“Having some sort of property footprint is important because it’s a meeting place in a people business. It’s also a meeting place for our clients,” he says. Offices also help to create a sense of togetherness among colleagues, he adds.
Hiscox, the insurer, reopened its London office over a month ago but most of its staff have stayed away. Only two of the nine floors are even open and those are far from full.
Bronek Masojada, its chief executive, says he will be encouraging, but not forcing, staff to come into the firm’s office and meet their colleagues in August.
“It’s amazing how actually there’s a psychic pleasure and relief in leaving your home where you’ve been constrained and coming into the office to see people you’ve been working with all that time,” he says.
Workers in other countries have been quicker to get back to the office. In Hiscox’s German office, about 50pc of staff have returned and there is a societal expectation to do so, says Masojada.
So far, the Government’s pleas for people to get back on commuter trains and into the office have not created a similar expectation in the UK, heaping pain on city centre shops and bars.
If there is no vaccine soon, something else may have to change before people want to get back to the office. A spell of cold weather and soaring home heating bills might encourage some people to rethink.
“It’s certainly true that lockdown has been through a glorious period of weather,” says James, Direct Line’s boss. “Whether people feel the same in a winter is untested. I suspect some will, some won’t.”
Those that do may find many of their favourite dining spots have already been squeezed out of existence. What is not clear is whether there will ever again be enough office working for them all to return.