Regions with easier commutes lead office return

Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs in Greater London

Workers outside London who have shorter commutes on public transport are returning to their offices more frequently.

Regional Reit, which owns 156 office buildings from Eastleigh to Glasgow, said that virtually all its tenants were back in their offices for at least part of the week. Of the company’s 1,042 tenants, only 12 had not bothered to start working from their offices again. Two of those were Scottish government departments, it said.

Occupancy has increased markedly compared with last spring. A year ago, the group said about 30 per cent of its tenants had reopened their offices after the pandemic. That is now 99 per cent.

Hybrid working is the most popular form of working among its tenants, the “vast majority” of whom have full offices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. “For many, this is four or even five days per week,” Regional Reit said.

Workers have been less enthusiastic about returning to the office in London. Even in the busiest parts of the capital, the West End and Canary Wharf, offices are rarely more than 50 per cent full, according to the latest data from Remit Consulting. That compares with 70 per cent before the pandemic.

Mark Dixon, 63, the boss of IWG, the serviced offices group, said last year that “the enemy is commuting” rather than the office itself.

Stephen Inglis, 53, chief executive of London & Scottish Property Investment Management, which runs Regional Reit, agreed. He said “shorter and simpler commutes” in regional towns and cities partly explained why offices outside the capital were welcoming workers back more quickly.

“Most of our occupiers are encouraging their staff to be in the office the majority of time . . . [and] the trend remains towards more people being in the office more of the week,” he said. “We expect this momentum to continue through 2023, until employers and employees strike the right balance for them between working from home and working from the office.”

There has been much uncertainty around the return to the office, but Regional Reit expects employers to have established their long-term strategies by the end of 2023. Inglis’s forecast is that the majority of regional businesses will make their staff go into the office on three or four days a week. “From the trends we are seeing, we believe employees working fully from home, that were not doing so pre-pandemic, will be in a small minority,” he said.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that only about one in six employees are working from home only. Employers have been almost forced to acquiesce to workers’ demand for less time in the office, given how difficult it has been to find new staff over the past two years. With the jobs market starting to become less competitive, some bosses are considering becoming stricter on working from home.