Canary Wharf chief says return to desks will start from March 29

The beginning of the END of working-from-home: Canary Wharf chief says ‘gradual’ return to desks will start from March 29 with restaurants and bars open by June – with expectation ALL 120,000 staff will eventually be back

  • Canary Wharf’s head of strategy Howard Dawber says as the country comes out of lockdown, workers will begin to trickle back to the offices in coming months 
  • Group expects to be back at full occupancy even if some still work at home one or two days a week as working from home becomes more ‘socially acceptable’
  • The Government’s roadmap out of lockdown which detailed the reopening of the country did not include an official date for when workers should return to office 

Canary Wharf’s head of strategy Howard Dawber has said workers are expected to gradually return to the office from March 29

The chief strategist at London’s Canary Wharf has said thousands of workers are expected to return to offices as Covid restrictions are eased in the coming months.

Howard Dawber, Canary Wharf Group’s head of strategy, said they are expecting numbers to increase from March 29 and that this will increase when services such as bars, restaurants and hairdressers open from June.

Meanwhile, businesses based at Canary Wharf say they will continue to monitor Government guidance to determine if and when staff are asked to go back to the office. 

Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Dawber said the group expects to be back to 100 per cent occupancy over time with the return of its 120,000 office workers.

He said: ‘We’ve got about five or six thousand staff working on the wharf at the moment.

‘We expect over the next few months a gradual increase there – obviously the government’s advice is still to work from home and I think everyone is sticking to that.

‘But from March 29 onwards I think we will see people starting to return to the workplace and particularly as we get towards June when things like bars, restaurants, services, hairdressers open up I think we will start to see people back in offices and we are expecting significant numbers back over the summer.’

Canary Wharf Group’s head of strategy, Howard Dawber, has said thousands of workers are expected to return to the offices in the coming months as coronavirus restrictions are eased

Mr Dawber went on to say that they expect to get back to original numbers even if that means some people work from home part-time while still having a desk at Canary Wharf. 

He added: ‘Where the technology makes it possible to work from home, I think the processes and attitudes of businesses have caught up now to the point where I think it’s going to be more socially acceptable to take the occasional day working from home.

‘So it may well be that some people may have a desk at Canary Wharf but choose to work from home one day a week or a couple of days a month – and that’s a good thing. 

‘We’ve got to the point where there is fatigue out there. Working from home last year when the sun was shining and people were perhaps enjoying a more flexible environment, there was a sense it was going to be a short-term process and we would get through it and return to work.

Although no official date has been given by the Government for when workers should return to the office, Canary Wharf bosses expect to see a large number return over the summer period

‘I think now people are missing that opportunity to collaborate and just see their friends in the office and to do all the life admin things you can do in a city centre.’ 

The Government did not set a date for when workers should return to the office when it revealed its roadmap out of lockdown last week.

It means the ‘work from home if you can’ message will continue to guide employers for the foreseeable future.

Many large firms have already told staff they should work remotely, with some even delaying a return to the office until at least the end of the year.

However, some studies claim that productivity is hampered as workers log in from their kitchen table rather than at their desk.

The work from home initiative has also seen footfall in the country’s town and city centres drop dramatically.

Commuters walk through a nearly deserted Canary Wharf during the rush hour in London

The High Street has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic as people were told to stay inside for several national lockdowns.

High Street stalwarts such as WH Smith and Clarks did not escape the bloodbath.

Last week, analysis from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) showed 27,096 jobs have been shed and 1,023 stores have been earmarked for closure so far in 2021.

The research, which covers insolvencies by retailers with 10 or more stores, highlights the turmoil on the high street, which has seen the recent collapses of Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group.

Some companies which have closed stores this year so far include up-market stationary chain Paperchase which announced the closure of 37 stores and the loss of 500 jobs in early January.

Earlier this year, economists KPMG estimated that even after lockdown restrictions are lifted, shopper numbers could be a third below pre-pandemic levels as fewer people travel to work – and ecommerce booms.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen footfall in city centres drop dramatically with many retailers being forced to cut jobs and close stores. Pictured: A deserted Carnaby Street, London

It claimed high streets could lose between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of their shops – leading to as many as 400,000 jobs being axed. 

KPMG said it was unlikely that office workers will return to commuting habits, with most expected to continue working remotely for part of the week as hard-hit businesses try to cut back on rent bills.

Economists at the company estimated this would reduce footfall to town and city centres by between 10 and 27 per cent on pre-Covid levels. 

