Understanding the Impact of Enforced Home Working on the Financial Services Sector

The extent to which the financial services (or indeed any) industry, post COVID 19, will or will not 'return to normal' remains unclear. By way of a small step on the road to clarity, we undertook a survey designed to identify individuals' desire for and/or expectation of change in working practices hereafter.

Introduction

The ‘City’ has arguably been one of the last service sectors to embrace home working.  However, the arrival of Covid 19 and subsequent lockdown, firms were forced into a situation where offices went from full to empty within two weeks, while, at the same time, continuing to run large, disparate and market sensitive businesses in a period of significant disruption.

We surveyed a broad spectrum of individuals of varying seniority; personal circumstance; and responsibility, most of whom work in  asset management, investment banking and/or insurance. Almost 700 responded.

By a thin margin, most of the respondents had worked from home previously; but for the majority of these, it was for less than one day per week.

We asked about the positive aspects of home working and the negative aspects of not being in the office; what, if any, impact working from home was having on their effectiveness; as well as their work/life balance, and their physical and mental wellbeing.  Finally, we asked them when they expected to return to work and what would make them reluctant to do so.        

Whilst individual circumstances coloured responses - i.e. rural-dwelling with no dependents vs. city centre and small children - many of the answers were consistent across the sample.

Role and Lifestyle

We asked respondents the level at which they operated within their organisation and how best they would describe their living environment.  Most described their roles as corporate or executive leadership.  Most respondents lived in an urban or suburban setting.

How Has it Been?

We asked respondents whether they felt that they were more or less effective working from home; or if it made no difference.  We also asked whether they had been able to maintain a balance between work and personal lives.  For most, working from home had no impact on their effectiveness, with a similar number who felt it had improved and who felt it had deteriorated.   A significant majority felt they had been able to maintain the balance between their work and personal lives.

How are you Feeling?

We asked what impact working from home was having on mental and physical wellbeing.  Most respondents felt that it was having no impact on mental wellbeing, with beneficial impact close behind (although a meaningful 21 per cent felt it had had a detrimental impact). Over 50 per cent felt that working from home had had a beneficial impact on their physical wellbeing.

What’s Been Good? What’s Been Missing?

We asked the respondents to score positive aspects of working from home and also what they missed about not being in an office.  Perhaps unsurprising, not commuting scored highest, followed by the ease of balancing professional and personal commitments.  Most missed was direct interaction with colleagues, followed by quicker decision-making.

Back to ‘Normal’?

We asked respondents when they thought that they would return to ‘normal / traditional ’ working practices.  We also asked what would inhibit them going back to work in an office.  Most thought that they would return in either Q4 of this year, or Q1 of 2021.   Using public transport was the biggest hurdle to returning, followed by having to wear PPE in the workplace.

Conclusion

The purpose of this survey was to understand the impact of home working on financial services employees, irrespective of seniority and role.   The results suggest that working from home has been, in most cases, a positive or neutral experience.  

One of the main benefits seems to be an improvement in physical wellbeing and a better managed work/life balance (perhaps because of time reclaimed from commuting),  although at the expense of direct interaction with colleagues, with its consequent positive impact on personal relationships and timely decision making.  

Those we’ve spoken to in leadership roles have been positively surprised at how easy and effective the transformation to wholesale working-from-home has been, particularly given the circumstances of the lockdown.  Employees we’ve spoken to, even diehard sceptics of home working, have been surprised at how effective, efficient and enjoyable it has been; and, almost without exception, none plans to return to a five-day office based working week.

Some firms in the technology sector have already told their staff that they may never return to an office. Other financial services firms have cited January as a likely return date.  Most people expect the end of Q3 and Q4 2020 to be when offices reopen, and even then operating a combined office / home, socially distanced model, with the option of working from home being as much at the discretion of the employee as the employer.

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Understanding the Impact of Enforced Home Working on the Financial Services Sector
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