from home less in order to help struggling businesses recover from the pandemic.

Research has shown the continued reluctance of many to get back to the office after well over a year of working from home [Stock image]

Research has shown the continued reluctance of many to get back to the office after well over a year of working from home [Stock image]

Earlier this year KMPG said it was keeping a ‘flexible’ model while a source at Deloitte told MailOnline bosses were welcoming employees back into the office but not prescribing a set number of days. 

Similarly, an employee at Goldman Sachs reported a ‘steady increase’ in people in the office but it is not full.

A senior employee at JP Morgan said staff were being offered ‘goodies’ to coax them to return, telling MailOnline: ‘The message at the moment is they want people working from the office more often than they’re at home.

‘They’ve said they’ll be goodies like breakfast and lunches provided in coming weeks. The feeling is that people value flexibility and will be more likely to seek other opportunities if that’s taken away.’

Fewer than one in five workers returned to their offices after ‘Freedom Day in July.  

But data suggested Britons were keener to venture back into town centres to socialise – though overall footfall still remains half that of pre-pandemic levels.

The research was hailed as more evidence of the reluctance of many to get back to the office after well over a year of working from home.  

Over the summer, an audit of 18 of the UK’s biggest firms at the start of the Autumn, which together employ more than half a million staff, found that half of their office workers are expected to return in September. Only three demanded a return by the end of September.  

The drive to bring Britain back to the office came amid growing frustration among ministers that the Civil Service has failed to take the lead.

Official ‘work from home’ Whitehall guidance was removed on July 19 and businesses have been told that the Government ‘expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer’.

But insiders said Whitehall had only seen a slight increase in staff back at their desks, with the numbers in the office still ‘pretty low’.  

Meanwhile, women who continue to work from home risk hurting their careers, a top female economist has warned.

Catherine Mann, who is on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, said a hybrid form of working could open ‘two tracks’ and widen the gender gap.

A disparity between the number of men and women returning to the workplace is emerging due to difficulties accessing childcare and disruptions to schooling related to Covid, the former Citigroup global chief economist explained. This means more men are returning to offices while women continue working from home or taking a hybrid approach.

‘Virtual platforms are way better than they were even five years ago. But the extemporaneous, spontaneity – those are hard to replicate in a virtual setting,’ she told a Financial News virtual event for women in finance.

‘There is the potential for two tracks. There’s the people who are on the virtual track and people who are on a physical track,’ she said.

‘I do worry that we will see those two tracks develop, and we will pretty much know who’s going to be on which track, unfortunately.’

She added being seen in person is a vital way for women to build their careers and become known in the workplace.

The number of those working from home has decreased since national restrictions began to ease in March and by October only 15 per cent of those surveyed were working solely from home, according to the Office for National Statistics.

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