When the coronavirus pandemic spread like wildfire in the early months of 2020, many companies and individuals alike had no idea what was to come – and how their work lives would change. With widespread vaccines, many companies are beginning to open up again, but what will be the ‘new normal’ for the financial sector in terms of working arrangements?
The majority of the global workforce was forced to work from home as the pandemic raged. Even a year later, and in slightly better conditions, many workers have not returned to the office, as employers are still wary about mandating their employees to risk their health.
Alongside this, many employers in the financial services space have noticed the opportunities a less office-dominated culture may provide their companies.
Vroon Modgill – CEO of payment provider Sokin – stated most of his colleagues have never even met in person, but that has not impacted their dynamic.
He said, “I have met the majority of people I work with through a screen. I have met very few in person. But this hasn’t prevented the business from scaling extraordinarily quickly, nor stopped my employees from thriving.
“We [Sokin] had an unusual start. We were founded in 2019, as a fully remote business. We were founded in 2019, as a fully remote business. The pandemic forced us into a way of working which, even today, feels unnatural to many legacy businesses.”
Modgill also noted that remote working gave the company ‘unrestricted access to the global talent pool’ and taught the workforce ‘how’ we do our jobs is much more important than ‘where’ we do them.
Prior to the pandemic, many enterprises saw commuting to the office as just an unavoidable part of life. Over the last year, however, the relative success of the remote working model has led some companies to change their views on this matter – not just for simplicity but also for productivity.
Sentiance VP of People Céline Daubresse said, “There’s no doubt that Covid-19 changed the way we work today. Our employees now enjoy the flexibility of working from home, but as a global team of over 20 nationalities across five countries, it’s important to create social opportunities for them to connect.”
“Tomorrow’s workplace will be flexible and hybrid. People’s performance is no longer based on their presence in the office but on the actual work they deliver. The physical office will then become a place for socializing and collaborating.”
A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year found that prior to the pandemic 29% of financial services companies had at least 60% of their workforce working from home at least once a week. However, the organisation claims it expects up to 69% of financial services firms to have at least 60% of their workforce working from home at least once a week during the pandemic and going forward.
The explosion of collaboration technologies during the pandemic has seen many companies rely on platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom to conduct daily conversations and business matters with their employees.
John Holland – SVP of International Accounts at US software-as-a-service company Smarsh – echoes this finding but believes there will be tough times to come for financial services companies’ as they move towards new working models.
He commented, “As financial services companies continue to move back to the office and towards hybrid working models, firms will need to redouble their efforts to put systems in place that are easily scalable, agile, and resilient, so that employees can be compliant – whether they are in the office or not.
“This will require technologies that are AI-enabled, cloud-native, and built-to-scale in order to help companies fully understand the massive amount of data that they are already capturing and archiving. These technologies will also deliver real insights so organisations can continue to meet their Financial Conduct Authority compliance requirements while leveraging the data insights for future business development.”
Compliance Solutions Strategies executive director Keith Marks stressed a need for technological flexibility by teams going forward, while also ensuring companies try to stay resilient in the face of further change.
He said, “Returning to work, companies need to be flexible and provide those tools that made businesses resilient and strong during the pandemic regardless of an office presence.
“They must be strategically open to changes in behaviour that leads to productive results and technology that continues to advance at a rapid pace. Regulators also need to keep up with clear and consistent regulations that address the customer experience.”
What other technologies may become a core part of the post-Covid financial workplace? Scanning technology business Scanbot believes there is an argument to be made for QR Codes in the office.
The company suggested that with full offices unlikely to be a thing in the near future, QR codes could help manage this issue by establishing a system in the workplace which would involve a certain number of tables being made free for use, which employees can check for availability through an app. If there are tables available, employees would then be able to scan the QR code in and out to gain access to the available space.
Scanbot is also developing technology that helps to optimize document workflows with employee applications. The technology enables users to scan and submit documents to an HQ immediately using an employee application, with the HQ able to recieve the documents within minutes.
