Monday 10 August 2020 6:00 am

Canary Wharf is 'open for business' as firms head back to the office

As City firms prepare their return to the office, the chief executive of Canary Wharf Group has declared the development is open for business. 

Shobi Khan told City A.M. that everything is in place for a return to office life at Canary Wharf, which is home to some of the world’s leading firms. 

Companies had to quickly adjust to remote working when the government imposed lockdown. But there has been a shift in recent weeks as firms lay out a gradual route back to work following calls from the government. 

The Prime Minister changed lockdown advice last week to allow employers to discuss how employees can head back to the office. There is some reluctance to return, with just over a third of UK staff back in the office, compared to three quarters on the continent. 

“Companies can survive when their employees are working at home – but that is largely because they are living off the social capital they have accrued over years whether its cultivated business relationships and/or their people working together in the office,” Khan told City A.M.  “Five months into the pandemic that capital is being rapidly depleted.”

Many senior executives have heralded remote working as the “new normal”, but younger employees have had a tougher time. New research conducted by the London School of Economics and affordable housing developer Pocket Living, young Londoners living in shared properties had on average 9.3 square metres of personal space to themselves during London. 

There are indeed barriers to returning to normal, notably the commute and general health and safety. But Khan assured that the Canary Wharf Group is a “safe, clean and socially distanced environment” to accommodate large numbers of people. He said the property firm had worked closely with its tenants “to develop measures to keep everyone safe.” 

“So everything is in place, and we are very much open for business – for office life to resume, and for companies to bring their people together to interact and rebuild that essential social capital”. 

Canary Wharf may be open to employees but whether its tenants choose to return is another matter. HSBC said its staff will not go back to the office before September and no more than 20 per cent of its employees will return due to social distancing measures. 

US banking giant Morgan Stanley said 90 per cent of its staff are still working remotely. While more are returning it remains a trickle. 

Khan noted that a return to the office would not just benefit employees but local businesses that rely heavily on custom from Canary Wharf. 

“These are the places that people rely on and bring them together, which provide the social and cultural foundation of a city, and make London the vibrant capital that it needs to be again.”