At Moorgate tube station in London’s financial district, more commuters braved the return to office on the first Monday since government guidance to work from home was lifted.
“It does feel busier today, it’s good – London’s waking up,” said the woman staffing the barriers of the station.
The great awakening is happening slowly, 然而. Customers at the Lazy Coffee stall in Abchurch Yard, a stone’s throw from the Bank of England, suggest it may take a while. Matthew Staite, the proprietor, has kept the stall going except for in the very depths of lockdown: “It’s been a pretty good barometer.” He hasn’t seen a significant rise in numbers but expects next week to be busier. “I’ve heard companies are starting to work out their gameplan. But no one’s said that people are coming back full-time.”
He greeted a familiar customer returning to a nearby investment bank. The young man, who did not want to be named, said he had not made the choice to return. “It’s coming from the top,” he said with a grin. The bank will do an 80/20 office/home split in theory, “but not every week”.
Transport for London recorded about 6% more tube journeys in the morning peak than a week ago. A similar picture was played out in 曼彻斯特, 在哪里 9% more tap-ins were recorded on Metrolink trams before 9am this Monday than last, according to Transport for Greater Manchester.
Some have happily returned, after Boris Johnson revoked the work from home guidance for England last week. One of the few suited passengers on an early Northern line train to Moorgate, James Warnaby, 32, was heading for a first day back in the office this year at his financial services recruitment firm. “I’m very much pro going back.” But his job-hunting clients have made him think few will return to offices full-time: “We have people saying I want two days a week at home now or I’m not moving.”
On London Bridge another recruitment professional, Alex Edwards, 37, who has commuted in from Brighton throughout, said his train remained “nice and empty – I always get a table for my laptop”.
But he said while some clients were “social animals who want to be in the office”, most of the older ones were devotees of home working, leaving the City barren. “It’s not the same. I don’t think it ever will be.”
Walking towards Bank was Diane Nagy, 54, head of bids at the IT firm NTT, on her second day back in the office. “I’m delighted,“ 她说. “I’ve put a note out to say I was going in. I think everyone’s excited – all my colleagues have been really positive.”
Many she has only met so far on Zoom: “I joined this company during the pandemic and don’t know how tall or short they are.” She had walked to work from Wapping in east London, and admitted she may have been more hesitant if commuting. But she missed busy office life: “I miss queueing.”
There were no queues at Nicholson & Griffin hairdressers at Leadenhall market. “It’s not changed today,” said Jana Lanka, 27, without a client in the first hour of opening. Pre-Covid, the early slot would be sought-after, and staff had hoped the changed guidance would mean immediate custom. “But on Friday we only had two clients walk through the door. And looking at appointments for this week, it’s not busy at all.”
网轨, which owns and operates most of the UK’s big train stations, said Monday morning’s footfall was down 0.3% from a week ago, with Mondays now the quietest day of the week for commuting.
In Manchester, Holly Paterson was on her way into her city centre solicitor’s office “for the first time in ages”. Her firm has allowed staff to choose their own pattern of working and Paterson was less concerned about the Omicron variant: “I’ve been there, I’ve done it, we’ve had it, so I feel fine.”
Dan Draper, one of two solicitors going into his office throughout the whole pandemic, 说: “It’s clearly a lot busier than it was 12 months ago on the trams, people are becoming more confident.” But, 他加了: “Nowhere like pre-pandemic levels … There’s loads of businesses really suffering still.”
One passenger making the journey by Metrolink into the city centre was Aisha Iqbal, who works in customer service and had been asked to return to the office every day. She said she felt safe commuting in from Oldham on the tram: “The windows are open and the majority of people are wearing masks.”
Iqbal said she welcomed the return to the office: “I prefer it, it just gives me a break. 在家里, it’s waking up 10 minutes before, logging on, and then after work if there’s more to do, I literally sit there until 7pm.”
Phoebe Scott, a trainee accountant, had cycled in to central Manchester, after returning by choice in early January. “I’ve got quite a small room, 一个真的, really small desk and a flatmate as well,“ 她说. “So it’s hard to concentrate.”
Back in London, Soho was busier with builders in hi-vis vests than the media and marketing industry workers that thronged its bars and restaurants before the pandemic. Most cafes and flexible working spaces had only a smattering of clients.
Francesco Pucino, the owner of Bar Bruno cafe on Wardour Street, said business was still at least 40% 连国际队友都没有. He said he had not seen a significant return of office workers, and was also missing out on business from early morning clubbers, taxi drivers and tourists. “I hope it will pick up. We need it. We have been struggling. Each person that comes back spends £5 or £10 here and there, and that makes the economy go round. Like this it is impossible to live.”
Ben Ravenscroft, in London for a social media marketing photoshoot for the first time since mid-December, 说: “It’s good to be back, seeing people and socialising again. With an agency it is really collaborative and it is a lot easier to have a conversation than write an email, a lot quicker.”
Lily Hewitt, a receptionist at a suite of media offices, 说: “The trains were packed on the way in, and a lot more people have come in today. It’s much better. Before Christmas no one came in for five days. It was really spooky, I had the whole building on my own. It’s been so quiet it’s weird but I hope we will get there.”