WFH or office — which way will financial services go?

Posted by Robin Powell on April 14, 2021

WFH or office — which way will financial services go?


Is the working from home part of the new normal for the financial services industry, or a temporary aberration? We’re about to find out.

Zoom and Team video calls, balancing child-minding with client meetings and squeezing in the reading of research reports between opening the door to tradespeople has been the reality for millions of people in the past year in the face of the pandemic.

Unlike ‘close proximity’ industries such as hospitality, tourism, childcare and traditional bricks-and-mortar retailing, many jobs in the financial services industry are well-suited to remote work, particularly those in back-office, compliance and research roles. 

But the acceleration of vaccination programmes in many countries and the easing of lockdowns are triggering an intensifying discussion among executives of financial services companies about where to strike the future balance between remote and office work.


For and against

While some CEOs, such as Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon, have rejected the working-from-home movement as an “aberration”, the simple fact is that many in the workforce have found it preferable to dealing with the hassles of the long commute.

A KPMG survey released in late 2020 found half of the UK financial services workforce want to continue working from home for at least part of the week after COVID-19. And just over a quarter of those surveyed want to work from home full-time.

What seems likely, according to many HR professionals, is that we end up with a hybrid model where workers are required to come into the office for two-to-three days a week for meetings and connections and spend the rest of the week working from home.

The arguments for more remote work and the elimination of the 8-5 commuting rat race are pretty hard to ignore. It’s better for the environment, it provides more flexibility and, most of all according to multiple surveys, it leads to a happier, more productive workforce.

Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, carried out a randomised control trial which found a 13% increase in performance resulting from working at home. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction and their attrition rate halved.

But it is not all upside. Alongside the positives of productivity and the elimination of the commute, there are also several known negatives of working from home — including reduced knowledge sharing, deteriorating team relationships, reduced innovation, social isolation and, particularly for younger workers, a stunting of mentoring and career progression.


No simple answer

In its review of the research, the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development — the professional body for HR executives — has recommended against a one-size-fits-all approach. 

“The appropriate balance of home and office work depends on the type of work, the team processes in place, the manager’s capability, and the degree of cultural support within the organisation, as well as the individual’s home circumstances and the support the employer can provide for technology and equipment,” CIPD found.

“As with any kind of flexible working — or indeed any kind of job design — a person-centred approach is most likely to result in a solution that suits the individual, the team and the organisation.”

That seems the more likely outcome for work arrangements post-pandemic. In short, it will depend.



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Robin Powell

Robin is a journalist and campaigner for positive change in global investing. He runs Regis Media, a niche provider of content marketing for financial advice firms with an evidence-based investment philosophy. He also works as a consultant to other disruptive firms in the investing sector.


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