Wednesday 4 August 2021 7:00 am

The Office: Time for Government to offer certainty and direction

Ruth Duston OBE is MD of Primera Corporation

Life has changed immeasurably over the past eighteen months, and the world of work is no different.

Many office workers have now been working from home for over a year and habits have changed. Is hybrid working the future? There are certainly plenty of advocates suggesting that sofas, laptops and 8:59 alarm clocks are the way forward, at least a few days a week.

But the office is far from dead.

Recent polling we conducted suggested that the office was important for Londoners before the pandemic and equal amounts see the role remaining that way after the pandemic, suggesting that attitudes towards offices haven’t changed hugely.

Further, when asked what the key benefits of the office were, 42% chose collaboration, 41% said meeting clients in-person and 38% saw managing relationships with colleagues as a key benefit. These are all things that are not possible working from home, and show that despite the success that we have seen with home working during the pandemic, office workers are missing some of the key opportunities provided by working in a space with colleagues.

The challenge for businesses, and the wider London ‘eco-system’ is understanding what hybrid working actually means, and then ensure that it works for both the employer and the employee and the network of cafes, restaurants, shops, etc that exist to support office workers.

Read more: The return of the West End: rebuilding a delicate ecosystem of workers and culture

Lessons from abroad

At Primera we have been looking at this, commissioning polling and research and talking to businesses across London – we want to understand what the new landscape is likely to look like, not simply hope things go back to the way things were pre-COVID.

Our recent research with Arup showed that the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday office-based week has already become a strong pattern in Australian post lockdown, with a focus on collaboration and meetings on those days.  We are seeing a shift towards a similar pattern here – landlords I am speaking to are reporting tenant requests for larger, more flexible space. This is about responding in a timely way to changes required, and London pulling together to adapt to the new landscape we are facing.

As businesses we need to help the city pivot towards these new demands. The changes could present more opportunities for domestic leisure visits, potential to attract more families, enable us to better connect office workers to culture and hospitality on the days they are in the city. Ultimately, we should aim to create a more connected, inclusive and welcoming city…perhaps a more productive one too.

It is vital that we work together to support the recovery of our capital city. We need a renewed conversation between business and government on issues ranging from business rates and employee rights to equal opportunities and the national importance of London’s recovery.

This past year has sped up underlying changes we were seeing in the economy, certainly in retail and office work patterns, so we would like to see an open dialogue between Government and business. Now, more than ever, Government policy must ensure support for businesses beyond this summer and provide direction and more certainty to allow us to recover.

Despite there still being many challenges to overcome, there remain significant opportunities for London – together, we can emerge stronger and create a more resilient city for us all to enjoy.

Read more: Rishi Sunak: For young people, working from home is no substitute for office