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No full-time return for most London office staff, firms warn

·3 min read
Workers on London Bridge
Workers on London Bridge

London is braced for a long-term blow from Covid as offices prepare to make home-working permanent.

More than three-quarters of office-based businesses expect their staff to spend at least one day a week working from home after the pandemic, according to a survey by the London Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), with almost one in five predicting no return to the office at all.

Among the businesses that can operate remotely, just 9pc said they expected all staff to return to the office full time.

Richard Burge, the LCCI’s chief executive, said: “The pandemic will deliver a remote working legacy in London. Eventual lifting of the work-from-home guidance will of course increase commuter footfall in the centre, but seemingly many businesses have already made decisions regarding their premises and ways of working once restrictions are lifted,” he said.

“As such this isn’t just about the Government guidance, it’s about what business has judged best for the bottom line or productivity of their company.”

Workers also want to work from home, according to a study from Linkedin.

It found almost half of employees want hybrid working, split between home and the office, in future, while 38pc want to work remotely for good and just 12pc want a full-time return to the office.

Most said their employers are shifting to a new model of hybrid work, though 16pc said their boss expected them to return to old working patterns.

It means companies serving commuters face permanently lower footfall.

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said “there will be casualties” among city centre businesses.

“It is going to be horrible, it means a loss of what were perfectly good businesses prior to the pandemic,” he said.

He added that changing working practices have been beneficial for some companies in the suburbs and towns, as home workers visit local shops more frequently.

“People are spending more time where they live, and therefore have more opportunities to shop locally, which has been better for independents,” he said, calling the shift “a double-edged sword” as “those in travel hubs and city centres are seeing a dramatic hit”.

Even city centre businesses classed as essential have struggled with the lack of customers, he said, sometimes making it harder to get support.

Retail footfall fell 3.1pc last week from the week before, according to data from Springboard, with bad weather and the delay to full reopening both dampening activity.

Overall footfall is still down 22.8pc compared with the same week of 2019, with high streets down just over 30pc and shopping centres faring almost as badly, though retail parks, which have more space, are effectively back at normal visitor levels.

Cities are faring worst, with footfall in central London still down below half its usual pre-Covid levels, and regional cities down around 40pc on 2019’s numbers.

Do you work in the capital? Do you expect to return to the office full-time? Tell us in the comments section below