I mentioned in a previous post that my old company closed our London office effectively in August last year, and everyone started working from home and commuting to our other office in Hampshire one a week or every 2 weeks generally.
The cost of office space was much cheaper at our new location, for the the few members of staff who decided to move, living costs were much cheaper as well in terms of housing etc. However very people moved and most worked from home.
There are some obvious benefits to people working from home (WFH) - generally reduced travel costs, more spare time with family \ hobbies \ just relaxing with saved commuting time. In some ways the move generated some innovation and made us more paperless than before and there was more focus on effective communication, more video calls etc. There are some drawbacks (the proximity of the fridge being one!), but I do think it’s important to have a work area where you go to work and not everyone will have this. You also need to try and have good desks and seating to avoid back problems, have contingency for internet going down, perhaps amend some IT security requirements if PCs \ laptops will no longer be kept in the office etc.
I don’t think central London will empty of office space, but I think we will see far more expandable office space where you rent meeting rooms etc on a daily \ hourly basis for when you want to meet clients or colleagues.
When I started at my last company back in the 90s we did nearly all our sales, training, software installation etc onsite - I used to travel all over the UK and world doing this and upgrading databases etc, though a lot was in London. At some point in the 2000s this started to change and it’s now completely reversed for all of these as most are done virtually. You still want to meet colleagues and clients face to face from time to time when required, but with reasonably reliable and fast connections nowdays and cloud infrastructure most things are virtual, meaning much less office space is actually required. When I would interview Tech roles, many people had an expectation of working at home at least 2 days a week and I think it’s more of a factor in hiring now and will continue to be so.
So I expect as leases expire over the next 5-10 years we will see a huge change with large companies and small ones alike reducing their office space requirements, perhaps rates going down and maybe less commuting into central London. What will happen to those empty spaces who knows, I suspect they would get filled - maybe all our wonderful key workers will get some affordable accommodation in those areas! I’d hope in the long term more people WFH might give a benefit to local high streets as people will pop out at lunch, after work to get stuff they could not normally do.
edit - I meant to add that if people do WFH say 4 days a week, then moving out of London becomes much more attractive of course. I still like London and what SE23 gives us, and have family here in London (it’s where I was born), so probably won’t move out, but who knows what the future holds later down the line.