Five day office week will become the norm again after Covid, experts predict

A full-time return to the office could become the norm again following the Covid pandemic, a leading think tank has said.

Centre for Cities told the BBC that while a mix of home and office work is expected to be popular during recovery from the coronavirus crisis, the five-day office week could return within two years.

At the moment, people who are able to work from home are advised by the government to do so.

But that guidance could change in England if the UK Government decides to go ahead with ending social distancing restrictions on 21 June.

Some experts predict a move back to pre-pandemic working patterns for many in the UK.

Workers could return to office ‘three days a week’ during Covid recovery

Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at Centre for Cities, told Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money programme that he expects people to go back to the office “three or four days a week” while the country tries to bounce back from the Covid crisis.

He said, longer term, he was “quite hopeful” that people would return to offices five days per week.

"The reason for that is, one of the benefits of being in the office is having interactions with other people, coming up with new ideas and sharing information,” Mr Swinney said.

"If you're in the office on a Monday but someone else is in the office on a Wednesday, then you're starting to miss out. Or, if your colleague is in the office and having a meeting with your boss and you're not there, all of a sudden that changes the dynamic again."

Office for National Statistics data published in May showed most people did not work from home in 2020, although the proportion of workers who did more than doubled during Covid.

That resulted in blows to the office property market and started a global discussion about the future of the workplace.

Now, demand for more city centre office space appears to be increasing, but from a very low point.

Figures from Savills estate agency reveal office take-up by square footage within the UK’s six biggest regional cities - Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester - has shot up since the beginning of the pandemic.

Sectors signing some of the largest regional office deals included education, public services and health.

Companies ‘still want a five-day office week’

Jessica Bowles, director of strategy at commercial property developer Bruntwood which operates in a number of English cities, told the BBC that most firms still want a five-day office.

"Most businesses that have got space with us now want to maintain having an office, and they don't see that they could give up the office for a certain number of days a week - they just want to use the space differently.”

She said that while hybrid, flexible working was growing in popularity even before the pandemic hit, that type of working pattern could pose a “challenge” for companies if some staff were in the office while some were at home.

Ms Bowles added: "I think from a personal, and a business level, we'll see more people seeing the value in coming together to collaborate. But Fridays are always pretty quiet in the office and I don't expect that to change."

However, some employees may not necessarily welcome a mass return to the office after Covid, even on a hybrid basis.

Workers at Apple reportedly recently launched a campaign against boss Tim Cook’s strategy for staff to return to the office at least three days a week by the autumn.