As the summer holidays draw to a close and schools have reopened across the UK, attention is now turning to whether workers will return to their usual workplaces. In the capital, reports indicate that London Underground traffic was 15% higher on Monday 7 September than it was the week prior, suggesting that some workers could be taking heed of the Prime Minister’s call for workers to return to their offices.
Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that a large majority (69%) of Londoners who are currently employed or self-employed have been working from home during the pandemic. Roughly a third (31%) have not worked from home, which is likely because their work cannot be done remotely (for example, most essential workers).
These results suggest that workers in London are 9% may be more likely to have worked from home during the pandemic than the national average. Indeed, in a poll we conducted in Great Britain in August, we found that 60% of those actively employed or self-employed had worked remotely at some point during the pandemic. Nevertheless, it is important to note that these figures should not be used to dispute official ONS or Government employment statistics but are provided to give a representation of our sample.
For most Londoners who have been working from home during the pandemic, it has been a new experience: 84% of Londoners who are currently working from home used to work in an office (or somewhere outside of their home) prior to the pandemic.
Despite fears of a coronavirus surge, a majority (51%) of Londoners who are employed, self-employed or unemployed feel safe returning to work, which represents a marginal two percent increase compared to our August poll. As of September, a total of more than 6,000 people have died with coronavirus; however, daily deaths in London have remained low in recent weeks.
For many office workers, however, remote working has been welcomed as a chance to save money and time they would otherwise have spent on commuting, as well as an opportunity to spend more time with their families. In fact, a majority (56%) of Londoners said that they have been more productive working from home rather than in their office (or usual work setting).
Consequently, we found that roughly three quarters (73%) of Londoners who have worked from home during the pandemic intend to continue working from home in the future, whether fully or partly. By contrast, only a fifth (20%) of respondents do not intend on working from home in the future.
Interestingly, respondents in September were 7% more likely than respondents in August to say they intend to continue working from home even after the pandemic comes to an end.
Despite a clear desire among Londoners to continue with remote working arrangements, the Government has warned against its impact on certain industries, including restaurants or coffee shops, as well as on the capital’s transport system and real estate market. With so many employees working from home, companies do not necessarily need to invest as heavily in expensive central office space anymore – nearly 600,000 square feet of office space has come onto the London sublet market since the start of the pandemic, approximately a third of which is a direct result of the pandemic.
Companies themselves are divided on whether to call back their employees or not: while a slight majority (54%) of those who worked from home during the pandemic have not yet been asked to return to their usual place of work, a significant portion (46%) have been asked to return.
The majority of the public (55%) think employees should have the right to ask their employer to allow them to keep working from home, even if the Government allows their usual workplace to re-open. A third (33%), by contrast, think that businesses should have the right to ask their staff to return to their traditional workplaces as soon as the Government allows their usual workplaces to re-open.
Respondents who voted for Labour in the 2019 General Election were somewhat more likely (58%) to think that employees should have the right to continue remote working than those who voted Conservative (49%), although employees hold the support in both parties.
A large majority (63%) of working Londoners who have returned to their usual place of work are doing so on a mixed basis (working partly at home and partly at their usual work setting), while a further 30% have returned to working full-time at their place of work.
Ultimately, while workers in London would prefer to continue working from home, many are slowly returning to their offices. Indeed, a majority (51%) of Londoners agree that the continuation of remote working would have an overall harmful impact on the economy, compared to just 22% who disagree.
The lockdown period has changed the way in which the public see their home, transforming it into both a living and working space. For those who intend on working from home more frequently, or who fear a second lockdown in London, moving somewhere else may be an appealing option. Whether due to the pandemic or for other reasons, we found that 21% of respondents are considering moving to somewhere else in London – a slight two percent decrease when compared to our August research.
Yet, for 38% of those who are considering moving somewhere else in London, it is quite unlikely that it will happen this year. Meanwhile, 26% say it is reasonably likely that they will move this year, and only 6% are nearly certain it will happen.
At this stage, approximately a third (34%) of respondents are considering moving away from London permanently, a similar proportion than in August, when 33% answered that they were considering doing so.
Once again, however, a clear plurality (48%) of those considering moving away from London permanently think it quite unlikely to happen by the end of the year. Meanwhile, 31% answered that it is somewhat likely and 13% that it is reasonably likely. A further 8% will nearly certainly move away from London by December.
For those considering moving away from London, the more popular destinations are the South East (23%) and South West (16%). Likewise, 15% of respondents are considering moving outside the UK altogether.
Overall, our research indicates that a majority of Londoners who have worked from home during the pandemic have found the experience positive and productive, confirming that remote working may be here to stay. At the same time, respondents appear to understand the Government’s call for workers to return to their office in order to help stimulate certain sectors of the economy. Despite inclinations to relocate either within or away from London, the pandemic’s long-term impact on the housing market remains to be seen.