Home working could make up to a fifth of London office space redundant

As much as a fifth of office space in London and south-east England may not be required in the post-pandemic world of work as employees spend less time at their desks, according to a property survey.

The new workplace flexibility being offered to staff by their employers could leave office blocks empty across Britain’s towns and cities, the real estate consultancy Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) found in its latest office market report, as companies cut back on the amount of space they rent.

A 20% reduction in the office space needed by businesses, compared with before Covid, represents about 26m sq ft – equivalent to more than 15 times the amount of office space in the 50-storey One Canada Square skyscraper in London’s Canary Wharf, or more than double the entire stock of the Reading office market.

After spending months working from home during the pandemic, office-based staff are reluctant to spend the entire week in their workplace and are asking their employers if they can continue working remotely at least part of the time.

Only 15% of the 50 companies who contributed to the LSH survey, which focused mostly on London and the south-east, reported their staff were spending at least four days a week in the office, compared with 90% before the pandemic, despite the lifting of all coronavirus restrictions.

Just under half of employers (43%) reported staff were attending the office for only two days a week, while nearly a third (29%) said the most common rate of attendance was three days a week.

As a result, office occupiers are considering how much office space they need post-Covid and what kind of space they require.

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Many employers are looking for higher-quality office space, LSH found, in an attempt to encourage workers back to their desks for at least part of the week.

Ryan Dean, the head of office advisory at LSH, said tenants faced a “lack of options that truly tick all the boxes” as they hunt for quality premises in convenient locations with good environment, social and governance credentials.

He said: “There simply isn’t much to choose from and, where it is available, occupiers are prepared to pay a handsome premium to secure it.”

However, LSH found that some of the office space that is no longer required could be converted into homes or datacentres to house computer systems.

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