The advance of telecommuting is on the way to changing entire sectors of the economy, with the office real estate market among the major victims. The British-flagged airline, British Airways, has acknowledged this Friday that it is studying the sale of its headquarters – one step away from London Heathrow airport – given the change in work dynamics: less time in the office, much more remotely. The money raised by the building, whose construction in 1998 cost 200 million pounds sterling (234 million euros at current exchange rates), would offer the airline a significant cash inflow at one of the most critical moments in its history. The British Airways headquarters had been under construction for years, as the expansion of the largest airfield in the British capital – now postponed – would force its demolition.
“We have restructured our business to overcome the crisis and we are considering whether we still have the need for such a large headquarters,” stressed a company spokesperson in a note published hours after the newspaper Financial times reveal the possible change of plans. The pandemic, the statement underlines, has “accelerated” the company’s shift towards “more agile and flexible ways of working.” It must also be borne in mind that the vast majority of British airline employees are pilots, cabin crew, engineers or airport personnel, who do not work in the office. “It is not clear that Waterside plays a role in our future,” the airline’s chief of staff, Stuart Kennedy, had written in a statement in which he clarified that the sale process is still in an initial phase.
The Waterside complex is not only the main office building for British Airways, but also the place where the staff of its parent company IAG works (which also includes Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus, among others). Its sale would be a further step in the airline group’s strategy to try to survive the hit of the coronavirus, which has caused the greatest crisis in the history of the airline industry. The British airline, which relies heavily on routes connecting the islands to the United States, lost € 4.46 billion last year, more than triple that of Iberia and five times more than Vueling. Altogether, the Spanish-British airline group raised its red numbers to almost 7,000 million euros.
Since the outbreak of the covid-19, British Airways has applied a strong snip to all its cost lines and has tried to make cash in every imaginable way, even selling works of art that it exhibited in its VIP lounges or items that it routinely delivers to your first-class customers. Dismissals in the last year already exceed 10,000 people and with a large part of their workforce covered by public income maintenance mechanisms such as ERTE or its equivalents in other European countries.
The move toward full teleworking or more hybrid modalities – part of the week at the office, part at home, the pattern that most experts believe will prevail in many industries in recent years – has hit the gas since March 2020. A vast majority of US tech workers have been working from home since the start of the pandemic. In Spain, Liberty Seguros has been the first firm to establish permanent teleworking for employees who so wish — and a majority have already said yes in an internal survey. And two British banks, Lloyds and HSBC, have already said they will cut their office space by between 20% and 40%.
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