In the news: The new normal?

For firms around the globe, Covid-19 is highlighting what is important (culture), and what is not (location)
by Bethan Rees

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Some US companies that are operating from home during the Covid-19 outbreak may choose to keep their employees at home for a longer period than initially thought, according to technology reporter Ari Levy in an article for CNBC. “Corporate leaders are waiting for some reliable combination of mass testing, therapeutics, contact tracing and possibly even a vaccine, before they’ll consider it a worthwhile risk to send employees back into the traditional workplace,” he writes.

Some large companies have already announced that remote working will continue. For example, Facebook has said that most of its employees will be able to work from home until the end of 2020, while Alphabet (Google’s parent company) plans to open offices for up to 15% of its workers as early as June, but the majority of its workforce will continue working from home. Fidelity National Information Services, a fintech company, has approximately 95% of its workers at home. But, according to Levy, its chief risk officer Greg Montana can’t see this situation being permanent, although he says they won’t go back to working in crowded buildings.

The terms ‘remote work’ and ‘work from home’ won’t be used anymore. “There’s just work"A few approaches are being taken regarding returning to the workplace. One is “a staggered return”, writes Levy, “with people coming into the office in waves based on individual risk levels and increasing in numbers as contact tracing improves”. Another approach is “clustering employees” in teams, so it’s easy to identify exposure if there’s an infection outbreak.

Companies have been forced to function remotely, and they have made the necessary investments to make it workable, but they can also save money on office rents and real estate costs. “Experts say that even when the coronavirus is in the rearview mirror, many of us will still be working from home,” writes Levy. According to a forecast by Global Workplace Analytics, employers could save up to US$11,000 per year for every employee who works remotely half the time.

Chris Bedi, chief information officer of IT automation software provider ServiceNow, says the terms ‘remote work’ and ‘work from home’ won’t be used anymore. “There’s just work, and it’s work from anywhere.”

CNBC article

New ways of working

The City of London, which is usually full of bankers, traders, insurers and asset managers, will continue to be somewhat of a ghost town, according to an article by Huw Jones for Reuters. Many will be working from home “for at least a year under some scenarios being planned by finance companies in Britain,” he writes. “The City of London’s financial services companies are in no hurry to go back to business as usual.”

The sector has proved that working from home is possible with technology, and firms are thinking about their futures in offices. Jones quotes Andrew Rogan, director of operational resilience at UK Finance: “Banks are working on multiple return to the office ‘scenarios’, including one where most staff still work from home in the medium term.”

Despite a gloomy economic forecast for banks, costs could be cut through employees working from home, saving on office space, back-up sites and technology, Jones reports.

Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays, is reported to have said in a City & Financial webinar: “I don’t think any of us imagined quite how effective it would be working in this way, holding board meetings, holding discussions with multiple participants … We have all learnt that we can do things in ways in future that will drastically cut down the amount of travel we all do and drastically reduce the amount of office space we need.”

For some financial sector workers, working from home has given them flexibility, “while others feel that physical, face-to-face interaction can solve issues faster than an online meeting using Zoom or Skype”, says Jones.

Reuters article

Culture in a crisis

In Australia, Karen Hughes, chief risk officer at Australian Ethical Investments, highlights the importance of business culture while working from home in the Covid-19 outbreak, in an article by Ally Selby for Financial Standard. Hughes is quoted in the article: “People are your greatest asset, and they're an expensive asset as well, and we need to keep them motivated … when they're working from home, which all of our organisation is at the moment, they're in a vacuum, so they need to feel connected.”

She advises that employees’ mental health should also be looked after. "From a cultural perspective, it's important to actually understand how your employees are feeling and see if there's anything else that is needed to support them,” Hughes says.

Being flexible and agile is also key to culture, as Covid-19 has changed the way we do business. "Things won't go back to normal, at least not for a while, and strategy and risk that you're managing need to be flexible and adaptable as you go forward,” Hughes says.

“Take your learnings from the current landscape or your changing priorities to work out what you want your business to look like when the economy returns to the new normal, because things won't be the same, and your risks won't necessarily be the same either.”

Financial Standard article

How are you adapting to the ‘new normal’? Leave your comments below.

Published: 15 May 2020
  • Operations
  • Risk
  • Fintech
  • wellbeing
  • mental health
  • culture
  • Skype
  • Zoom
  • working from home
  • Covid-19

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