The report suggested that the lack of commuter flow into some towns cities would hurt the retailers and restaurants who are dependent on workers for sales.

However, Springboard, which collates footfall data, suggests there is a pent-up demand for town and city centres to reopen as figures show that despite all but essential stores closed, activity in UK destinations has increased from week to week for the past six weeks.

Footfall increased on all but one day last week, with a very clear acceleration in activity on Friday and Saturday as the weather improved and consumers looked to make the most of the weekend. 

A boarded up Debenhams on Oxford Street on during the first lockdown in April last year

The firm says the figures suggest shoppers are experiencing ‘lockdown fatigue’ and it is estimated that when non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality reopens in England from April 12, footfall across the UK will rise by up to 47.9 per cent in the first trading week.

This will equate to an increase in footfall of 128.5 per cent from the same week in 2020 when the UK was three weeks into Lockdown 1, but it will still be 61.8 per cent below the 2019 level.

Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard commented: ‘Footfall data is continuing to deliver ever clearer evidence of lockdown fatigue amongst consumers.

‘Perhaps prompted by the announcement of the government’s roadmap to reopening at the beginning of the week, but then supported by drier warmer weather in the second half of the week, footfall in UK retail destinations rose once again last week from the week before.

‘Not only was this the sixth consecutive week that footfall has increased, but its magnitude was greater than in any previous week and nearly twice that in the week before.’ 

Meanwhile, businesses based at Canary Wharf have said they will follow Government guidance in deciding when to send staff back to the office.

KPMG says workers who wish to return to offices will use a risk assessment app beforehand

A KPMG UK spokesperson said: ‘Our key priority remains our colleagues’ health and wellbeing and as a firm we have stringently followed the most up-to-date scientific and government advice, including these latest developments.

‘The vast majority of our people will continue to work from home, but our offices remain open for those who have a business or wellbeing need.

‘All colleagues looking to enter our offices or a client site will continue to use our UK Return App, a risk assessment that ensures our people are in a safe position to return and are comfortable doing so.’

However, JP Morgan co-President Daniel Pinto, who is based in London, recently said in interview that there is ‘zero chance’ of 100 per cent of their staff going back into the office 100 per cent of the time and that a hybrid model was more likely.

He told CNBC last month: ‘Obviously [the return to offices] has been pushed out a bit because of the massive second wave.

‘But when you think about it, there is only one possible outcome, in my view. Going back to the office with 100% of the people 100% of the time, I think there is zero chance of that.

‘As for everyone working from home all the time, there is also zero chance of that.

‘The rotational model is the only thing that really makes sense … and it can’t be prescribed from the top because if you think about a company the size of JPMorgan, there are so many functions that our 260,000 people perform, they’re all relatively different.

‘We’ll have to cater to the needs of particular functions, but it’s not like everyone will just do what they want. It has to be somewhat structured and well-thought through.’

Businesses based in the city echoed the hesitancy to disclose back-to-work plans and said it will depend on Government guidance.

NatWest Group, the firm behind banking brands including NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland, said they currently have 50,000 employees working from home and that when staff do return to the office, it is likely there will still be an element of home-working involved.

A NatWest Group spokesperson said: ‘Our priority during the coronavirus pandemic has been to look after the safety and wellbeing of our customers and colleagues. Enabling the majority of our colleagues to work from home has allowed us to support our customers in a safe way.

‘Any return to our offices will be led by government guidance and depend on a range of factors such as the progress of vaccinations.

‘As we plan for our return, we are adapting to new ways of working and evolving our offices to meet our future needs.’

Last week, the Prime Minister dismissed the idea that the lockdowns of the last year would lead to a permanent shift towards working from home. 

Speaking virtually at a rail industry conference, Boris Johnson said: ‘I know that some people may imagine that all conferences are going be like this, held over Zoom, Teams or what have you and we’ve got to prepare for a new age in which people don’t move around, do things re-motely, they don’t commute any more.

Speaking at a rail industry conference, the Prime Minister dismissed the idea that the lockdowns of the last year would lead to a permanent shift towards working from home

‘I don’t believe it. Not for a moment. In a few short months, if all goes to plan, we in the UK are going to be reopening our economy.

‘And then believe me the British people will be consumed once again with their desire for the genuine face-to-face meeting that makes all the difference to the deal or whatever it is.

‘Never mind seeing our loved ones, going on holiday or whatever.

