The time draws nigh! Sometime soon Britain’s office workers will start to trickle back to their desks. But things will be far from the way they were.

Data published in The FT claimed that UK and US office workers are the most reluctant to go back in. Apparently only a third of British office workers have returned, so far. That’s compared to 83% of the French.

But for every week the British stay put at their kitchen tables the economy in our Central Business Districts (CBDs) take another step towards the point of no return. The wine bars, restaurants, sandwich shops, shoe repairers and key cutters who have ploughed the land of plenty by the shadows of city skyscrapers since the first tap of the typewriter are all now facing obliteration.

Around 20% of the UK’s corporates are preparing to return in September. But some in financial services won’t ask their teams to go back till the New Year. The best guess at the moment is that the new pattern may be to commute for two or three days but stay home the rest of the time. But there are a variety of approaches. There is no consensus

What is the optimum and most productive blend?

There are two major implications of this seismic shift. First, businesses need to evaluate what is the best blend between home and office. They must consider what is lost without social interaction, brainstorming, and the creative spark and trust which is generated by being in the same room as your colleagues.

The second major implication is that this may sound the death knell for the Central Business District. A survey for People Management suggest more than a half of corporates intends to drastically reduce their office space. The future may be a dispersed portfolio of “drop in” hubs closer to where employees and customers live. The upside is that this will end the drudgery and stress of the commute. But the way this develops in the coming months has major implications for our city centres.

Does it mean that we see swathes of office space lying empty or being repurposed as residential in the hearts of cities?

There are many other unknown unknowns about these seismic shifts in working lives – perhaps the biggest development since the invention of the PC. How do we manage these remote and blended teams which maintaining or improving levels of productivity. What does it mean for networking – the sales pipeline of consultancy and professional services? That includes the frowned upon or much-loved ritual of the business lunch.

A former colleague of mine used to mark in his diary one day every few weeks the acronym PBL. It stood for “Proper Business Lunch” an indication to his PA and to other colleagues in the know not to expect a return to the business environment until the following morning.

Has Covid claimed two other victims – the CBD and the PBL? Only time will tell.

Author: Atholl Duncan | Chairman | Black Isle Group

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