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What does the return to the office look like across Europe?

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As we know, the Covid-19 pandemic has struck countries across the world differently, with lockdowns occurring at different times and now at different levels of severity.

During this time, a large percentage of the population was required to work from home, with only essential workers being able to travel to their places of work, which in some cases was the office. However, as lockdowns across Europe eased for most countries in late spring 2020, people began returning to the office, albeit at different rates depending on the country. *

As the first year of the pandemic drew to a close, BNP Paribas Real Estate Property Management chose to look into the trend of returning to the office in order to see how this was being done across the European continent. 
 

We can see that in countries that were struck particularly hard, like Italy, companies have been much more precautious throughout 2020. Being able to adapt our operations for the assets we managed during this crisis, we have had a front row seat, allowing us to facilitate the careful balance companies have put in motion to enable a safe return to the office. This has been carried out whilst carefully respecting public authorities’ recommendations.

Csongor Csukas
Head of International Property Management at BNP Paribas Real Estate
Europe

Spain

By the end of 2020, the office occupancy rate for Spain stood at 50-75%. Whilst Spain went into a strict lockdown in March 2020, most companies chose to maintain physical presence in the office after lockdown by establishing a system of rotation between teams.

France

For France, the occupancy rate in offices reached 15-25% by the end of 2020. During 2020 and continuing into 2021, the message from the French government has been to favour remote working and limit being in the office to one-day a week. As Grégoire Tripon, Deputy Managing Director, Head of Business Development – Europe at BNP Paribas Real Estate Property Management explains though, this is not always the case. He outlines that, “What we have monitored is slightly at odds with the public messaging. In December, when the advice from the Minister of Work was to maintain 100% working from home, French people were generally going to the office once a week. In January 2021, this was around 1.5 days.”

 Indeed whilst for many Americans companies, the decision was taken to not ask employees to return before at least September 2020, French companies instead opted to carefully and selectively bring people back to the office to maintain social connection and reduce mental health issues associated with isolation
 

The UK

The UK had one of the lowest office occupancy rates in Europe, with only 5-10% of employees back in the office at the end of 2020. Grégoire Tripon explains that, “Whilst in September other countries in Europe were relaxing lockdown rules, the UK was tightening them.” With the emergence of the British variant of Covid-19, and the substantial rise in cases, many companies chose not to bring employees back to the office. 

Whilst in France and Spain decisions had been made to bring back employees to the office, the rolling-out of remote working seems to have been welcomed in Britain, particularly in London. As a result of expensive transport fares and long commutes, many workers have appreciated some of the aspects of working from home. With the date of 21st June now set as the end of lockdown, for many workers, the return to the office might not happen until at least the summer. 
 

Germany

Germany’s office occupancy was 15% at the end of 2020. Government messaging surrounding working from home has been strong and consistent, with many companies choosing to adhere to the rules and keeping most of the workforce at home.

Italy

Like Germany, Italy’s occupancy rate reached 15% at the end of 2020. As Csongor Csukas Head of International Property Management at BNP Paribas Real Estate explains, “We can see that in countries that were struck particularly hard, like Italy, companies have been much more precautious throughout 2020. Being able to adapt our operations for the assets we managed during this crisis, we have had a front row seat, allowing us to facilitate the careful balance companies have put in motion to enable a safe return to the office. This has been carried out whilst carefully respecting public authorities’ recommendations.”