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City offices will return but must adapt quickly, say business leaders

Leading businesses from across the North West say that they expect workers to return to city centre offices after the pandemic, but improvements to the old routine will change.

The message, coming during a debate on the Future of the Workplace hosted by regional law firm Napthens, comes as over 1.3 million people in the North West are currently working from home, with three in four employers saying they expect to continue home working in some form beyond the pandemic.

Panelists at the event including landlords, developers, investors and agents said employees are eager to return to offices after eight months of home working, but improvements will be needed to make city centres more appealing than a home office.

Improvements including additional parking, more space, flexible rail fares and more focus on health and wellbeing will all be vital to entice workers back to city centres like Manchester and Liverpool. Additionally, city headquarters could be supplemented by satellite offices closer to local towns in order to cut down on daily commutes. We could see a rise in the number of the hub and spoke operating models.

Jamie Allison, Head of Real Estate at Napthens, said: “While it is unlikely that people will return to working in a city centre five days a week, there is still a need for the office as we know it. Creativity, collegiality and teamwork are best in an office environment, and we require the social interaction that comes from working with other colleagues for business productivity as well as our own mental health.”

Charlotte Bovill, Business Unit Director at JLL added: “City centres are still the most convenient places for people to come together for work but we need to get people to the office in more sustainable ways. That could include measures such as demand responsive transport, more bicycle lanes or flexible season tickets for people coming into the city once or twice a week.”

Improving the quality of city centre offices to become more appealing to staff than home working will also be key, with in-office bars or ‘hand-outs’, green spaces and childcare all mentioned.

Zoe Spence, director of Herdwork, which manages co-working spaces across Cumbria, added: “We need to introduce an ambience and atmosphere to the office that people just can’t get at home. I do believe the office space will come back, but it may have to take a more campus-style approach that is lifestyle led, with more food and beverage or health and wellbeing offerings on site.”

The webinar is the second of a series of installments looking at how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect working environments, office locations and employee relations in future years, and what businesses should do to prepare now.