British Airways to Consider Selling HQ in Wake of Remote Work
U.K. carrier, hammered by the pandemic but pleased with remote work, considers a more permanent flexible-office plan
British Airways is considering selling its sprawling headquarters on the periphery of London Heathrow Airport, as the pandemic prompts more companies to embrace remote working in the long term.
The airline, one of Europe's biggest and the largest unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, has been walloped by the pandemic.
The company said the move is being considered in light of enthusiasm by employees over remote working.
A sale could also raise cash and help British Airways cut costs amid pandemic-triggered financial strain.
The airline, like most other big companies, asked much of its workforce to work from home starting early last year.
Staffers adapted well to that, the company said, and employees are eager to continue flexible working after it is safe to return to offices.
The U.K. government has said it would permit offices to reopen in late June.
Many companies are rethinking office life in a post-pandemic world.
Alphabet Inc.'s Google said last week it was investing $7 billion in new offices and data centers across the U.S., saying it was committed to a culture of "coming together in person to collaborate."
The search giant expects employees will return to offices in the fall but plans to allow workers to work remotely two days a week.
Other big tech firms, such as Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc., have said they would allow more of their employees to work from home longer term.
British Airways positioned the possible sale as a vote of confidence in remote work.
"One of the very few positive aspects of the last 12 months is that people have adapted well to working away from their offices," director of people Stuart Kennedy said in a letter to staff seen by The Wall Street Journal.
"Yes, the experience of working from home can feel very different to the office, but it's no less productive."
A sale by British Airways could also bolster the company's finances at a time it and other airlines are bleeding cash.
Covid-19 has scared off many fliers and triggered global travel bans that have grounded a large chunk of its fleet.
IAG on Friday separately issued terms of a £1 billion ($1.4 billion) fundraising effort to shore up its finances. It secured a £2 billion five-year loan at the beginning of January that is partially backed by the U.K.'s export credit agency, money that has been ring fenced for British Airways.
The acceptance of working from home by employees "has accelerated our approach to offering more agile and flexible ways of working," a spokesman for the airline said. "We've also restructured our business to emerge from the crisis and are considering whether we still have the need for such a large headquarters building."
If British Airways proceeds with a sale, the airline said it may shift employees to workspaces in smaller properties it owns around the airport. Employees could split their time between their homes and new office spaces.
British Airways bought its Waterside headquarters, on the outskirts of Heathrow, in 1998 for £200 million.
The company, which has cut about a quarter of its roughly 40,000 staff in response to the pandemic, usually has around 2,000 staff based at the office block. Employees for revenue management, marketing and back-office functions work at the site.
The airline is working with a specialist property company to evaluate a sale, Mr. Kennedy told staff, adding that a sale "is just one option available to us."
"Regardless, we'll want to consider what the ideal office layout for the future will be," Mr. Kennedy wrote. "Perhaps it's less fixed desks and more casual meeting areas."