Why the financial industry is offering the comforts of home to entice staff back to work

Finance bosses offer more incentives including free meals, ping pong and ‘contemplative spaces’ as they battle to convince staff to return to the office, while concerns over cost and value home-to-work journeys weigh on attendance worldwide.

Hybrid working policies were introduced in the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, but data and interviews with financial industry executives showed footfall below expectations globally, Reuters reported.

With expenses such as fuel and food rising rapidly, workers accustomed to pocketing travel expenses have yet another reason to stay away, challenging employers to increase the attractiveness of working from home. desk.

“Employers have done a lot to make the office more attractive and useful,” says Kathryn Wylde, executive director of the Partnership for New York City, citing a range of benefits from free meals to improved social space with table tennis tables.

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But a global survey of around 80,000 workers by consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) showed that employees are not complying with hybrid working policies.

When organizations have policies requiring two, two or three or three days in the office, attendance is 1.1 days, 1.6 days and 2.1 days, respectively, AWA found.

“When we came out of lockdown and the regulations were relaxed, people tried to come into the office…and when they got there they found they were just making Zoom calls,” says Andrew Mawson, CEO of AWA.

“The reason people don’t go to offices is because they’ve gotten used to a lifestyle and cost structure that works for them.”

Senior executives may be among the most adamant about staying at home, says Kelly Beaver, UK and Ireland managing director at polling firm Ipsos, which is ditching its hybrid two-day-a-week policy at the benefit from a more flexible approach.

“We find that some of them are less tolerant of the little office frustrations, or they think going to an office is an unnecessary burden…but they lack networking,” she says.

While younger employees in the financial sector are aware of how remote work can affect career progression, job seekers often cite remote work as a preference.

Since the start of August, 80% of people searching for jobs in finance on Flexa, a global online platform that allows users to search for roles based on flexible work preferences, have specified a preference for “remote” or “remote first” roles, a 33% increase since March, a Flexa representative said.

Employees are still a big influence, says Peter Hogg, director of cities at property consultancy Arcadis in London.

“It’s a high-risk strategy for companies to be too directive in telling people what to do,” Hogg says.

The consultancy is now busier helping businesses ‘renovate’ their offices – making changes such as adding more ‘contemplative space’ in the form of indoor gardens, libraries or informal spaces with upholstery – than ever since the pandemic, he says.

A UK-based trading company has started providing showers, napping areas and laundry facilities for watery-eyed staff working late on deals, says Leeson Medhurst, chief strategy officer at Peldon Rose, who designs offices for companies.

“Our client said, ‘We are going to see our office as a hotel’; they meet the needs of the employee, not necessarily the financial needs of the company,” he says.

In August, the City of London Corporation – which runs the financial district – said it had hired a curator from the ‘Destination City’ program to design events such as theatre, games and live performances.

UK bank Aldermore is encouraging staff to return to the office without reverting to pre-pandemic standards, chief executive Steven Cooper has said.

The bank plans to hire a janitor to help staff manage day-to-day errands such as office dry cleaning that they would otherwise have more flexibility to do at home, he says.

Those most reluctant to return to the office are people who have moved to the suburbs and have long commutes, said Ms. Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, while younger employees are most likely to show up.

“Young people recognize that their career advancement will depend on relationships in the office,” she says.

Wall Street’s biggest financial firms have been among the most proactive in bringing employees back to the office.

Goldman Sachs Group recalled its full-time office workers in June last year, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan are mostly back while Citi has a hybrid arrangement.

On Thursday, Jefferies Financial Group said it wanted staff to return to its offices rather than “lonely domestic silos”, although it is also working on a hybrid basis.

Goldman and Morgan Stanley also said they would lift certain pandemic-era protocols in early September, including wearing masks and testing for coronavirus in their offices, according to memos reviewed by Reuters.

In March, JP Morgan made masks voluntary in its office buildings and ended mandatory testing for unvaccinated employees. The largest US bank has also reduced its policy of only hiring people who have been vaccinated.

The weakening UK economy and rising energy costs could drive those worried about office layoffs faster than free snacks or other incentives, says Chris Gardner, co-chief executive of the lender London estate Atelier.

“If, as expected, things tighten up later this year, then presenteeism and office visibility will become more important,” he says.

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Updated: September 03, 2022, 03:30

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