The prediction echoes comments from Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon who described working from home as an ‘aberration’.

Speaking to a virtual conference organised by Credit Suisse, Soloman said: ‘That’s a temporary thing. I do think that for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us.’

He also said it would never become the ‘new normal’.

Boris Johnson revealed the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown with schools expected to return next week on March 8.

The next stage of loosening will not be until March 29, when the formal Stay at Home edict is finally dropped in favour of ‘Stay Local’, and the Rule of Six makes a comeback.

It will be extended to allow two households to gather, enabling relatives to meet properly for the first time in months.

That date will also see the reopening of tennis courts and golf courses and the return of grassroots football.

But shops, hairdressers and pubs must remain closed until April 12 at the earliest – the same time gyms can get back up and running – regardless of mounting fears about the economic meltdown. Even at that point pints and meals can only be consumed outdoors.

Campsites and holiday lets can reopen for single households from April 12 – but international travel is completely off the cards until at least May 17.

Social distancing rules will stay in force until June 21 at the minimum, with a government review to decide their future after that.

The decision means that grandparents face months of waiting before they can hug their grandchildren – even though millions have already been vaccinated.

Sports can start to return from May 17, although venues will need to work on reduced capacities.

Up to 30 people can go to weddings from the same date, but are stuck at that number until the next phase of the roadmap.

Only at June 21 will all legal limits on social contact go, and the remaining elements of the hospitality sector be allowed to open.

The PM stressed that he is being driven by ‘data not dates’ and the timeline is not guaranteed.

How will lockdown ease in the roadmap?  

Step One Part One: March 8

From March 8, all pupils and students will return to schools and colleges across England.

So-called wrap-around childcare will also be allowed to resume, paving the way for after and before school clubs to reopen.

People will be allowed to meet one other person outside for recreation, for example, to have a picnic or to meet for coffee.

Care home residents will be able to have one regular named visitor.

The Government’s stay at home order will remain in place, with travel for non-essential purposes still banned.

Step One Part Two: March 29

From March 29, outdoor gatherings of up to six people or a larger group from up to two households will be allowed. These gatherings will be allowed to happen in private gardens.

Outdoor sports like tennis and basketball will be allowed to reopen and people will also be able to take part in formally organised outdoor sports.

It is at this point that the Government’s stay at home guidance will end, to be replaced by ministers encouraging people to ‘stay local’.

However, the Government is expected not to define what constitutes local, instead choosing to rely on people using their common sense to decide on journeys.

People will still be told to work from home wherever possible while international travel will still be banned unless it is for essential purposes.

Step Two: April 12

Nom-essential retail will be allowed to reopen as well as personal care premises like hairdressers, barbers and nail salons.

Public buildings like libraries, museums and art galleries will be allowed to welcome back customers.

Meanwhile, hospitality venues and outdoor attractions like theme parks will be given the green light to reopen in some form.

However, there will still be rules on household mixing: Essentially any activity which involves being indoors will be restricted to members of the same household.

Gyms and swimming pools will also reopen from April 12 but only on the basis that people go on their own or with their own household.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen but at this point they will only be able to have customers outdoors.

Any visits to a pub or restuarant will have to comply with the rules on social contact, so no more than two households or the rule of six.

The Government will not be bringing back the old requirement for people to order a substantial meal with alcohol while the old 10pm curfew will be ditched.

All customers at hospitality venues will also have to be seated when they order food or drink, with ordering at the bar prohibited.

Campsites and holiday lets where indoor facilities are not shared with other households can also reopen but trips must be restricted a single household.

Funerals will be allowed to continue with up to 30 people, while the rules on wedding receptions will be eased to allow the number of guests to increase from six to 15.

Step Three: May 17

The two household and rule of six requirements for outdoor gatherings will be ditched but gatherings of more than 30 people in places like parks will still be banned.

Crucially, mixing indoors will be allowed again. The rule of six or a larger group from up to two households will be allowed to meet.

However, this will be kept under review by ministers to see if rules could be relaxed still further.

This is also the point at which pubs and restaurants and other hospitality venues will be able to open indoors, with the rule of six and two household limit in place. But groups meeting outdoors at pubs will be allowed to be bigger.

Entertainment venues like cinemas and children’s play areas will be able to reopen, as will hotels and B&Bs. Indoor adult sports groups and exercise classes can also reopen.

Changes will also be made to sporting and performance events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half full

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