The UK Begins a Return to Work
As the UK slowly emerges out of the lockdown, businesses are now making plans to reopen their offices – this will be a gradual and phased return over a longer period, to not overwhelm public transport systems. The Government is still urging employees to work from home if they can.
Challenges the UK is facing, particularly in densely populated cities such as London, is the large proportion using public transport to get around. However, the pandemic is expected to lead to a major spike in cycling. That is why it’s important for occupiers and landlords to start preparing for the increased demand for cycling space at the office, as well as changing facilities and storage for gear. While, London has many cyclists, the cycle to work culture is not as strong as in, for example, the Scandinavian countries. I think we will see a real shift, which is very positive for health and the environment.
We might also see an uptick in people driving to work, but centrally located offices are unlikely to have adequate space for parking. More drivers would also not be supporting the green agenda.
In the short term, we are likely to see fewer people in offices to ensure social distancing measures can be met. However, in London many live in small living accommodations not necessarily suitable for homeworking. Many will therefore welcome the return to the office, once it’s safe to return, as the office environment can offer greater opportunity for productivity and concentration.
In the longer term, I think many want to return to the office although the traditional 9-5 may look different. Bringing people and teams together face to face cannot entirely be replaced with technology. The office environment offers an opportunity for collaboration and building relationships. We can learn from and support each other in a way that may not be possible remotely. We have all advanced our tech capabilities during the lockdown and the use of tech as part of the working day is certainly here to stay. BNP Paribas Real Estate UK has seen a major surge in virtual viewings during lockdown, up 93% in London between 10 March and 10 May. Virtual viewings will not replace physical viewings completely but they are there to support the leasing and investment process. Businesses can narrow down their search list to a handful of spaces they take time out to see.
In terms of BNP Paribas Real Estate UK’s return to work plan, our main priority has been, and continues to be, the safety and welfare of our colleagues, our clients and our communities.
Throughout the lockdown we have remained very much ‘open for business’ with all of our people working hard from their homes to support our clients and communities through the crisis.
We are also planning a phased and gradual return to the workplace but adopting a new way of working to maintain social distancing. Many employees will continue to work from home in this first phase. We are taking a conservative, risk-based approach, in accordance with all guidance provided by the UK Governments, Public Health Authorities and BNP Paribas Group, ensuring a safe operating environment, for all.