Employers set to reduce office space by up to 9m sq ft - the equivalent of 14 skyscrapers

Major UK employers plan to reduce their office portfolio by up to nine million square feet, equivalent to 14 Walkie Talkie buildings - the 37 floor high rise on London's Fenchurch Street - according to PwC’s Occupier Survey of 258 of the UK largest companies. 

The fresh figures show half of the organisations surveyed expect to reduce the size of their real estate portfolio and, of these, one third believe they will reduce their office footprint by more than 30%. 

The findings indicate there is likely to be a sizable fall in occupied office space. Only 10% of those questioned agreed that the level of employees working from the office will return to pre-pandemic levels. Despite taking into account mass vaccinations, around half of the senior executives surveyed believe employees will continue to work virtually two to three days a week. 

The results also show that:

  • 71% of  respondents plan to increase investment in technology that enables agile working over the next two years.

  • Appetite for implementing ‘(sub)leasing models’ and exploring partnership models such as occupancy linked leases is low among respondents with the majority having no plans to introduce them in the future.

  • For organisations with more than 100 employees, 51% have a real estate and workplace strategy that considers the long term impact of COVID-19.

Angus Johnson, UK Real Estate Leader at PwC UK, said:

"The figures couldn't be more clear, the shift to hybrid working, with part of your time at home and part in the office, is pretty much embedded into the working culture of many organisations. So much so that a significant proportion of the businesses we spoke to are planning to reduce their office portfolio, which could lead to up to nine million square feet of vacant space. 

"However, it's clear that the role of the office is not going to disappear. We may see an increased demand for flexible space as many businesses operating models may well need that option if holding dead space is to be avoided. It’s also clear that the nature and purpose of office space is going to change. 

“As occupiers seek new, different space to meet their accommodation needs, environmental aspects will be increasingly important.  If the real estate sector is to  truly succeed as a more dynamic, greener industry it's imperative that creative thinking comes to the fore."

Industry sector trends

Across industry sectors, the Occupier Survey findings show that just over half of all  respondents said that virtual working has had a positive impact on productivity in their organisation.

However, within the financial services sector, fewer firms see virtual working as having a positive impact on productivity (48% positive impact vs 55% overall) despite almost 9 in 10 disagreeing that office working will return to pre pandemic levels. In comparison, organisations within the government and public sector see virtual working as having a positive impact on productivity (70% positive impact vs 55% overall). 

As mentioned, half  of the organisations surveyed think their organisation will reduce the size of its real estate portfolio and of these, one third believe they will reduce by more than 30%. For financial services firms, 60% of respondents said that they will reduce their footprint with 59% expecting it to reduce between 21% - 40%. For organisations within the government and public sector, 57%  said they will reduce their office footprint with 60% expecting it to reduce between 11% - 30%. Within the consumer markets sector, only 28% of businesses stated that they plan to reduce their office footprint (vs 50% overall).

Over three quarters of respondents said they are likely to reconfigure existing office space with 43% of financial services firms stating that they are extremely likely to do so as a result of the pandemic. Within the consumer markets sector, 62% of businesses also plan to reconfigure space stating collaboration as a key driver. Being more agile  for future disruption  was also cited as a key reason (60% vs 47% overall).




Notes to editors

258 UK responses from C-Suite executives and other senior employees. Online survey conducted between February-March 2021.

Over half of the organisations asked have up to 1,000 employees and over three quarters make revenue of £1bn or under.

Walkie Talkie calculation took  data set from PwC UK Research Occupier Survey and used figures from questions (How many largely office-based employees does your organisation have in the UK?) and (By what % do you think your office portfolio will reduce?) to forecast reduction.   Assumed office footprint allocated per employee was 90sq ft, the industry standard.


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