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Thursday, Oct 01, 2020

British Airways pulls staff out of its £200million headquarters for six months - as just half of City bankers return to offices

BA joins the likes of Google, KPMG and RBS by keeping staff at home until 2021 .Around 22,000 staff are on furlough, with 12,000 workers set for redundancy . Large companies are facing growing calls to bring employees back to the office

British Airways office staff look set to continue working from home until next year.

The airline is to mothball most of its opulent £200million headquarters near Heathrow for at least six months, it emerged yesterday.

It is a bid to slash costs amid a severe economic blow to the aviation industry inflicted by the pandemic.

BA joins a list of other top firms including Google, RBS, Pearson, KPMG, Facebook, Coca-Cola and Vodafone that have already suggested office staff might not have to return until 2021.

City of London leader Catherine McGuinness said banks had told her only 40 to 50 per cent of office workers were likely to return this year because of physical distancing rules.

It led to growing fears for thousands of smaller city centre businesses – from sandwich shops and pubs to dry cleaners, hairdressers and newsagents – that rely on busy offices.

BA refused to confirm how many staff will continue working from home under its plan.

But it is understood thousands are usually based at its 240-acre Waterside HQ near Heathrow and that only a few hundred will remain.

BA sources insisted that no timeline has been set out. But the trade website Head for Points reported staff in back-office roles will work from home for six months or even longer.

A BA spokesman said: ‘We are exploring every option to control our costs. We have a large property estate and we are always seeking ways to manage it in the optimum way.’

The carrier has put 22,600 workers on the Government’s furlough scheme and is looking to make at least 12,000 redundancies amid flatlining demand.

It came as Barclays boss Jes Staley said he wanted staff back in offices because ‘it is important to get people back together in physical concentrations’.

Acknowledging that empty offices had a huge impact on other sectors of the economy, he added: ‘We also have a responsibility to places like Canary Wharf, like Manchester, like Glasgow.’

He told Bloomberg TV that around 60,000 employees have been ‘working from their kitchen tables’, while around 20,000 had remained in branches, call centres and critical office roles.

The comments are an apparent U-turn on his previous remarks that big city offices ‘may be a thing of the past’.

But he did not set a schedule for office returns, simply saying it would happen ‘over time’.

Meanwhile, HSBC said staff would not be expected to return until September at the earliest.

According to the Evening Standard, the bank’s UK chief operating officer Emma Bunnell told staff in a memo: ‘We have a small number of key worker colleagues working in our offices and branches.

Based on current conditions, we will not return any additional colleagues to our offices before September 2020 at the earliest.’

She said it was inevitable cafes and other shops in districts that rely on office footfall will shut. She also suggested home working will continue after the pandemic, adding: ‘We will see a “new normal” gradually develop.

But we are confident there is a place for the office for gathering people.’ Experts at the Centre for Economics and Business Research predict up to 10.7million Britons – a third of the workforce of 32.9million – will stick to at least partly working from home after the crisis.

Last year, only around 1.7million worked ‘mainly from home’, according to official data.

A Mail audit of big companies found dozens have no immediate plans for staff to return to offices.

Tory MP Damian Green said last night the ‘single biggest step we could take to bring the lifeblood back to our cities is creating confidence that our public transport is safe to use again’.

His comments came after it emerged that nearly three quarters of workers currently feel uncomfortable using public transport.

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