By Kristy Dorsey

BT is pressing ahead with a massive consolidation of its UK office space into centralised hubs even though most of its workforce remains based at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The telecommunications giant has added Glasgow and Dundee to the list of Scottish sites in its “key locations” under the Better Workplace Programme that was first unveiled in May 2018. This will see its portfolio of more than 300 UK offices slashed back to just 30 by the time the programme is completed in 2024.

Employing nearly 7,700 people, BT’s workplace programme is believed to be the largest corporate improvement and consolidation scheme of its kind ever undertaken in the UK. Edinburgh is also earmarked as a location for a central hub, as confirmed by the company in June of last year.

This latest announcement comes amid on-going speculation about the “death of the office” after millions of employees were hastily sent off to work from home as the pandemic took hold in March. Figures released yesterday by real estate firm CBRE revealed an 84% decline in office uptake in Edinburgh during the second quarter of this year, with Glasgow and Aberdeen down by 67% and 69% respectively.

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A spokesman for BT said most of its employees are still working from home, and are likely to continue doing so for some months to come.

“We recognise that there will be more blended working in the future, but we don’t see a change to the need to have offices where people can co-locate,” he said.

“It is a question of when the majority of workers will start returning to the office. I don’t see that happening very quickly – (not) within 2020 – but obviously we are planning for the long-term future.”

Alexander Bain House, BT’s main Glasgow office since 2001, is set for a multi-million pound refurbishment that will allow the addition of several hundred staff to the 1,000 people currently based there.

Work is due to begin once insurance group RSA vacates the fourth floor of the five-storey building, a planned move that should have happened earlier this year but has been delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak. The additional space will allow BT to accommodate approximately 200 extra staff previously based at other locations around the city.

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Upon completion, BT will occupy 135,000sq ft of the 170,000sq ft available at Alexander Bain House, with one floor continuing to be sub-let to another organisation. The building is located within the city’s International Financial Services District, of which BT is a founding partner.

Alexander Bain House is currently home to billing, customer services and some of BT’s Openreach digital network business. Openreach staff are expected to account for a substantial proportion of employees transferring to the site.

“It’s great that Glasgow has been chosen as a key operational location for BT,” city council leader Susan Aitken said. “We’re pleased that a large company such as BT is continuing to invest in Glasgow and modernising its office space in the centre of the city.

“The expansion of their business is good news for sustainable jobs, for the city and the wider economy – particularly at a time when we are working hard to secure Glasgow’s economic recovery from Covid-19.”

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BT currently has 10 main office locations in Scotland, as well as hundreds of exchanges in every town, city and village. Its exchanges are not part of the property consolidation programme.

“Our new and refurbished office locations in Scotland will bring our people together in impressive and modern environments, transforming the way we work,” said Graeme Paton, BT’s managing director for property and facility services. “Our colleagues will benefit from working in future-fit offices.”

According to an independent report by Hatch Regeneris, BT is responsible for generating £1 in every £110 produced in Scotland. It also added £1.2 billion to the country’s Gross Value Added (GVA) in the 2017/18 financial year.

The five-year Better Workplace Programme will cover the consolidation of corporate offices, contact centres and specialist sites.