For Banks, Hybrid Work is Here to Stay

Banks are standing at a critical juncture when it comes to how and where their employees work. The direction they head could have long-term impacts on their ability to attract and retain top talent.

The Covid-19 pandemic will undoubtedly go down in history as an event that dramatically changed how — and where — the world works.

Prior to 2020 banks were doing much of their businesses in branches and offices. The pandemic forced them to quickly transition their massive workforces to work from home.

Almost four years later, leadership is changing its tune about where employees should work — with Wall Street banks like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs calling workers back into the office at least part-time.

But for employees, the push for remote and hybrid work options isn’t going away any time soon, says Avadhesh Dixit, chief human resources officer at Acuity Knowledge Partners, which provides research, analytics, and technology to financial services companies.

“It’s becoming a very important part of the employee value proposition,” Dixit says. “In many cases, candidates will be declining offers or declining the companies they want to work for if they’re not offering workforce flexibility.”

Executives know this, too. Many expect remote and hybrid work to grow over the next five years, according to the Survey of Business Uncertainty, which is run by the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, the University of Chicago and Stanford. By 2028, leaders surveyed said they expect 16.3% of their workforces to be working hybrid, up from 14.1%, and 11.2% to be working fully virtually, an increase from 10.2%, the survey found.

Banks are standing at a critical juncture when it comes to how and where their employees work. The direction they head could have long-term impacts on their ability to attract and retain top talent.

So what’s the end game? Hybrid work, Dixit says, is likely going to be the new normal for financial services companies moving forward. Offering workers the option to go into the office 2-3 days per week of their choosing both helps employees build stronger relationships with one another and allows for flexibility to log in remotely when they need it. It’s a happy medium that many workers are asking for, Dixit says.

“There’s a middle,” he says. “That’s a very beautiful middle.”

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All Employees See the Value in Remote Work Options

Younger generations, Millennials and Gen Z, are often more pro-remote work than Gen X and Baby Boomers. However, while it is true that younger workers do like remote work, Dixit says, employees of all generations want the option to work remotely at least some of the time.

“Workforce flexibility is a requirement of all generations,” he says. A whopping 98% of workers want the option to work remotely at least some of the time, according to a Buffer survey. Baby Boomers were also the most likely to prefer flexible or remote work, according to a survey from freelancer marketplace Fiverr.

However, as more millennials and Gen Z professionals take leadership roles, banks can expect more of a shift toward favoring hybrid and remote work options. Roughly 84% of millennials in an Axios survey say that remote work options are important to them. About 75% of Gen Z respondents say the same.

Banks Should Invest in Better Tech to Support Remote Workers

If hybrid work is the new expectation, banks will need to invest in technology that can support working from anywhere. “If you are a financial services organization, which is highly tech-enabled, the time has arrived for you to be extremely open to workplace flexibility,” Dixit says.

Economist Nicholas Bloom says companies will have to invest in better video conferencing technology to make hybrid working more collaborative.

“If you watch a football match on TV, there’s like ten, 15 cameras in a stadium, and they rotate between them to get a great view. And you really feel like you’re there and you’re in the action,” he said in an interview with McKinsey. “For a lot of meetings, there’s one camera. And that one camera’s at a weird angle. Person X is speaking and you can see his or her ear or part of their neck or their leg, and that’s it. And it feels so disconnected.”

Catering to a Younger Workforce:

Remote work is very important to three-quarters (75%) of Gen Z. How many Millennials say the same?

Artificial intelligence add-ons for video tools can also be helpful, he adds. These tools allow cameras to auto-focus on the person speaking and can make meetings much more engaging and personal. Technology companies are rapidly developing new tools to support remote work — and over the next few years there’s likely to be even more that can help employees get their jobs done efficiently at home.

Security technology is also important for remote workers, who may be logging into their work computer on public networks. Banks will have to invest in their security strategy to protect clients’ information and prevent cyberattacks.

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A Strategic Hybrid Work Model

A hybrid work model needs to be organized to be successful, Bloom says.

Banks should first assess how employees are working when they come into the office and try to make the environment as collaborative as possible. In some cases, this may mean encouraging employees to work from the office on the same day.

The investment bank Lazard, for example, sets a schedule for hybrid workers – requiring employees to be in the office Tuesday through Thursday, and then remote Monday and Friday. This creates a more equal playing field for employees, who are all working from similar places at the same time.

“Think about the best days for these cross-branch international meetings,” Bloom says. “Partly, if you have a lot of these, trying to make sure that globally, as an organization, you have harmonized in-person days and harmonized at-home days.”

Make Flexibility Part of the Culture

Many banks will never fully be able to go completely remote due to compliance requirements surrounding where employees can work, Dixit says. But even at organizations where employees are required to be in the office, managers can still provide flexibility where possible.

Flexibility needs to become part of your employer branding and part of your benefits package, Dixit says. In some cases, employees consider flexibility as important a benefit as health insurance.

“Ensure that workforce flexibility is bundled as an offer to the candidates when you reach out to them in the market,” he says. “That will go a long way in creating a positive employee brand.”

“Ensure that workforce flexibility is bundled as an offer to the candidates when you reach out to them in the market.”

— Avadhesh Dixit, Acuity Knowledge Partners

Some banks may also have to rethink long-term real estate contracts, especially if they move to a more hybrid work model and no longer need as much space. However, these contracts often aren’t the driving force behind these decisions. It’s the employees who are leading the charge.

“If I was planning for buildings, hiring strategy five, 10 years out, you should actually be thinking of higher levels of remote work then than they are now, not lower,” Bloom says.

Many workers want the option to see their colleagues face-to-face — just not every day of the week.

Caroline Hroncich is a freelance business journalist based in New York. She writes about workplace trends, HR, personal finance, banking, and more. Her work has appeared in MarketWatch, Business Insider, Employee Benefit News, the Society for Human Resource Management, and Cannabis Wire.

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