WFH v. the office: where does this leave relocation?

There is a mighty tussle playing out in the media concerning the return to offices across the UK. In very late August, the director-general of the CBI shared the same sentiment as our Prime Minister, claiming ‘getting staff back to offices was as important as children being in school’. She cited office workers as huge drivers of the economy and lifelines to dry cleaners, sandwich bars and barbers, to name a few of the businesses who are suffering as a result of the WFH (work from home) revolution.

Countless surveys, however, point to a workforce that’s staying put at home for months to come. Companies telling staff not to return to their office desks until 2021 include NatWest, BT, HSBC, Virgin Money, KPMG and Vodafone. Elsewhere, Microsoft’s 3,000 UK workers aren’t set to return until November 2020 at the earliest, while a report by the BBC found 50 of the country’s biggest employers had no set plans to bring back all staff to the office full time.

What Covid-19 has forced on employers is a style of working that has been on the periphery for some time. Flexi-working is increasingly looking like the everyday solution and there are many factors at play. For some, accommodating all employees under one roof at the same time, while trying to observe social distancing, is going to be impossible. In these cases, a rota may be deployed – one week in, one week at home, for instance. 

JP Morgan is an example, with 16,000 UK staff swapping between WFH and the office, while Admiral wants to combine ‘flexible workspaces with regular remote working options’ for staff. Lloyds Banking is thought to be trialing different types of flexible working from October 2020 and Aviva Investors is considering a 2-2-1 system, where staff would be in the office for two days, work from home for two days, and choose between the office and home on the fifth day.

For other businesses, it will have become apparent that WFH doesn’t detrimentally impact efficiency, output or professionalism and therefore a more transient style of working is acceptable moving forwards. Large headquarters may be swapped for smaller hubs, with a swing towards hot desking, and only coming in to the office for key meetings and collaborative milestones. In extreme cases, WFH will be the new normal for all staff, with no central office and a switch to shared working spaces where desks or meeting rooms can be booked by the hour, only when required.  

So where does professional relocation fit into the jigsaw puzzle? Air bridges and quarantine rules attached to international travel are changing on an overnight basis but those who are most adversely affected are tourists. Those travelling for work and staying put in a country for an extended period should be able to take a 14-day quarantine in their stride – especially as their new UK office may already be operating a WFH policy. As we write, there is rumour of a developing air bridge between London and New York, which would see travelers avoid quarantine. With Virgin Atlantic flights operating again, this would be a great boost for business travel. 

For relocation professionals, the accommodation focus has shifted from somewhere that’s primarily driven by commuting to a property that offers comfortable WFH conditions combined with good connections. Our fully Covid-compliant property and orientation service will match professionals with rental accommodation across the UK, balancing WFH, family and transport needs. Get in touch if you’d like assistance.  

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