The future of office demand: Central London after Covid-19

London’s urban economy and its office market have been among the most dynamic in the world in recent decades. But the Covid-19 pandemic presents unprecedented and serious challenges for both.

November 08, 2020

In the wake of the pandemic, many offices closed, and working from home became mainstream. In the early stages of the first lockdown some 78% of UK workers in professional, scientific and technical services were homeworking. By early September, this figure had fallen back somewhat - but still stood at 62%. Use of the tube rose from the ultra-low figures seen during lockdown to 43% of average levels in early September but has since fallen back slightly.

At the time of writing, an increase in Covid cases has led to further restrictions and a second lockdown. Government suggestions that people return to the office if they can have been reversed. Even if this is short-lived, it is evident that it will be some time before the threat of the pandemic subsides and the 'new normal' emerges.

The nature of that new normal is increasingly contested. At present, companies are focussed on cutting costs during the Covid-induced recession. Commuters are anxious about using public transport - a particular issue for Central London, given 90% of workers travel by tube or train. Many commentators are assuming these are signposts to the future, when in fact the real direction of travel will only be apparent when the pandemic subsides and companies start planning for growth and investment again - probably from the middle of 2021.

As recovery from the pandemic takes hold it will become obvious that the trends that have made London a global hub have intensified. While networking technologies are here to stay, the unique productivity benefits of face-to-face contact and high quality office environments remain in place, as this paper will demonstrate. But London's economy and its office market will have seen rapid structural change - much of it the result of an acceleration of the shifts JLL identified four years ago in Workspace, Reworked.

This paper examines the longer-term trends before returning to the question of how the market navigates the immediate challenges. 

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