Most employers — 87% according to the Brandon Hall Group™ HCM Outlook 2023 study — have adopted a hybrid work model that enables employers to work away from a central office location at least some of the time. Two-thirds of respondents to that same study said this model was effective or very effective.
But in some industries — including financial services — executives continue to believe that employees must work full-time in an office to foster culture and collaboration. Leaders of some large global banks believe that face-to-face interactions with clients and colleagues are critical to drive business even as hybrid work is overwhelmingly popular among financial services employees.
That thinking among financial services leaders could backfire. A survey of 300 managers and staffers at large financial services companies around the world by Kyndryl, the world’s largest provider of IT infrastructure services, shows that:
- 86% of respondents said it is important or extremely important to work remotely at least some of the time.
- 75% said they would at least consider looking for other jobs if they were not able to work remotely some of the time.
- 72% prefer to have the option of working remotely at least three days a week.
Understanding the Gap
At a time when talent retention and employee experience are among the most critical business issues, financial services companies pushing to get people back to the office full-time are swimming against a strong current.
“When you look at the talent in the financial services industry, they are saying they want to be in a hybrid environment,” said Ivan Dopplé, Global Practice Leader of Kyndryl Digital Workplace Services. “They feel strongly about workplace flexibility. They want a meaningful mix of in-office and remote work. So, providing employees with flexibility is important for talent retention. A hybrid work model can also help banks find and attract the very best talent.”
Brandon Hall Group™ research also shows that on-site work at many companies does not look much different than remote work. This frustrates employees, who don’t understand why they have to commute and lose flexibility when they could do the same work at their home or remote offices. Hybrid work should be more than working in different locations; it should offer different experiences at each location.
“Most financial services employees prefer to work away from the office when doing high-focus, individual-oriented tasks such as status updates, data analysis and training or learning activities,” Dopplé said. “Networking and team-building activities were most often preferred to be done in an office environment.”
Key Research Takeaways
The Kyndryl research also found that hybrid work models:
- Fuel productivity. More than 80% of respondents said hybrid work enables them to get more work done and makes it easier to meet deadlines. Dopplé added that 76% of respondents said having a hybrid work schedule enables them to deliver a higher quality of work.
- Increase collaboration.
- 64% of respondents agree or strongly agree that hybrid work models enable their teams to be more collaborative.
- 61% agree or strongly agree they are more likely to seek input on work from teammates when working remotely.
- 78% agree or strongly agree that having a hybrid work schedule makes them more engaged on days working in the office with their teams.
“Most of the respondents indicated videoconferencing tools, messaging systems such as Slack or Teams and access to an IT help desk are critical. No real surprises there, but without reliable access to these tools and support, hybrid work cannot be successful,” Dopplé said.
- May enhance diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
- 67% of respondents said virtual meetings are an easier environment than in-person meetings to contribute ideas.
- 64% said they were more likely to contribute ideas in a virtual meeting.
- 78% agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I am just as empowered to advance my career when working in a hybrid setting as I was working in the office full time.
“When shaping the research,” Dopplé said, “we were curious to learn perceptions about unintended inequities that may be created or exacerbated by hybrid work models. But participants suggested the contrary.”
- Improve work culture.
- 85% of respondents agree or strongly agree that working in a hybrid environment makes a positive impact on their company’s work culture.
- 87% agree or strongly agree that having a flexible work arrangement has a positive impact on their daily employee experience.
- 91% agree or strongly agree with the statement, “My manager trusts me to get my work done remotely.”
However, Dopplé said, more than half of respondents said that while managers trust employees to get their work done remotely, the managers would prefer that their team members work in the office most or all of the time
Recommended Action Steps for Financial Services Leaders
Prioritize Employee Autonomy and Flexibility Over Control
Many financial services companies lauded their employees’ ability to be productive and innovative while working from remote locations during the pandemic.
Now many institutions want to return to “normal,” failing to understand that the work world has changed forever. Employees had an opportunity to reassess their relationship with work and have decided that the old way no longer works for them.
If employees could be productive away from the office during the pandemic, they can get the same results now. If adjustments to the hybrid work experience are needed, focus on the best ways to improve it rather than trying to force workers back into a system they don’t want and that could drive them from the company.
Clearly Differentiate Between On-Site and Remote Work Experiences
Hybrid work should be more than working in different places. It should be about working in different ways and having a mix of experiences that complement each other. Financial services companies should engage their employees to understand what the optimal hybrid experience looks like and take steps to reach it.
While some financial services workers who work directly with customers probably do need to be on-site all or most of the time, management should work to provide them with some level of flexibility. For employees who don’t usually work with customers, companies should find ways to make coming into an office a valuable experience that employees can embrace and benefit from.
Give Employees the Tools Needed to Succeed in Hybrid Work
The success of hybrid work depends heavily on technology — mobile apps, wearables, instant messaging, video conferencing, assistive technology, real-time data and analytics, and much more. Financial services must select tools that fit their business needs and the needs of employees. One example: There are tools that help employees filter through the various types of messages they get every day. This enables employees to focus on getting meaningful work done while working off-site and having time for team meetings and collaboration while on-site.
However, many companies — after investing heavily in digital workplace technologies during the pandemic — have failed to fine-tune their use and functionality in the new hybrid world. Only 41% of organizations have the right technology for workplace navigation and only half have tools to help employees adopt technologies, according to Brandon Hall Group™ research, Is Your Employee Experience What You Intended?
That should change. Just having access to these tools is not enough. They must be adapted for specific use cases within banks and financial services offices. Workers also need resources to help them adopt the new technologies into their daily workflows.
As was demonstrated during the pandemic, high-quality collaboration can occur virtually or in-person. But it doesn’t happen by itself. Organizations must make a habit of soliciting input from colleagues who work in the same office and virtually from colleagues across time zones. Kyndryl’s research suggests that leaders who enable this kind of agility realize improved collaboration, productivity, organizational culture and employee satisfaction. Here are a few ideas:
- Use collaboration technology effectively. Take advantage of tools like video conferencing, screen sharing, whiteboards, etc. Make sure everyone is comfortable using them. Provide tech support if needed.
- Be flexible and accommodating. Accommodate different time zones and schedules. Record meetings and make notes available. Offer flexibility in working hours.
- Encourage overcommunication. Don’t assume remote workers have the same context. Loop them in on relevant messages/announcements and update them on decisions regularly.
- Role-model desired behaviors. Leaders should actively participate in collaboration, demonstrate transparency, communicate frequently and set the tone for openness.
- Gather feedback and improve. Check-in regularly on how collaboration is working. Encourage suggestions for improvement and make adjustments based on feedback.
Promote Cultural Engagement
Even though most financial services employees surveyed expressed a strong preference for hybrid work, physical separation inherent to hybrid work can complicate the kind of engagement that fuels innovation and advances business initiatives.
Financial services organizations that embrace hybrid work should be intentional in cultivating cultural engagement. Kyndryl, for example, found passionate employees willing to be cultural ambassadors. They developed local activities and championed company culture-related events. Other ideas include:
- Create or support employee resource groups (ERGs) focused on specific identities, cultures or interests.
- Have leaders and managers regularly communicate company values, mission, and goals.
- Spotlight employees who exemplify your culture via newsletters or the intranet.
- Create mentoring and buddy systems to onboard new hires to the culture.
- Recognize and reward employees who promote and uphold the culture.
- Share stories and examples that reflect your organization’s values and culture.