Office politics in play as BT shuts sites to save money

Mary Lennighan
By Mary Lennighan

Jun 6, 2019

© BT

© BT

  • UK incumbent to close 270 UK offices by 2023
  • Will focus on just 30 sites, names first eight
  • Sale of St Paul's HQ could raise over £200 million
  • 5G will provide little comfort for many of its 84K employees

Many of BT's 84,300-strong UK workforce on Wednesday were left wondering how long it will take them to get to work in future when the telco revealed that it will close the bulk of its domestic offices – that's around 270 sites – over the next three years.

Actually, that's not quite correct. It announced the office closures just over a year ago as part of a strategy update, but chose its wording so carefully that we didn't give it our full attention. Well, I didn't at least.

At the time, the operator said its plans would include "focusing on around 30 modern, strategic sites to create a more collaborative, open and customer focused working culture, including plans to exit BT's headquarters in Central London." Naturally, we all oohed and ahhed at the thought of BT moving out of its office in St Paul's, home for the past 140 years, and then went on to discuss its aim to cut 13,000 jobs and reduce costs by £1.5 billion over three years.

On Wednesday BT said it still looking for a new London HQ, although the Guardian reported that it is "closing in on" the £200 million-plus sale of the St Paul's office and working on a relocation to the Aldgate area of London. Canary Wharf and other sites in East London have also been named as possible new bases for the telco.

BT staff outside of London and other major cities could be in for a difficult time in the coming few years. Because it turns out that focusing on 30 sites means it will offload – or simply close, we're not sure – the remainder of its 300 or more buildings. The 30 sites will house corporate offices, contact centres and specialist sites, BT said, naming the first eight locations for these new centres; in addition to a new London home, BT will also retain a presence in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Ipswich (Adastral Park) and Manchester.

For BT employees outside those locations, this is an uncertain time. Media outlets in the North East have highlighted the fact that there is no presence mentioned in their region, for example. While it's probably too early to panic – there are more than 20 locations still to be named – Wednesday's announcement makes uncomfortable reading for many.

According to the national press, BT has confirmed that there will be no job losses – outside of the aforementioned 13,000, presumably – and that affected staff will all be offered relocation packages. But that's unlikely to bring much comfort to employees who like living where they are and potentially have a partner employed locally, children settled in schools, and so on.

"Revealing these eight locations is just the first step; we have dedicated teams working on identifying the best buildings to move into and which ones to redesign for the future," said BT chief executive Philip Jansen. "As a result of this programme, BT people will be housed in inspiring offices that are better for our business and better for our customers."

I have to admit to being less than inspired by the artist's impression (below) BT shared of what one of its new offices might look like. Maybe I'm getting old, but those chairs look decidedly uncomfortable. It's OK though, BT assures us that all eight of the locations listed will have 5G. Given that 5G will serve all our needs going forward, or so the hype would suggest, one presumes the staff can just sit on that.

Joking aside, BT can't really win with this one. Of course people are going to question this decision, since it affects so many people's jobs and lives. But at the same time, the telco is under pressure to cut costs to keep shareholders happy, make prices competitive to keep customers happy, and invest in infrastructure to keep the regulator happy. The office consolidation plan is due to be completed in 2023. By that time, surely somebody will be happy with BT.

© BT

© BT

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