Coronavirus: Canary Wharf draws up return-to-work plans for offices

Oscar Williams-GrutSenior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Yahoo Finance UK
An empty Canary Wharf station at what would normally be the morning rush hour in London. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)
An empty Canary Wharf station at what would normally be the morning rush hour in London. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)

Bankers, lawyers, and accountants will have to follow one way systems and strictly limit the number of people in elevators as they begin to return to offices in Canary Wharf.

Canary Wharf Group, which owns and operates the London office hub, has drawn up detailed plans to ensure staff can safely return to their offices, according to the Financial Times.

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The FT reports that proposals include: turning high-traffic areas of the estate into one-way systems to enforce social distancing; keeping doors open to limit the need to touch handles; and limiting elevators to four people per lift.

Read more: Goldman Sachs staff to social distance upon return to office

Touchscreen maps in Canary Wharf’s malls will also be switched off and parks will be closed. Public urinals will remain shut and people will be forbidden from overtaking others on escalators across the estate.

The proposals are likely to severely limit the number of people who can ultimately return to offices in Canary Wharf, which is home to the skyscraper headquarters of Barclays (BARC.L), HSBC (HSBA.L), JP Morgan (JPM), and Citi (C), among others.

London's financial district in Canary Wharf. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
London's financial district in Canary Wharf. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

Around 120,000 people work in offices in Canary Wharf, according to property group Knight Frank. Howard Dawber, managing director of strategy at Canary Wharf Group, told the Financial Times he estimates half the working population could return with social distancing measures in place.

READ MORE: Barclays staff told to work from home until at least 15 June

It comes as the UK government begins to ease lockdown restrictions and encourage people who can’t work from home to return to the office.

Many banks have kept skeleton staff in offices throughout the crisis to conduct sensitive and essential work such as trading.

A man walks in Canary Wharf, during rush hour, in London. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
A man walks in Canary Wharf, during rush hour, in London. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

However, staff are not expected to rush back to buildings in Canary Wharf. Barclays told staff this week not to expect a return to the office until mid-June at the earliest and even then it could be gradual.

Read more: Barclays CEO says packed Canary Wharf offices 'may be a thing of the past'

Barclays chief executive Jes Staley had previously said packed offices would likely be “a thing of the past”, suggesting more staff could work remotely or from Barclays extensive branch network in the UK.

Goldman Sachs (GS) has also told staff not to expect a return to normal. The investment bank, which does not have a Canary Wharf presence, told staff last week it would be introducing social distancing measures among other precautions when employees do begin to filter back to its offices.

Banks including Barclays and HSBC dealt with outbreaks of COVID-19 among staff in early March before the nationwide lockdown was announced.

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