RingCentral is also building innovations that could work for the financial services market. The company – which works with various unnamed financial firms – recently introduced new enhancements to its RingCentral Rooms software.
These included voice-activated rooms, where users are able to use a voice command to join a meeting instead of needing to touch any shared surfaces. They are also able to use the RingCentral mobile app to join, start and manage video meetings in a conference room so that they can adhere to social distancing guidelines by not touching communal surfaces.
RingCentral EVP of products and engineering Nat Natarajan said, “As offices open up, organisations are quickly adapting to support a collaborative hybrid workforce that creates participation equity. Our rapid innovation on RingCentral Rooms makes it easier and more rewarding for people to connect, resulting in a more inclusive culture so they can do their best work.”
The office concept
A key development during the pandemic – alongside the new technologies that could help foster a new workplace post-Covid – is the changing idea of what can constitute an office, and whether, after realising the majority of work can be done at home, the hegemony of the nine-to-five office job may be over.
Aysun Ahi – CPO of UK FinTech OpenPayd – believes that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the nature of our relationship with work.
She said, “The pandemic has revolutionised the concept of the ‘office’ for businesses across the world. For many, bedrooms became workspaces, dining room tables became desks and morning walks around the block became commutes. Fast-forward 17 months and offices have started to re-open, travelling across borders is now a possibility (for some) and flexible working has become the norm.
“For many within financial services, the concept of the ‘traditional office’ has given way to remote working. Yet, remote and flexible working within the financial services industry poses new questions such as, how can we securely interact with teams, clients and regulators, across borders virtually. For FinTechs, how can we stay innovative when teams are dispersed and working on different schedules?”
Ahi stressed that the first challenge can be overcome by the prioritisation of security teams, systems and processes – stating that by ensuring each facet of the business in working in synergy with the most up-to-date advice from internal security and IT teams, this becomes solvable.
Meanwhile, the second issue requires the development of an innovative and driven company culture online. Ahi believes financial services companies must view remote working as an opportunity to ‘broaden their horizons’ and select the very best from a hugely extended pool of talent.
She concluded, “Businesses can re-evaluate their culture, instate new processes to bolster innovation which is in-line with employees’ day-to-day lives, offer an Employee Assistance Programme that addresses the mental health needs of remote workers and, ultimately, translate the ethos of the office virtually.
While the traditional concept of the office might be behind us, we’re arriving at a new frontier filled with new opportunities and challenges. Now’s the time to blend the best of both working worlds.”
These aren’t just words – a survey by Frost & Sullivan found that 93% of business leaders expect one-quarter or more of their employees to work from home moving forward, with many embracing the hybrid working plan.
Simen Teirge, CEO and founder of Norwegian telecommunications firm Neat, believes hybrid working will prove to bring benefits for employees and employers, offering them both greater flexibility, agility, reducing expenses and improved employee satisfaction and retention.
He added, “The office of the future will be more of a place of collaboration than it was in the past. Gone are the days of sitting at your desk all day and holding meetings in the boardroom – moving forward, if you’re in the office, it will be to engage and collaborate with peers.
“As a result, businesses will put a greater focus on creating more meeting and huddle rooms to foster discussion and innovation. Of course, to accommodate a partially remote workforce, these spaces need to be equipped with technology that seamlessly connects office and remote workers to drive collaboration.
“We have seen with our financial clients that they want to be able to accommodate this hybrid workforce whilst supporting the teams based on-site, such as trading floors, to work effectively with their remote peers. Thanks to new technology one can simply walk into a meeting room, have the video conference automatically start and follow you around the room zooming into the various participants around the table for a personalised feel.”
Tierge referenced another Frost and Sullivan study that revealed 88% of companies intend to deploy video conferencing across their businesses by 2022 to help support the new hybrid working plan.
When the time comes that the Covid-19 pandemic begins to fall from sight, a move back to the office may become a more appealing concept to many once again. However, after the majority of the global workforce have mostly approved the move to a more flexible working schedule, the proverbial cat may now be out of the bag for many employees now. How it will change the financial services industry workforce is still yet to be fully realised.
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