PwC’s UK Chairman confirmed last month that the firm is unlikely to reduce any of its offices in London, despite uncertainties. Kevin Ellis highlighted the value of working physically in the office, deeming it to “remain a key part of working life”. Collaboration and innovation thrive in a physical and interactive office environment. This announcement by Ellis comes in response to arguments that the firm was badly hit by government restrictions.
PwC is the second-largest professional services network in the world. It is additionally one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms. Like most corporations however, PwC’s typical working day has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This aligns with the global ‘new normal’ which has seen the majority of office workers adjusting to a work from home lifestyle.
In August and September, the number of weekly visits made by workers to the firms’ office sites peaked at 12,700. It has since fallen to averaging 7,000, less than half of its total staff count. The firm had hoped to welcome back at least 50 per cent by the end of September.
This comes as another Big Four firm, Deloitte announced its likely closures of their Nottingham, Gatwick, Liverpool and Southampton office spaces due to a reduced demand for physical office space amongst their employees. This means four out of their fifty office spaces in the UK will now be shut, affecting up to 500 employees. Instead of redundancies however, those affected will be offered the remote working alternatives from home. The managing partner of Deloitte UK, Stephen Griggs, spoke of a “review to [their] real estate portfolio”.
Deloitte stands as one of the first of many large UK companies that will not renew leases on their office property spaces. CBI, a business lobby group, responded to this announcement in warning that this long-term shift to remote working for employees may create ghost towns in areas previously occupying by bustling office spaces.
Deloitte’s decision adds further pressure to the office property market, which already faces much uncertainty. According to Colliers International, a property consultancy firm, the demand of new office space in London has fallen dramatically standing at just half of what it was a year prior in 2019. Around 1.5 million square foot of office space was released in April.
The Big Four earlier indicated that staff would be returning in small numbers to their office spaces in early October. Only PwC has since attempted to follow suit on this, with KPMG expecting the majority of their staff to opt for working from home measures, as opposed to commuting to their offices.
Deloitte and PwC have taken opposing measures when faced with the dilemma of office space and employee safety. PwC’s commitment to office culture comes as a contradiction to Deloitte’s closures in Nottingham, Gatwick, Liverpool and Southampton. It will be interesting to see which measure pays off, and see how the other two Big Four firms, Ernst & Young (EY) and KPMG react in regards to their office spaces in the UK.
Tech giants Facebook and Google have also confirmed that they will not be returning to their offices until next year.