Published on 27 Apr 2020

Joanna Bourke: Why London HQs have a future after Covid-19


Who knew what WFH meant before this year? I didn’t, albeit I may be behind the times. But, I reckon there are plenty, who, like me, had no clue what this acronym was until we recently became subjects in a huge business experiment: Work From Home.

In what London’s army of office landlords may perceive as bad news, it turns out scores of companies can do WFH. People have made makeshift offices and call centres in their homes as they self-isolate during the coronavirus crisis, and jobs are getting done.

In a potentially serious headache for some of the property developers building millions of square feet of new offices in the City and West End, beancounters at corporates might start to see the benefits of the WFH model. They may feel people could do the nine-to-five permanently away from a HQ, and therefore businesses could cut back on rents and office costs.

But, landlords should not panic. Businesses may always be looking to cut costs, but they also want to attract and retain staff. And, employees in the capital want a head office.


There are far too many Londoners who would shudder at the prospect of WFH on a long-term basis. Here’s some reasons why:

-Costs. It turns out people have long taken for granted the amount of electricity used at work. You suddenly start to think about that when its you paying the bills to power your work laptop, lights and phone charger all day. Gulp.

Oh, and then there is the heating. Who knew how chilly it was sitting at a kitchen table for hours on end?

-Peace. There is something to be said about leaving work at work. WFH means job stresses are now in your sanctuary place.

-Relationships. For early risers, taking conference calls pre-7am, while the other half or kids are upstairs asleep, is not the one. You need to speak more quietly or risk annoying your loved ones.

-Meetings. CEOs like to show off snazzy HQs. When in deal talks, a view of the City skyline comes across as more professional than that of the one from your semi in Surrey. For most of us working in central London it is a great location for meetings, be it in the office, at restaurants or wine bars.

-Routine. “Oh how I miss the tube in”, said no-one ever. Until now. Having a bit of ‘me time’ to read emails, the newspaper and gather your thoughts is what morning journeys are useful for. WFH can mean you just jump straight into home-office mode before you've finished your Corn Flakes.

-Company. Colleagues may do your head in, but having them next to you in person, rather than a Zoom video meeting screen, feels invaluable. There are some work problems or ideas that feel more comfortable being discussed face-to-face.

 Let’s not shrug off WFH entirely. There are of course advantages, including convenience for people. We will also feel more confident now knowing that we can do it if we need to.

What may happen when normality starts to resume in future, is companies adopt more flexible working patterns, giving people the option to WFH if convenient, say two days a week. Or some businesses might realise certain roles are more productive from home.

The result may mean firms need less square feet when it comes to signing new leases, or they will negotiate harder for rent deals. It is not ideal for landlords, but its a much more manageable problem than if corporate companies said goodbye to offices. That’s something workers wouldn’t enjoy either.