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Helical predicts disadvantages of WFH will encourage return to London offices

Joanna Bourke
·2-min read
Property developer Helical is creating offices at 33 Charterhouse Street close to Farringdon station (Helical)
Property developer Helical is creating offices at 33 Charterhouse Street close to Farringdon station (Helical)

Office landlord Helical today predicted the disadvantages of working from home will bring people back to London HQs once lockdowns ease.

Chief executive Gerald Kaye made the forecast as Helical revealed it swung into the red in the six months to September as rental income was hit by Covid-19 disruption.

The property developer is among firms to see its buildings under-occupied since scores of people started working from home in March.

The government this week reiterated that workers should continue to do so where possible, and a number of employers have been impressed at how staff have done their jobs remotely.

Helical’s Kaye said: “We believe that the enforced ‘working from home’ experiment in 2020 will result in more flexibility being offered to some office workers going forward.”

He added: “However, we also believe that the disadvantages of working at home with its inadequate ergonomics, lack of divide between work and home life, potential mental health issues caused by isolation from colleagues and, for many, its ever decreasing productivity as collaboration and creativity diminish, will provide the impetus for a return to the office as the place of work.”

The boss told the Standard that the office letting market is “very very quiet” as businesses postpone requirements. He pointed out that “people don’t know what shape their businesses will be in post pandemic”.

But longer term Kaye believes office requirements are still there. He said: “I think London will see a flight to quality as employers seek the best space for their employees.”

The bulk of Helical’s estate is offices in London and Manchester, but it has around 5% let to food and beverage retailers. Hospitality firms were offered rent holiday or reductions to help them ride out the virus crisis.

In total 86.8% of the September quarter rents due have been collected to date.

Helical recorded a first-half pre-tax loss of £12.7 million, compared to a £13.1 million profit a year earlier.

The value of the its property portfolio decreased to £918.2 million from £949.3million as at March, following a number of disposals.

Kaye said: “Whether the Government has struck the right balance between the urgent need for a re-opening of the economy, particularly in London, and the continued protection of the health of the nation is not yet clear. However, the renewed optimism that this crisis will eventually end on the rollout of a number of recently announced and anticipated vaccines and the return to some semblance of normality in 2021 is welcome.”

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