City of London Looks to Paris for Tips on Virus Office Working

(Bloomberg) — The U.K. should learn from other European nations where more people have returned to their offices during the pandemic, a senior figure in the City of London financial district said.Catherine McGuinness, policy chair for the City‘s Corporation, urged the government to scrutinize the evidence so more workers can get back.She pointed to Paris, where she said there has been “a higher return to the office for some time,” yet there had been no “direct link between working in a Covid-secure office and a spike in the virus.”“That’s the sort of evidence I’d really like people to keep under close review so we can bring people back in when it’s safe to do so,” McGuinness said in an interview on Friday.London will face tougher Covid-19 restrictions from Saturday as it’s moved into the “high” alert level, which means a ban on people mixing indoors including in restaurants and pubs.

All U.K. office workers are currently advised by the government to work from home this winter if they can “effectively” do so. McGuinness said she’s pleased this wasn’t “tightened” in London under the new restrictions.

‘Detrimental Impact’

“People have worked to make their offices Covid-secure so we’d really like to see a close analysis of the evidence, and if the evidence indicates that people can safely be brought back to their workplaces we’d really like to see that happen as soon as possible,” she said. “A blanket recommendation to work from home for a very lengthy period could have a very detrimental impact.”

London led the way for home working at the start of the pandemic, with 57% of residents doing some work from home in April, according to the Office for National Statistics — 10 percentage points more than the U.K. average.

There are signs London’s office market is crawling back to life, with a number of major companies in the process of big office moves. But this is mainly confined to large new developments and, as lockdown rules return, there are fears vacancies could soar if more companies embrace home working for the long-term.McGuinness is drawing up plans to make the Square Mile a more attractive destination, in a bid to help the hospitality and arts sectors stay afloat while most office workers stay at home. The city will not be the same again after the pandemic, she said.

“It will go back to a new normal, as it has after past crises,” she said. “It’s a place that’s constantly evolving, we’ve seen over the last 10 years a great shift toward more flexible office space anyway, a shift toward more tech business coming in.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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