On 31st March, the FSCB convened member firms in a roundtable and knowledge exchange on the theme of The Future of Workplaces Now. This provided practitioners in member firms an opportunity to come together to understand common problems and share examples of good practices with respect to evolving working models in financial services.
Building on the FSCB’s growing body of work on this theme, we were particularly interested in understanding how member firms can best promote fairness and inclusion in new working models.
The FSCB presented insights from the 2021 Survey, a copy of which was provided to attendees. You can find a link to the first in a series of blog posts covering this data here. The others will be published on the FSCB website in due course.
Representatives of three member firms with differing approaches to future working models spoke about their experiences of developing and implementing their models. We heard from an organisation which had refreshed their people strategy focussing on where, when and how people work, emphasising personal choice, flexibility and wellbeing; another which was, within health and safety guidance, encouraging employees to return to the office; and a third which was piloting a four-day working week.
Although all of our member speakers had positive evaluations of some elements around their evolving working models, there were also challenges. Benefits included varyingly, being able to access new talent pools; estate streamlining; better collaboration; improved productivity and improved employee engagement. There remained challenges around ensuring that “flexibility” works flexibly for both the employee and the organisation and in operationalising models in ways that are fair to different groups of employees. There was a common theme that working models continue to evolve, organisations are testing and learning from their experiences, that formal policies remain somewhat dislocated from practices, and that organisations need new datasets to reflect the needs of their new working models.
Roundtable Breakouts Overarching Themes
The meeting broke into three roundtable breakout rooms which reflected on the issues raised by the member speakers; identified common challenges and good practices to address these.
It became apparent that future workplaces remain exactly that, future workplaces. For many of our member firms this remains a journey which is still in progress, with varying end states, and in some cases end states which remain to be defined. There was a feeling of “all being in the same boat” with respect to ongoing uncertainty. Challenges remain ongoing in creating and maintaining culture in new working models, and there were varying opinions on whether this was better achieved through “tone from the top” or as an organic, bottom-up activity.
Organisations which are in nascent hybrid/flexible working models are finding that this flexibility needs to work for both the employees and the business, with discussions about “reluctant
returners”, difficulties in integrating individuals into organisational culture when they were in permanently remote roles (with potential impacts for retention and risk management) and ongoing concerns around the dichotomy that exists between what is possible and optimal in different business areas (e.g. an inability to offer flexibility in working arrangements to customer-facing retail employees).
Several themes which were surfaced in the FSCB’s FoW Report were discussed across the breakout rooms, in addition to a new theme around data.
- Connectedness and collaboration can be challenging but organisations are adopting novel approaches to counteract some of these. For example, some are using anchor days or colleague-led connectivity initiatives. Technology remains a key enabler, but this can be cost-constrained for some organisations. Some interventions to increase connectivity can have unintended consequences of strengthening silos.
- Line Managers continue to be challenged by evolving working models and the changing requirements this places upon them, particularly in managing wellbeing, mental health and “difficult conversations” around office attendance. Although the need to support and challenge line managers was acknowledged, and in some organisations proceduralised, there remain challenges, particularly in large organisations in getting everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.
- With evolving working models, there are new challenges with respect to how organisations can make decisions fairly with respect to who is working where; who needs to attend for what and how to encourage individuals into the office when hybrid is interpreted as remote working. Organisations have a range of approaches (people-led; business needs-led and persona/job-role based) but tensions do remain, including around simple issues such as paying London weighting if people don’t work in London anymore.
- With respect to inclusion, there are considerable positives in terms of being able to recruit from more diverse talent pools, but concerns around how included and connected individuals are with the culture and values of an organisation without being able to observe “how things are done around here”.
- Common challenges exist around data collection – how to collect the right kind of data to inform organisations about productivity and efficiency in knowledge-based roles, inclusion and potential self-exclusion and the unique needs of evolving business models. There were questions around how to move beyond pulse surveys to measure behaviour, but uncertainty around the ethics and desirability of different data collection and analytical methods.
We are continuing to work with our member firms to help them navigate these new and strange waters. Our next event will be a members-only session on good practices in employee data collection and analysis, featuring guest academic and practitioner speakers and with a focus on data ethics in new workplaces.