Home working is here to stay and cities will change forever, says ex-Bank deputy

Empty office buildings in the City of London Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Home working is here to stay and the end of the five-day-a-week office commute will change the shape of cities dramatically, according to former Bank of England deputy governor Sir Charlie Bean.

Sir Charlie has become the latest prominent figure to declare that the traditional, office-based working week is over as he predicted firms will adopt a permanent flexible model after the pandemic.

Speaking to the PA news agency, the former deputy governor for monetary policy at the Bank said the switch will impact the economy “in ways we don’t fully foresee”.

“Not everyone will be working a nine to five, five days a week and that, in effect, will change the way metropolises like London operate,” he said.

“We won’t have rigid commuting times… we’ll see an evolution of the city to reflect that.”

Sir Charlie Bean said hybrid working will change the economy in ‘ways we don’t fully foresee’ Credit: PA

Sir Charlie – now a member of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and professor at the London School of Economics – said while few firms will stay with a completely remote working model, most will take a hybrid approach combining home and office.

Bank Governor Andrew Bailey said recently that he believes pandemic habits, such as flexible remote working, will become permanent after the crisis.

Many businesses have said they plan to allow hybrid working, with Nationwide Building Society last week announcing it will give its 13,000 office employees control to decide where they work.

Banking giant Santander unveiled a ground-breaking deal that will allow around 5,000 staff impacted by its latest round of branch closures to stay on by combining working from home with access to local collaboration spaces.

Other corporate giants – including British Gas owner Centrica, NatWest Group and outsourcer Capita – have also confirmed they will move their workforces to hybrid working.

A recent London Chamber of Commerce survey found that half of the capital’s businesses would support some form of remote working when the coronavirus crisis ends.

A third also said they expected to cut down on office space in a further sign of the effect on central London.

Sir Charlie said the economic impacts would be far reaching as fewer people use city-centre transport and as demand plunges for retailers, coffee and sandwich shops near office blocks.

“These changes over time will change the nature of metropolises – they may become more focused on entertainment and less on places of work.”

He admitted the ultimate impact is difficult to predict.

“Who knows?” he said. “But I’m sure we’ll see an evolution and the pandemic has accelerated that.”