City of London Workers Already Anticipating Covid Restrictions
(Bloomberg) -- Even before the government was preparing a fresh round of Covid restrictions, some City of London workers were taking matters into their own hands.
Firms including Invesco and PwC have seen an increase in staff working from home recently, as employees take advantage of the flexibility afforded by remote working policies instituted since the pandemic.
The caution in the run up to Christmas precedes any official restrictions. The U.K. government is preparing to tell staff to work from home again in effort to contain the spread of the omicron variant, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.
“People self-adjust to moderate their own risk exposure,” Lord Mayor of London Vincent Keaveny, an ambassador for the City, said in an interview Monday. “One of the things that people are very concerned about is to protect their family Christmases and people are adopting a slightly more considered and perhaps slightly more conservative approach.”
Employers are boosting precautionary measures even as they defer to the unchanged government advice. At BNP Paribas SA’s real estate arm, socially-distanced desks have made a return and internal Christmas celebrations can now be postponed to 2022 “to avoid the risk of festive team events causing any unnecessary disruption to personal plans over the holiday period,” according to a spokesperson.
While firms are adopting increasingly cautious messaging, few have gone so far as to formally ask their staff to work from home. Spokespeople for hedge fund Man Group Plc, asset manager Schroders Plc and professional services firm PwC said they continue to follow government guidelines and monitor the situation closely. And flexible working means adjustments can happen without top-down guidance.
PwC’s flexible hybrid policy means “people can spend more time at home in the near term if they prefer,” a spokeswoman said, noting attendance has recently plateaued after rising the past few months. Those still coming into the offices are advised to take lateral flow tests and wear masks in the lifts.
Numis Corp. co-chief executive officer Ross Mitchinson said in an interview Wednesday that his broker was seeing “a few less people in the office.” He said he expects that trend to accelerate the nearer Christmas comes.
The retreat to kitchen tables and spare rooms comes as omicron takes hold in the U.K., with cases doubling every three days, according to government scientific advisers. Epidemiologists have warned omicron could supplant delta as the dominant variant within weeks.
On Wednesday, several participants dropped out of an analyst presentation for homebuilder Berkeley Group Holdings Plc’s half-year results. “It’s definitely spreading very quickly,” CEO Rob Perrins said in a phone interview, although he added he had confidence in the U.K. medical system’s ability to combat the variant.
While omicron is spreading faster, it’s not clear whether it’s as lethal as previous variants of the virus. Some physicians in South Africa have described cases as mostly mild, though public health experts say reports of early cases need to be interpreted with caution because many occurred in young people with no significant risk factors and may not reflect the reaction across a broad range of people.
While a slew of Christmas gatherings have been postponed or canceled and latte sales are lagging, attendance levels at investment banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are little changed, according to people familiar with the matter. Last week, more people were back in the City of London than at any time since the government imposed a lockdown in March last year, according to data compiled by Google. That supports the idea that any drop in attendance might be short-lived.
The current pullback from offices is likely to be temporary, Keaveny said. “I think the actual direction of travel remains very much lets get back to the office, lets get back to in-person gatherings.”
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