Will Bankers Ever Go Back to the Office Again?

Working from home has tremendous appeal to many of those working in the banking industry. But are financial institutions ready for this?

A client at a large financial institution asked, “Post-pandemic, if we can safely bring our employees back to the office, should we?”

This is a question that has leaders at banks and credit unions of all sizes pondering an uncertain future and wondering how it will affect the future of work.

Though the shift to many people working at home has challenged many organizations in some way, so far results have not suffered. Many have not faced any significant decrease in productivity or threat to security as a result. While the urgency of the COVID crisis so far hasn’t made what we have today a true test of remote working, financial institutions have had months now to see how remote working can succeed. The future holds more options to consider, many of which were considered impossible in prior years or even prior months.

In answering the question I posed above, there are dimensions many financial institution executives may not be thinking about yet. But they need to.

Competition for Banking Talent Is Changing

A growing population of fintechs, big techs and challenger banks have appeal to segments of traditional institutions’ customer bases. Institutions see them as competition for market share. But increasingly they must also see them as competition for talent.

And when it comes to a culture of remote working, the competition is ahead of the traditional financial services industry. Furthermore, the way that financial services employees think about remote work is evolving.

Many employees have proven they can work effectively from home, and now that they have, many want to. In fact, privately, they demand to. Flexible working arrangements are no longer a perk — they are becoming table stakes. Starting with the demands of working parents to not only have flexible working locations, but schedules as well, the 9-5 standard has essentially gone out the window.

And when the 9-5 working arrangement becomes relaxed and extend to working non-parents, this population starts to wonder why they even need to live near their office. Why pay to live in an expensive city studio when you can have an easy acre in the country? Why work from home when you can log in and do your work from an Airbnb by a beach?

As employees start to ask these questions, banks and credit unions face some practical questions of their own to answer. These include:

  • With employees working anywhere, at any time, how do banks and credit unions ensure both organization and client data remain safe?
  • How do bosses know who is too busy to take on more work and who is too distracted to be productive?
  • Is there any way of telling if you’re meeting your goals or vastly behind?
  • Has your institution lost control of the reins?
  • Or has technology enabled a world where we can truly have it all?
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Aside from COVID-19, What Has Changed? Plenty

Offices became historically important in the first place as a place to communicate and collaborate. In banking, for years, the bank was where the vault was.

“60% of employees surveyed during a recent Capco engagement said that if their company didn’t offer flexible work arrangements, they’d look for another position.”

Now, through tools like Zoom, MS Teams, Slack and Mural, companies no longer depend on having desks within earshot of each other or conference rooms to brainstorm in. Institutions can (and have) made all of those things work across their teams regardless of location.

In fact, 98% of employees have stated that they would like to work remotely at least part time for the rest of their career, according to Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report.

In addition, Research by International Workplace Group found that 80% of employees wouldn’t take a job that didn’t offer flexibility and that 30% of employees actually left over flexibility issues.

Employee expectations are changing. 60% of employees surveyed during a recent Capco engagement said that if their company didn’t offer flexible work arrangements, they’d look for another position. There is increasing sentiment that employees have proven they are accountable for their work regardless of location.

Post-COVID, employees will see loss of this newfound freedom as though they are not trusted by management despite the evidence that they’re performing more than well enough to be trusted. In our recent work with a client, 64% of participants said they felt more productive, engaged and motivated working remotely, and nearly 80% stated they trusted their colleagues to be accountable when working from home.

There is another wrinkle, regarding the cost of setting up for long-term work from home. While there is still no timeline for when a safe return to the office may be an option, there is also changing sentiment about how employers are accommodating remote work in the interim.

Many employees are no longer delighted by one-time stipends for technology and home-work accessories. They expect to work remotely, at least part of the time, for the long haul. In line with this, there is an expectation that companies will invest in the ongoing success of remote work.

Beyond employers paying for home office expenses, employees surveyed also expect remote and in-office employees to be subject to the same performance and promotion standards — they believe working remotely shouldn’t change anything about their career progression.

The emphasis on outcome of work rather than time spent working has been a shift in mindset for years. We are seeing that now as an imperative for fair employee recognition and rewards.

Widespread Home Office Work Changes Workplace Dynamics

Technology isn’t enough. If financial organizations don’t have the appropriate mindsets and behaviors in place, institutions are more likely to work in silos and only providing a voice to the “loudest voice in the Zoom.” Companies can also become less inclusive, connection and purpose likely deteriorating as a result. Managers must work harder and smarter to create a sense of team now. And if institutions don’t have the right security measures in place, not only do they risk not meeting regulatory requirements, but both companies and employees could be held accountable.

“Managers must work harder and smarter to create a sense of team now.”

The good news is, it’s not all about changing expectations that threaten disruption in the workplace. Since switching to working remotely, many companies have seen a host of benefits.

As part of a global survey by BCG concerning remote working models, respondents stated that they’ve seen incredibly positive trends: Companies surveyed saw a 15%-40% increase in employee productivity, a 40% reduction in absenteeism, and the potential for 20% or higher cost reduction in real estate and resource usage.

The question of sustainability remains. There has been an increase in empathy for many teams and managers as we feel “We are all in this together.” Many feel as though this empathy has brought their team closer. Seeing people in their homes with their families, the art on their walls, and having their pets interrupt conference calls has made them more human, more relatable, and has deepened relationships.

However, will this decrease over time? 63% of respondents from our recent engagement said they miss working with their colleagues in person. And many have concerns that as we onboard new employees over time, it will be difficult to build new relationships and maintain company culture.

How Can You Determine What’s Best for Your Institution?

The best way to know what will work for your people is to ask them. A survey makes a good starting point.

However, surveys can’t get at all of it. Employees may have mixed feelings, feeling both more productive but less focused, for example. That makes surveys harder to rely on. In our own research we have been talking to people in depth to identify and understand employees’ pain points and motivations.

Times are changing, and employees don’t support returning “back to normal” but rather moving forward to what is next. The good news is it’s not an all-or-nothing choice. There are new and inventive ways to approach the future of work with technology the enables teams, and behaviors and rituals that empower employees. The more banks and credit unions include their employees in that process, the more likely they are to reach a solution that balances the needs of both institution and staff.

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