What have you missed the most? Your favourite lunchtime spot, taking in world class architecture on the morning commute or, perhaps, simply talking to colleagues in person rather than over a screen?
For many City workers, it felt like the start of a new school term as they returned to Square Mile – in some cases for the first time since lockdown in March last year.
The sound of laughter, conversation and excitement echoed around the Square Mile’s buzzing streets as people flocked back. Offices are coming back to life and the wider City ecosystem – including shops, bars and restaurants – are benefitting from the increased footfall after many difficult months of trading.
Significantly, the capital’s Tube network recorded its busiest rush hour morning since March 2020 last week in a welcome sign of increased confidence and momentum.
This is a moment that we have been long waiting for and I urge more people to join the return to the City. The virus may not have gone but we are learning to live with it.
Many employees themselves are eager to return to the office for at least part of the week. Of course, we recognise that new flexible ways of working are here to stay and firms have told us that they do not expect a return to the same patterns following the pandemic. While there are clear benefits to working from home, for many businesses and workers, central office hubs still have a crucial role to play – whether it be for staff development, team morale, collaboration and creativity, networking opportunities or much more.
This does not mean we should throw caution to the wind. The pandemic is not over and everyone still as a responsibility to act considerately. Employers have dedicated a lot of resources to deliver safe workplaces and restore confidence among their staff. In the City, there are now more outdoor spaces for pedestrians and cyclists to help people maintain their distance to help facilitate safe transition.
In the City Corporation’s Recovery Taskforce, set out earlier this year, we laid our plans to adapt to post-pandemic economic and social trends in order to remain a world-leading ecosystem that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable. We want to build back better for both the employers and the employees.
Over the centuries the City has continually re-invented itself by responding to the changing needs of workers, residents and visitors. Our plans for a major renewal of the Barbican Centre are a sign of the confidence in the City’s future. Last week, we launched a new design competition for the project to inspire people’s creativity and love for the City.
Culture, hospitality and entertainment will play a vital role in helping pull people back into the City. There are simply some things that you cannot do working from home, and some things that only the Square Mile can offer.