Flexible working will become the norm and offices may be a thing of the past, according to bosses of Barclays and WPP.
The chief executives of Barclays Bank and advertising company WPP told the Guardian newspaper that their businesses would be changing the way they work and this could be a sign of wider changes in which crowded offices are not the norm and flexible working is more common in a bid to prioritise workers' health and safety.
Jes Staley, the CEO of Barclays, said the bank would look at a more decentralised approach to staff working, including the prospect of local branches becoming satellite offices for more employees.
He told the newspaper: “I think the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past, and we will find ways to operate with more distancing over a much longer period of time."
He added: “You’re going to find we use much more significantly our branches as alternative sites for investment bankers and call centre workers and people in the corporate bank."
Mark Read, chief executive of WPP, a global marketing, PR and advertising firm with 106,000 staff, agreed and he said employees returning to work would be in offices at “substantially lower capacity with enhanced safety measures”.
He told the Guardian “the safety of our staff is our number one priority”.
He added: “There is the issue of safety in getting to work, crowding on public transport, as well as working from home. At WPP we are fortunate that we can work from home, it has been seamless, really. I think through the other side of this [office] capacity will be somewhat lower. It will be important to maintain social distancing in offices.”
Chris Richards, regional president UK and Ireland at software company Unit4, said: "Although lockdown has been the largest experiment of working patterns in history, proving incontrovertibly that permanent remote working can be done, people don’t want to work that way all the time.
She added: “This is an opportunity for businesses to rethink how work gets done and look to offer more flexibility. Instead, shared spaces that deliver a great experience and where people can come together will be the default. It is vital that teams can come together to collaborate, and nothing beats the energy and dynamism that comes with real interactions. No, this isn’t the end of the office, but it is the end of the ways of the old. The office will look different, be used differently, and offer different ways of getting the job done – but there will still be an office."
Office expert Jonathan Ratcliffe from Offices.co.uk, said: “Everything has changed, we are witnessing the biggest shift for a generation – huge centralised HQ buildings are the new dinosaurs, we are entering a new culture of flexible working and regionalisation of office space."
But he warned: “There is a good supply of office space in our regional cities, but if the predicted trend happens, there might not be enough of the right type of grade A space available at short notice. The potential shift is huge – and for the regions it is great news."