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O2 data shows Londoners are returning to the office

Data from O2’s network seems to suggest commuter numbers in London have roughly doubled in July compared to a year ago when lockdown lifted in England.

New anonymised crowd movement data from O2’s mobile network in the last two weeks of July suggested that peak commuter volumes into the City of London jumped by as much as 96% compared to the same period last year, around the time all the restrictions in England were dispensed with.

That is apparently still 27% off where they were pre-pandemic, but that was a different world of course when concepts such as furloughs, lockdowns and Chris Whitty were alien to most of us.

The anonymised, aggregated data was captured by O2 Motion which measures connections to O2 mobile masts to generate pictures of crowd movement trends. It looked at key commuter, hospitality and retail hubs across London including the City of London, Soho and Fitzrovia and White City.

Crowd volumes in the City of London topped 248,000 on Thursday 21st July, compared to just over 125,000 at the same time last year. Wednesdays and Thursdays have apparently emerged as the most popular days to trek into the office, and we’re informed that ‘Thirsty Thursdays’ continues to grow in popularity, with crowd volumes in the City at around 7pm being 68% higher compared to last year.

“A year on from lockdown lifting, large-scale crowd insights like this anonymised O2 network data can help paint a picture of the working, shopping and socialising patterns that could be here to stay,” said Mónica Mercado Páez, Head of AI and Data at Virgin Media O2 Business. “Understanding movement trends will be critical as the UK continues to adapt to the changing habits of a hybrid working population.

“It’s interesting to see that year-on-year, crowd trends in socialising and retail hotspots have stayed fairly consistent, but peaks in some busy commuter areas have almost doubled. From mapping out how Londoners are using office space and local businesses, to the scheduling of transport services, looking at data like this will help employers and city planners alike continue to evolve to best meet the needs of their people.”

We talk a lot about the cultural trend towards working from home, which obviously is a shift in terms of how societies organise themselves and has ramifications on the economy which it will probably take years to sift through. In telecoms its sometimes cited as a driver for fibre adoption, though as studies like this show the situation is fluid and its hard to tell exactly how it will all land in a few year’s time.

Perhaps ‘WFH’ will start to look like a temporary trend employed to fix a short term problem like covid, as everyone gets sick of being in the same four walls 7 days a week. Perhaps the office as we know it will cease to exist and WeWork type ventures will spike, as companies simply rent a room every now and again to check their workers are all still there. Or perhaps there will just always be geographical pockets and business sectors that place a greater value on communal working, and others that don’t.

Another factor that may have played into the figures was the record breaking temperatures the UK experienced/suffered in recent weeks. Perhaps the allure of a temperature controlled skyscraper overwhelmed the desire to not get on a train for many workers during that time. If offices do go the way of the dodo and the UK continues to get summers like this one, consumer air con companies seem well placed to enjoy a goldrush.

 

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