Work from Home Gets Entrenched: Embraced by Workers & Businesses in the UK, it’s Upending Real Estate, Retail, Restaurants, Bars, Cafés

“The contract between society and business has changed forever. The office will become a convening place where you get teams together, but the work will be done in people’s homes.”

One of the UK’s largest outsourcing companies, Capita plc, which employs 45,000 people across the country, has just done what many other companies have been thinking and talking about doing since the virus crisis began: it announced that it is permanently closing more than a third of its offices. As a result, the leases on almost 100 workplaces will be terminated.

Like many large outsourcing companies in the UK, Capita has been struggling for years. It did not collapse and get liquidated like erstwhile giant Carillion but its share price has collapsed 97% since 2015. Even before the virus crisis began, the firm was exploring ways of slashing costs, including embracing more flexible working practices such as work from home, which the lockdown pushed to the fore. The company says that employees are firmly on board with the changes.

“Following dialogue with our employees it has become very clear that they would like to work in a more flexible way, which will involve increased working from home, but they will still spend a significant amount of their time working from offices that are based in the heart of our local communities.”

Although the office may not have completely lost its raison d’être, its role has changed dramatically, says Capita’s CEO Peter Harrison: “The contract between society and business has changed forever. The office will become a convening place where you get teams together, but the work will be done in people’s homes.”

A large number of British workers appear to be happy with this new reality. A recent study by researchers at Cardiff University and the University of Southampton found that 88% of employees who worked at home during lockdown would like to continue doing so in some capacity, with 47% wanting to do so “often” or even all the time.

The explosion in working from home sparked by the lockdown has mostly affected higher paid, better qualified workers, in particular those living in and around London. According to the study, their work hasn’t suffered much as a consequence of the change. Around 41% of the workers surveyed said they got as much work done at home as they did before the lockdown; 29% said they got more done at home, while 30% said their productivity had fallen.

The UK continues to significantly lag behind mainland Europe in getting workers back behind their desks. Analysis by the Center for Cities think tank found that just 17% of working people had returned to work in the UK’s 63 largest cities by early August — unchanged from June when the lockdown started to lift. If you include smaller towns, roughly a third of white-collar workers had returned as of mid-July, half the proportion as the rest of Europe, according to Morgan Stanley. In France 83% of white-collar workers had made it back to the office, while in Italy it was 76%.

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