Every day there is a new announcement from a major employer about the way they are treating the “return to work” phase of the Coronavirus Crisis. The vast majority are taking a very different attitude to remote working than they did before the pandemic made them rethink.
Some sectors have managed to survive well during the lockdown because they are essentially “knowledge industries” and exchanging products and services over the Internet was a natural progression anyway. They have now discovered that as well as communicating with customers electronically, it can also be done with employees. Many leaders have been surprised to find how successful the home working experiment has been and are now rethinking their whole attitude towards flexible working. One sector in particular that is an obvious candidate for change is Finance.
Surveys have shown that a quarter of financial services employees will stay working a home forever, and 70% of City-based workers say they do not feel comfortable commuting to work via public transport any more. There’s a long list of CEO’s saying things will never be the same from Jes Staley of Barclays saying in April that big city offices may be a thing of the past through to Peter Harrison of Schroders telling his employees in August they will no longer be required to come into the office, even when the pandemic is over. HSBC has said that just 20% of its 10,000 London staff will return to their offices in September and the FT is reporting that “City employers plan for lasting switch to remote working” quoting many “Banks, asset managers, insurers and accountancy firms in London’s financial centre”.
The FT Advisor says that a quarter of advisers will not return to office in 2020 and “Flexible working is here to stay for financial advisers“. They quote Andy Bell, CEO of A J Bell with 850 employees, saying that he had been “completely wrong” in thinking all staff in the office at all times was the most productive way of working, adding that there were “lots of good things” coming out of the crisis and businesses would be “foolish” not to embrace them. Yet the media are still reporting that “British office workers lag behind their European counterparts in returning to work” which shows that we have not yet got the message. Actually British office workers lead the rest of Europe in adapting to a more productive way of working which is good for business, society and the environment. Referring to “returning to work” is a reflection of the outdated view that somehow “work” is a place you commute to. That might have been true in the Industrial Age but not any more. It may have taken a pandemic to make the point, but now leaders are beginning to realise work is an activity, not a place, and in many cases it can be done more effectively without commuting in to an office.