Comment & Analysis

A whole new way of working?

A whole new way of working?

With the likes of HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Nationwide publicly announcing their plans and the government “road map” suggesting a return to the office, even for those who can work from home, from June 21st, when and how companies organise their approaches and new working environments are very high on the agendas of business leaders and HR professionals.  Having hosted a number of HR Director round tables for financial services organisations recently it has been fascinating to observe how different companies are approaching the challenges they face in returning to the office.

Whether it is the practicalities of the physical space (how much of it and how it is best shaped to be most effective), the future approach to flexible working (splitting time between the office and home) right through to how this might impact on the culture of an organisation and the development of colleagues.

 HSBC has grabbed the headlines with their CEO announcing that the whole of the executive floor has been made open plan and implementing a hot-desking approach. This followed news that they would be reducing their global office space by nearly 40% under the expectation that employees will adopt a more flexible approach, splitting their time between working at home and in the office.  On the other hand, Goldman Sachs seem to be taking a different stance, with CEO David Solomon wanting to “correct” the current working from home arrangement.  

Interestingly, this seems to be coming from a place of valuing colleagues and their development as well as realising the power of collaboration, especially in innovation. This view appears at odds again with the direction Nationwide have taken, surveying their staff; they found that 57% of them wanted to work from home permanently with a further 36% wanting a mix of office and home working. With this in mind Nationwide are initiating a “work anywhere” plan for 13,000 of their previously office-based employees.

From my own observations, it appears that a slim majority of financial services organisations are making adjustments to their physical environments (beyond making adjustments to allow for Covid safe working), not only a reduction in the amount of space they use but also reshaping that space, typically, like the executives at HSBC taking a more open plan and hot-desking approach. In addition to this they are creating more, but smaller,meeting rooms with good video conferencing capability to allow for greater collaboration between colleagues both in the office and working remotely.

The overall shift in approach to flexible working does appear to be seismic at this point, the pandemic accelerating the way in which we work significantly.

Most organisations in financial services are gearing towards two or three days in the office, for roles that can be carried out effectively from different locations. Typically, businesses are phasing this in from June with a target of operating to the new norm from September.

Whilst this, more flexible, approach has its benefits it is not without significant challenges for business leaders and HR professionals. In particular; building, changing or simply maintaining an organisation’s culture, the development of colleagues, especially those at an earlier stage in their career or those taking on new leadership roles, collaboration and innovation and finally risk management all need to be carefully thought about. There are, of course, good solutions available to enable and enhance our remote working experience.  Whether it is technology, creativity or simply being mindful of the ways our colleagues are working, but this does require us to develop new skills and capabilities further to what we have all already been doing over the last year.

It is therefore necessary to invest further in infrastructure and in people, if a truly hybrid model is going to be successful.

These unique set of challenges being faced by organisations present a wide range of opportunities to reboot a company’s approach to the office environment and to culture. With the right leadership, with investment in its people and an enabled and empowered people & culture (HR) capability an exciting and very different vision for the way we work, I think, can be realised.

If you would like to join the conversation at future HR round table events please get in touch –


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