HSBC downsizes London HQ – but the office isn’t dead yet

HSBC has decided to leave its headquarters in Canary Wharf for a smaller office in central London, sparking a discussion on the future role of in-person working.

In a memo seen by Reuters, the 200,000-employee global bank said it intends to shrink the footprint of its headquarters with a move in late 2026, with the central London location of BT’s old offices said to be the preferred option.

HSBC had announced an office space review in 2022 and, prior to that, plans to reduce office space globally by around 40%.

Chief executive Noel Quinn has also said five days in the office is not necessary.

Many HR and people experts said HSBC’s retention of some space shows the office is not dead yet.

The hybrid work debate:

Return to the office: what employers are doing to incentivise in-office work

Employers warned to mind the gender gap in hybrid work

HR Most Influential Podcast: Solving the hybrid working conundrum with Gemma Dale

Terry Payne, global managing director at Aspire, said fully remote work does not work for everyone, and while flexibility has many benefits there are roles and people who still need to meet face to face.

He told HR magazine: “You also shouldn’t dismiss the fact that some people just find themselves more productive when working in the office. 

“The office still has an incredibly important role to play in my opinion, and many workers are calling for wellbeing support to combat isolation and low motivation, something which has largely stemmed from remote working.”

Alistair Gill, founder at Alchemy Labs, added that the office will always be important.

He told HR magazine: “Space – be it online or physical – and how we use it is a huge cultural and performance catalyst.

“There isn't a perfect mix, but the solution, much like all strategy, is about starting with the outcome you want and then working backwards.”

HSBC has stated the move to a smaller office space will also provide better focus on sustainability and wellbeing.

For Andrew Mawson, founder of Advanced Workplace Associates, this shows the bank’s awareness of the evolution of working structures.

He said: “HSBC is showing foresight by using the move to hybrid working to allow it to have a smaller, greener, more flexible headquarters that is more convenient for employees.

“The world will become divided between enlightened employers embracing new ways of working, to be more efficient and ditch expensive real estate, and the old command and control bosses.”

Payne said the space indicates that a flexible approach to talent management and attraction is being considered too.

He added: “I wouldn’t say HSBC’s plan to downsize is a sign that working from the office is a thing of the past.

“Businesses are now understandably thinking differently about how they work and where from and a flexible approach can aid talent attraction and retention.”

Bryony Stickells, co-founder of resourcing agency Jelli, said for the continued use of office space to be successful it needs to be wrapped up in an individualised people strategy, used as a place where people learn skills, forge social connections and cultural bonds, and is truly flexible.

She told HR magazine: “Businesses need to consider how to create an environment that is flexible to different teams patterns, can provide space for those who like noise and quiet, works for everyone and promotes wellness opportunities.”