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London businesses embrace flexible working as office returns get underway

·3-min read
Many London firms are returning to offices in September  (AFP via Getty Images)
Many London firms are returning to offices in September (AFP via Getty Images)

The fashion, property and telecoms sectors on Monday spoke of embracing hybrid working this autumn, as the back-to-office move gets underway.

Scores of employers are expected to have more staff back in headquarters this week, even if for only part of the time, to coincide with school summer holidays ending and more employees being double jabbed. Some companies have had teams working from home since March 2020 when the first lockdown began.

Property agent CBRE’s Richard Smart said: “Occupancy is currently around 10% in the City and 20% in the West End. This is up from a low base point which was exacerbated by the summer holiday period where typically occupancy levels fall.”

He added: “Our work with occupiers and landlords suggests that most businesses are implementing a staggered return to office approach and we anticipate more normal occupancy levels to resume over the coming months.”

Property giant British Land’s executive Simon Carter said the company has and will offer flexible working. He added: “What the last 18 months have shown us is that while people can work flexibly, the workplace plays a vital role in supporting learning, fostering culture and encouraging collaboration and social interaction.”

BT, which employs around 6000 people in central London, is expecting a gradual return to the office from this month with a ‘smart working’ approach, where teams decide how best to spend their time between home and the office.

Alison Wilcox, BT’s Group HR director: “Our offices will be the place our graduates and apprentices learn from more experienced colleagues and where new joiners will learn the ropes, meet new teammates and bring fresh thinking to drive growth in our business; they will continue to make a significant contribution to their surrounding micro and local economies; and above all, they will be the place where our teams come together to foster collaboration and creativity that will deliver for our customers.”

Kenny Wilson, the boss of boot maker Dr Martens which is based in Camden, said: “Our offices are a vital piece in maintaining our unique culture, and to bring people together to create brilliant work, and they are here to stay. But so is a blended approach to home working, and as a forward-thinking employer, we recognise this and have asked our colleagues to come into the office for a proportion of their normal working week. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Fredrik Widlund at landlord CLS Holdings, said: “As the summer ends, our tenants have seen steady uptake in office occupancy. We expect this to continue to increase in the coming weeks as companies put formal plans in place for the cadence of attendance at the office. It will take some time to have a clear view as to where occupancy will stabilise but we are encouraged by the numbers we have seen return already.”

Gerald Kaye at London landlord Helical observed last week was marginally busier than the prior one.

Kaye said: “We are certainly hearing more companies saying they are returning to the office and we believe the momentum will build quickly once a critical mass are back.”

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