Future working models at big banks begin to fall into place

HSBC and JP Morgan have revealed more about their plans for mixed-working models following the changes forced upon them during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

The banks’ plans demonstrate that there will be no simple one-size-fits-all working model of the future.

When the pandemic emerged over a year ago, organisations across the world had to suddenly and quickly enable staff to work from home. This was essential as world health bodies recommended limiting human interaction with each other and public amenities.

When Covid-19 is gone, or under control, working models will remain changed forever, but they won’t all be the same, with different sectors creating the most appropriate models.

These are beginning to emerge. UK bank HSBC is moving 1,200 of its 1,800 UK-based contact centre staff to permanent home-working contracts.

In February, HSBC CEO Noel Quinn said offices with support functions and head office activities are being targeted for space reduction. “We believe we will achieve it via a very different style of working post-Covid with a more hybrid model,” he said.

The bank said it is reducing its office space by 40% and moving to a hybrid-working model that enables staff to work from home as well as in offices.

HSBC said it will retain its Canary Wharf office and bring staff back when appropriate, which reveals the balancing act required in all sectors, when it comes to future working models. The financial services sector is a good example.

The CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, recently referred to the home-working revolution as an “aberration” and “not the new normal”, as it is often described.

He told a conference recently that the company would move people back to its offices as soon as possible. “For a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal,” he said. “And remote working is not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”

Striking a balance

Meanwhile, JP Morgan, which has similar challenges, is looking to balance working models. In a letter from CEO, Jamie Dimon, to shareholders, he revealed more of the US investment bank’s future plans. This included potentially 25,000 staff working from home full time.

He wrote that some employees will have a hybrid-working weeks, with some days in an office and other days at home, and potentially 10% of it 255,000 workforce working remotely permanently “for very specific roles”.

“In all cases, these decisions depend on what is optimal for our company and our clients, and we will extensively monitor and analyse outcomes to ensure this is the case,” he wrote.

He said the bank plans to reopen when health authority and government guidelines permit, but added that office arrangements will be different: “We will quickly move to a more ‘open seating’ arrangement, in which digital tools will help manage seating arrangements, as well as needed amenities, such as conference room space.”

He said for every 100 employees, the company might have seats for 60 on average. “This will significantly reduce our need for real estate,” he said.

However, he made the case that virtual working, even using the best technologies available, is not for all roles.

“Performing jobs remotely is more successful when people know one another and already have a large body of existing work to do. It does not work as well when people don’t know one another,” he said.

Technologies such as Zoom have become the tools of choice for communicating during the pandemic, but they can’t do everything. Dimon said that most professionals in investment banking learn their job through an apprenticeship model, “which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world”.

“Over time, this drawback could dramatically undermine the character and culture you want to promote in your company,” he wrote.

He added that heavy reliance on Zoom meetings actually slows down decision-making because there is little immediate follow-up. “And remote work virtually eliminates spontaneous learning and creativity because you don’t run into people at the coffee machine, talk with clients in unplanned scenarios, or travel to meet with customers and employees for feedback on your products and services,” he said.

Workers facing digital exhaustion

Digital exhaustion is another problem with the current forced remote working. Microsoft has quantified the digital exhaustion that workers were feeling. It said the digital intensity of workers’ days had increased substantially, with the average number of meetings and chats steadily increasing since last year.

Specifically, when comparing collaboration trends in Microsoft 365 between February 2020 and February 2021, time spent in Microsoft Teams meetings was revealed to have more than doubled globally and, apart from a holiday dip in December, continued to climb.

The average Teams meeting increased in length from 35 to 45 minutes, while the average Teams user was sending 45% more chats per week and 42% more chats per person after hours, with chats per week still on the rise.

The number of emails delivered to commercial and education customers in February 2021 was up by 40.6 billion compared with the same month last year. Microsoft also saw a 66% increase in the number of people working on documents.