The debate surrounding flexible working

After a year which has forced large swathes of the population to work from home, what does the future of working look like?

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Robert Half

With major institutions like HSBC and Lloyds announcing large cuts to their office footprints, there has been renewed speculation across the corporate world about the long-term future of the office. This is borne out by the latest research, which found 89% of business leaders expect hybrid working between home and the office to remain a permanent feature, even after the pandemic is over.

However, despite such a strong majority, the debate is far from settled, especially after the latest comments from David Solomon, chief executive at Goldman Sachs. Solomon called home working an ‘aberration’ that must be corrected ‘as soon as possible’, indicating that working patterns across the financial world may be set to diverge sharply into two distinct camps. On the one hand, having people physically together can reinforce organisational culture, and a spirit of collaboration but, on the other, allowing greater flexibility over location enables firms to broaden their talent pool and boost agility and productivity.

When it comes to attracting and retaining the top talent, managing these issues can be tricky. A company’s approach to hybrid working – whether embracing or rejecting it – makes a big statement about corporate culture that can significantly affect the type of candidates’ managers can attract when trying to build a top performing team. So, in a fiercely competitive market, what is the right balance to strike?

Managing the move to remote working

When discussing the need for employees to return to the office as swiftly as possible, Solomon made no secret of his issues with remote working, speaking about his desire for Goldman to maintain its innovative and collaborative culture, as well as his concerns about the impact remote working has on training and development for junior staff – and Solomon isn’t alone – when asked about the problems of having a hybrid workforce, a survey of 1,500 executives were almost unanimous in citing these five key issues:

  1. Monitoring workloads.
  2. More complicated hiring/onboarding of new staff.
  3. Maintaining culture.
  4. Assessing employee wellbeing and mental health.
  5. Hard to optimise engagement/collaboration.

Adapting to meet these challenges isn’t easy, and businesses are having to make significant changes in how they operate, such as adjusting working hours and standard processes for remote employees, or redesigning job descriptions and responsibilities to better reflect workers’ capabilities. On top of this, nearly half of remote-working employees are looking to switch to a four day working week to help cope with burnout which, if adopted broadly across the industry, would require major restructuring of teams and responsibilities for almost every firm.

Yet, despite the disruption that moving to a permanent hybrid model can cause, there are excellent reasons for banks and other businesses to embrace the change. The first and most obvious is that it’s what employees are demanding, with an overwhelming 92% saying they would like to either work from home full time, or have the ability to choose on a daily or weekly basis – unsurprising, when remote working has been shown to boost job satisfaction and productivity in the long run. This means that, for the vast majority of open roles, prospective candidates may be put off by a company which demands they be in the office five days a week. In addition, adopting a hybrid approach enables firms to dramatically expand their potential talent pool for new hires, as well as retaining key personnel who might otherwise leave.

The future of work – redefined

With the fight against the pandemic far from over, it’s too soon to say what longer-term working patterns will look like in the aftermath of COVID-19, especially when it comes to the future of the office. Despite this uncertainty, financial executives need to decide where they stand on hybrid working.

Making these decisions isn’t easy but, by ensuring they have a strong grasp of how each role will be impacted by remote working, and a good understanding of the ways in which the market is moving, it’s possible for the financial world to turn this disruption into a competitive advantage in the ongoing war for talent.

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