Thursday 23 July 2020 4:08 am

DEBATE: Will long-term remote working jeopardise London’s status as a global financial centre?

Giles Fuchs is co-founder and chief executive at Office Space in Town
and Fraser Thorne
Fraser Thorne is chief executive and founder of Edison Group

Will long-term remote working jeopardise London’s status as a global financial centre?

Giles Fuchs, chief executive of Office Space in Town, says YES.

An enduring shift towards remote working and away from the office in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic would spell disaster for London’s status as a global financial hub. 

Home to 1.1m businesses and a host of global HQs, London has established itself as a top destination for organisations seeking a stable corporate environment and, importantly, access to a skilled workforce. If remote workers withdraw from the capital, businesses may begin to question the value of their London footprint.  

Furthermore, while technology from Slack to Zoom has supported communication and collaboration during lockdown, a permanent reliance on these tools would undoubtedly stifle the innovation and cross-fertilisation of ideas for which London is renowned.

Though millions British businesses have adapted to remote working, some have felt productivity suffer. In fact, the latest Office for National Statistics figures indicate that output per worker fell 3.1 per cent year on year in the first quarter of 2020, with worrying implications for what would follow if remote working were to be permanently adopted.  

In this light, Boris Johnson’s encouragement for workers to consider a return to the office should be welcomed — and acted upon. If not, we risk London losing its hard-earned status as a global centre.

Fraser Thorne, chief executive and founder of Edison Group, says NO.

Until Covid-19, working away from a central office in the finance and capital markets industry was often mocked as “shirking” from home. You would be expected to be in the centre of the trading environment and being “seen” was an important part. The infrastructure required to support remote communications was the preserve of the biggest companies.  

Covid-19 and the technological shift it sparked have shown this is no longer the case. First there was Skype, but the rapid boom of platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams since the start of lockdown have transformed the ease of communications, not just with home working but between offices too. 

Far from being jeopardised by such a change, London is set to benefit. Its fundamentals haven’t altered: our capital has a long history as a business centre, that has endured countless paradigm shifts and crises of various types. It still boasts the world-renowned legal system, a robust regulatory environment, and a spirit of innovation that has long defined its appeal. 

Remote working will not threaten this. It will simply enable more people further afield to contribute to our city’s ecosystem. London will always be a city that people will travel, with business and culture alike forming the core of its economy.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.