Office time of average London worker falls to just three days

22 August 2023 4 min. read

Two years on from the extensive lockdowns of 2020, office attendance remains much lower across the economy – with the average London worker spending 3.1 days on site. This is having notable impacts on demand for office real estate, which cities and businesses will have to reckon with in the coming years.

During the Covid-19 lockdowns, many managers feared that being unable to impose themselves on staff as closely as they might have in the office would lead to a fall in productivity. However, the lockdown period consistently proved this assumption wrong, with many workers actually improving their productivity thanks to improved work-life balances, healthier working routines, and a sudden absence of micromanagement.

At the same time, while bosses had hoped that the end of restrictions would see a return to business as usual, after lockdown measures were rolled back, they have begrudgingly had to facilitate at least a hybrid offer to many employees. Staff determined to maintain a level of their newly found freedom in a tightening labour market have made it clear that if their employers do not allow remote work where possible, they will go elsewhere.

Office time of average London worker falls to just three days

These trends mean that employees still spend far less time working at the office than they did before the pandemic. A new study from McKinsey & Company shows that in the lockdown period, office attendance in the metropolitan areas dropped by up to 90%. While that number has since recovered substantially, it remains down by about 30%, on average.

This is not a uniform change, though. Understandably, office attendance varies depending on the potential for doing a job remotely. Industries where workers needed to perform physical tasks more often saw higher days in ‘the office’, with agriculture and mining spending the highest average of 3.8 days on site. In stark contrast, knowledge economy roles had the highest potential to be done remotely. As a result, professional services staff saw the lowest number of days in the office. They averaged a little over 3.0 days – something buoyed by the sector’s determination to court new staff amid a ‘war for talent’.

The researchers noted, “10% of the people we surveyed said that they were both likely to quit their jobs if required to work at the office every day and willing to take a substantial pay cut if doing so let them work from home when they wanted. That group contains many senior, high-income employees, suggesting that they may wield influence over companies’ decisions.”

Office time of average London worker falls to just three days

As of October 2022, McKinsey found that office workers were visiting the office about 3.5 days per week. That number varied among cities, from 3.1 days in London to 3.9 in Beijing. This is having a significant impact on local demand for real estate. In a moderate scenario, by 2030, the researchers believe that changes resulting from pandemic behaviour will have seen demand in office real estate in London fall faster than factors unrelated in the pandemic rise, causing a net-decline of 11%.

This is a pattern also seen across many of the world’s largest populations, from New York, to Paris, to Shanghai. Meanwhile, demand for residential space in urban cores will rise dramatically – and be driven ahead by coronavirus-related behaviour changes. In the years ahead, leaders will need to account for this shift – which could majorly impact the fiscal health of cities, many of which are already straining to address homelessness, transit needs, and other pressing issues.

“Actual outcomes, of course, will depend on how those variables and others play out,” the researchers noted. “What is certain is that urban real estate in superstar cities around the world faces substantial challenges. But the challenges also provide an opportunity to spur a historic transformation of urban spaces. By becoming more flexible and adaptable in everything from the makeup of neighbourhoods to the design of buildings—in essence, becoming more “hybrid” themselves—superstar cities can not only adapt but thrive.”