Since the so-called “Freedom Day” on 19th July, fewer than one in five workers across the country have returned to offices, and those in London have been slower than in any other major U.K. city. The numbers on the tubes have fallen since July but this is natural during August. London, though, does face a major challenge as it is such an important financial centre and is key to the economy. After 18 months, will numbers really re-engage with commuting back to offices which many were happy to leave?
September will provide some clarity on what can be expected from employees in their appetite to return to workplaces but also how their behaviours have changed. Good or bad, there will be greater clarity on what the future does hold and all can then adapt.
Many are expecting to see a 20-30% increase in numbers returning to offices during September. Most forecasts seem to expect between 45-55% of employees to return to city centre offices by December. However, the expectation is that this is still on a 3-day basis. In London, this still will equate to a potential 70% fall in day to day hospitality revenues against 2019 levels so what is sustainable? How will models be forced to change?
In the US, the spread of the delta variant has forced many employers to delay their plans until at least October and larger numbers are now planning for a return next year.
The central questions for all businesses and landlords are: how quickly will this picture change? Does recovery mean working with a partial return? Or will employees be back at their desks full-time in October? How does a business budget for 2022 without firm clarity?
September is a moment of truth when we will learn much. Many companies want to start to enforce their people to return but this may be difficult if Covid numbers do surge.
Many have noticed that restaurant prices have increased. Understandably given all the issues. However, will the consumer stay loyal? Will new behaviours emerge and new models? Many argue it is inevitable.
Will this be a fillip for inhouse operations as many will decide to entertain onsite rather than externally? There is a school of thought which does argue that spends inhouse will see an increase which could cover the decline in numbers. Is this possible?
Corporate Hospitality is reporting light at the end of the tunnel which is promising as companies seek to re-connect with their clients. However, is this at special events or back in city centres?
There is also an argument that the end to Furlough will send new numbers back onto the job market. How will this impact on shortages experienced today? It is expected that the industry will have over 188,000 vacancies at any one time over the next few months.
September will not answer all these questions but arguably, for the first time, in 18 months there will be some clarity as to what the future may hold.