The chairman of NatWest, one of Britain’s largest banks, has said life at the London office is unlikely to ever return to the way it was before the coronavirus pandemic.
Howard Davies said he expected lasting cultural changes even after the danger from the virus subsided. “The days when 2,500 people walked through the door of our Bishopsgate office at 8:30 and then left again at 6 o’clock, I think that’s gone. I suspect there won’t be that many people spending five long days at the office. “
In a Bloomberg TV interview, Davies said many of NatWest’s office employees would likely continue to work from home part-time after pandemic restrictions were eased, in the latest sign that large companies are reassessing work practices. .
“Central London will not be as busy as it used to be. I don’t think there is much of an appetite for that, because people are worried about the risks of traveling and have also discovered that they can do things differently, and that wasting all that line on the North line is not necessarily the best way. to spend life “.
The Westminster government lifted all restrictions on public mixing in England on Monday, including the guidance that people should work from home when possible. Many companies have been cautious about allowing all workers to return due to rising infection rates.
Davies said companies in the UK and elsewhere would likely be “cautious” in attempting to revert to pre-pandemic practices, in part due to the continuing threat of coronavirus infection.
His comments put him at odds with Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, who has called working from home an “aberration,” but in line with HSBC and JP Morgan bank heads, who expect more work from home. for office workers.
Some business leaders have criticized the government for its advice on how to handle growing absences, as workers are advised to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus. Davies said the government’s messages on the issue had been “a bit complicated.”
NatWest is experiencing some difficulties keeping branches open with worker absences due to the self-isolation guidance, although central operations have done so so far.
Davies said there were some “areas of concern” in the UK economy, particularly among sectors hardest hit by the pandemic where companies had taken on relatively high debt burdens to weather the crisis. However, he said he was not generally concerned about the UK economy, in part because consumers have increased their savings after staying at home for long periods of the past 18 months.