The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many staff members from companies of all sizes working from home. Many businesses from Birmingham city centre have told the BBC there are no current plans in place to have their employees return to the office in the near future.
Some companies have opened their offices but are not enforcing the return of staff members. There is, however, space for them to go into the office should they be unable to work from home. The banking and finance sectors are among those where businesses are offering the choice to their staff members.
Some businesses are planning on never returning to the office. Tara Tomes runs a PR agency with an office in the heart of Birmingham's business centre. She told the BBC that she did not want to force members of her team that rely on public transport to return to the office. She believes that the office will not change the dynamic of the team and will make them more “pioneering in the way the world of work is going."
Other companies are also of the opinion that their office spaces are not big enough to support the social distancing measures for the workplace. For those who can work from home, there is still great encouragement from the government to continue to do so.
Facebook is another large corporation that does not have plans to return to the office until at least July 2021.
While many are happy with not working from the office, there is a significant knock-on effect for specific business types, such as coffee shops. Naomi and her brother, James, opened up a coffee shop in the middle of Birmingham’s business district earlier this year. She told the BBC the pandemic has been devastating for the business, as they rely on their clientele of office workers. She has also said the business is now getting less than a fifth of the trade they were banking on. She says, “we are hoping things improve in September but if they don't we will have to rethink the whole business."
Matthew Hammond, chairman of the Midlands region for PwC, said that the office was a must-have, particularly for younger workers. He states that younger workers may not have appropriate space at home and that some are “working at the end of their bed or on a return unit in their kitchen” which he argues is unsustainable.
The BBC reports the impact of working from home on both the economy and people’s salaries could be huge. For example, commuter’s season tickets are expensive and often considered in companies’ decisions on the wages they pay. Commuter belt housing is also costly, and particularly in places like the south-east of England plays a part in salary considerations. If office life is wholly abandoned, employers may rethink how they structure their salary and employment packages.
Kam Vara, a recruitment specialist in the Midlands, told the BBC candidates feel “it's now a deal-breaker if there isn't an option for home working, and some are saying they want 100% home working with no physical contact with the office whatsoever."
There are mixed feelings from employers surrounding the continuation of working from home. Those who feel it has little to no impact will most likely not return to the office anytime soon. However, this could be detrimental to smaller businesses in city centres who rely on office workers. Without office space being rented, those in the commercial property sector also face a growing economic threat.