Remit Consulting, a data company that monitors office occupancy using building access data, shows staffing levels are around a quarter to a third of normal midweek. However, that drops to just 10% on average on Mondays.
Companies are adapting to the new consumption habits of this flexible cohort. Early signs suggest hybrid workers may be trying to do more — and spend more — while they’re in the city.
“When you’re in central London, especially if you’re staying overnight, you’ll probably be looking to make the most of your time here,” says Dickie. “So you could actually spend more money and spend it differently.”
The New West End Company, a partnership of around 600 businesses based in the city’s premier shopping district, says footfall is at 80% of its 2019 levels, due to a combination of reduced tourist visits but also less travel by traveling workers.
Jace Tyrell, its chief executive, said businesses are learning to work around three in, two out, with spending picking up more strongly than footfall as people spend more mid-week.
“Normally on a Friday you would have all the office workers walking into the pubs [and visiting retailers],” he says.
“It’s definitely the Thursday vibe we’ve seen in central London over the past two months.”
Friday nights have become “surreal”, adds Tyrell, with the city center often “very quiet” between 4 and 7 p.m., while Sundays have become more important.
It’s not just the companies that were built around this diminished office culture that need to adapt.
Sustained low commuter activity is putting pressure on the city’s infrastructure, with Transport for London (TfL) scrambling to make cuts after seeing its revenue devastated by the closures. Sadiq Khan, the mayor, has accused the government of ‘money starving’ TfL, and the operator now faces a £1.5billion fiscal black hole by the middle of the decade.
Property developers and landlords also face tough decisions about the future, including whether underutilized office space might do better if turned into housing.
Lorna Landells, a consultant at Remit, says younger workers are often the most eager to return to offices, suggesting the hybrid model could come under generational pressure.
“Overtime, [managers] are going to realize that it’s the younger ones who are driving businesses forward,” she says.
“So gradually there will probably be more calls coming in.”
Much of the return to offices has been focused on top companies and larger offices, such as those in the city and Canary Wharf. But Andrew Wishart of Capital Economics says owners of offices further from the city center might be more inclined to move into residential.
“If conversions become more viable, it will be in less central areas,” he says.
Britain has now passed the two-year mark in its big career change, but the final destination may still not be obvious. London’s future may depend on where things settle.
“I don’t think it will be what it will look like forever,” Swinney says.