LONDON (awp / afp) – Do large office towers still have a future? The explosion of remote work with the pandemic is giving ideas to companies who see it as a source of savings, even if it means changing the world of work in depth.
Since the start of containment, the business districts have emptied, leaving an impression of the end of the world as in Canary Wharf in east London, or in La Défense in the western Paris suburbs.
But, even at the time of the very gradual resumption of work which turns to the puzzle, it is now their future which could be at stake, and those of their skyscrapers and other towers, symbols of modern capitalism and of the power of multinationals.
Jes Staley, the boss of the British bank Barclays, whose imposing and luxurious premises are rightly located in Canary Wharf, estimates that “putting 7,000 people in a building could be a thing of the past. We will find ways to operate with more distances for long time”.
It summarizes the mindset of many multinational leaders who see the success of remote working during the pandemic.
The French automobile giant PSA is considering making it the “benchmark” for its non-production activities, ie tens of thousands of people, and the American social network Twitter even plans to allow certain employees to work from home permanently.
“This pandemic has proven that technology allows remote working. I think the real revolution will come from a change in the mindset of leaders on how to think about flexibility,” Cydney Roach told AFP. , an official of the American consulting firm Edelman.
“It is difficult to know what this will lead to, but employees will have to be involved in the search for solutions,” she said.
Admittedly not all sectors can apply it, but this practice has been massively imposed.
The British advertising giant WPP has placed nearly 95% of 107,000 employees in telework, continuing to maintain services to its customers.
The British real estate developer Land Securities, very present in the City of London, recently estimated that only 10% of its office space was used.
Long-term negative effects
“There will never be a return to normal,” predicts Alex Ham, co-managing director of London broker Numis Securities. Going to the office Monday through Friday “just won’t come back,” he told British daily The Telegraph.
According to a survey by real estate consultancy giant Cushman & Wakefield, carried out in April among 300 companies around the world, 89% of them believe that the use of remote work will continue beyond the pandemic.
Clare Lyonette and Beate Baldauf, professors at the University of Warwick (central England), point out the advantages of telework for companies as savings – especially given the exorbitant rents of the City – better productivity or even a decrease absenteeism.
“Real estate is one of the areas that cost businesses the most” but skyscrapers “are not going to disappear”, warns Ms. Roach, if only because of the need to keep offices in “dense places like Manhattan “.
Large groups could be tempted, however, to limit their property holdings as much as reducing costs will be the priority for many of them in the coming years, to absorb the economic shock of the pandemic.
But “employers must be aware of the potential negative effects in the long term”, including the negative impact on team cohesion, warn Clare Lyonette and Beate Baldauf.
“A decrease in well-being and loyalty to the company could partially erase the savings,” they said.
And it is not even sure that the employees are really winners.
According to the VPN provider, NordVPN, employees tend during this crisis to work an average of three hours a day from home in the United States and two hours in France.
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