The future of the office in central London – new research project launched
Pre-pandemic, central London hosted 3.5 million, or one in ten, jobs in the UK. The daytime population of inner London was two thirds higher than the resident population, with hundreds of thousands of workers travelling in from across the capital and the greater south-east. While there had been a gradual increase in the number of people who spent some time working from home, most office-based employers in the capital saw Monday to Friday, nine to five as the norm.
Thousands of central London businesses – from cafes and bars to dry cleaners and gyms – relied on these commuters. Our transport system was built around the assumption that millions of commuters would travel into central London every day, and it was heavily reliant on the fare revenue they brought.
The pandemic had a sudden and profound impact on central London’s economy. While many key workers had to continue travelling in to work, millions of office workers across the UK shifted to home working in order to prevent the spread of the virus. This was particularly the case in London, where a greater proportion of workers were able to work from home. Along with the dramatic decline in international tourism, this contributed to a sharper decline in footfall in London than in any other city in the UK, and a larger impact on employment than seen in any region.
What was initially expected to be a temporary response to a crisis has now led to lasting changes in working patterns. We’ve seen the emergence of ‘hybrid’ working, whereby many workers spend some days in the office and some days working from home.
This represents a profound shift in how people work, and how businesses operate, with significant implications for central London. It will likely change how offices are used, and impact on demand for office space in the capital. The change in working patterns will continue to impact on central London’s economy, particularly on those sectors that rely on in-person trade from commuters such as hospitality and culture. There may be ongoing implications for London’s transport system, which could see lower overall journeys – and therefore lower passenger revenue – but with high levels of peak demand during the middle of the week. It could also potentially impact on central London’s economic model, which has relied on agglomeration benefits to drive its success.
Central London Forward is working with ARUP to explore how the emergence of hybrid working will impact central London. The research will explore how the use of and demand for office spaces is changing post-pandemic, and how this varies by sector and across different areas. More broadly, we will examine how changing working patterns will impact on central London’s economy. The research will also set out the implications for central London’s local authorities.
We hope that the research will help us to understand the change that is happening, and provide insight and intelligence to help inform local and national policy makers in responding.
The final report will be launched in the Autumn. If you are interested in finding out more, please get in touch with Georgina Brightwell.
Georgina Brightwell is a Policy Officer at Central London Forward – 09.6.2022