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Birmingham (Slowly) Goes Back To The Office

CBRE's Birmingham office, in the former Bank of England building

CBRE’s Birmingham office is probably the most conspicuous workplace in the city.

Built as the Bank of England’s regional outpost, it was meant to be noticed, and its location opposite the cathedral suggests that God and mammon are keeping an eye on one another.

Now, slowly, CBRE staff are returning to their desks for the first time since the 23 March lockdown.

“Our return will be phased and tentative,” CBRE Birmingham Managing Director Martin Guest said.

"We have just under 20% of our total office of 140 people approved/signed up to come in the first wave and will be anywhere between a dozen to 25 in for the first two weeks. Then we will gradually increase to what we expect to be still no more than 50% within the first month or so."

Phased and tentative seems to be the rule in Birmingham. Transport data suggests that roughly four out of five commuters are still working from home. Figures  supplied to Bisnow by the West Midlands Combined Authority suggest only very limited numbers of city centre workers are returning to their desks.

On 2 June buses were carrying approximately 25% of their pre-lockdown passengers. Rail passenger numbers were running at about 10% of pre-lockdown rates and the West Midlands Metro tram line at about 30%. During April, when lockdown restrictions were at the maximum, the network was broadly running at about 10% of the pre-lockdown rate.

Private car volume in Birmingham City Centre is now at about 75% of pre-lockdown levels, reflecting the advice to avoid public transport.

And this is just as well, because total public transport capacity will be just 35% of normal, thanks to social distancing requirements.

CBRE has resumed work with a barrage of social distancing measures and the now obligatory instructional signage.

More businesses will follow if data from the West Midlands Combined Authority reflects the mood. Survey data from the last week of May showed that as many as 77% of West Midlands businesses believe they will be in a position to introduce measures for social distancing at premises, often with staggered travel plans. 

Significantly, 47% also strongly agreed that they would be able to make provisions for remote working (and only 4% strongly disagreed with this statement). 

The next stage in Birmingham’s return to the office will be mapped out in a new prospectus being developed by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.

The professional and financial sector is one of five targeted by the recovery prospectus, which will be finalised in the coming weeks, according to paperwork submitted to Birmingham City Council.