Many large, international banks have made their dislike of remote working – and their intention to get workers back in the office as soon as possible – very clear.
Back in February, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon stated: “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”
As a result, Goldman Sachs has called its US and UK employees back into the office in June. However, as reported by the BBC, the bank has decided to push back the UK reopening to 19th July in line with new government-imposed restrictions.
The latest bank CEO to throw his hat in the anti-remote working ring is Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman. Gorman made waves this week by saying to New York City-based employees that if they are happy to go out socializing in the city, then they should feel safe returning to work at the bank’s HQ.
Although Morgan Stanley hasn’t officially called employees back to the office like Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan, at a company conference Gorman added: “[By] Labor Day, I’ll be very disappointed if people haven’t found their way into the office and then we’ll have a different kind of conversation.” Labor Day is on 6 September.
Standard Chartered takes the opposite view
However, Standard Chartered is among a few multinational banks breaking the mold and embracing the hybrid and flexible future of work.
While Standard Chartered’s global head of HR Tanuj Kapilashrami states it is not for her to speculate on the views and moves of the bank’s competitors, “our strong view – and this is backed by data, employee listening and a lot of research – is that there are positive lessons coming out of this crisis around productivity, employee experience, talent attraction and talent retention”.
The bank has now decided to harness these positive learnings – balanced with risk, compliance and the needs of its customers – in creating its workplace of the future.
The hybrid model that Standard Chartered has decided upon is one that, in the words of Kapilashrami is “very intentional and programmatic”.
What does Standard Chartered hybrid model look like?
With over 80% of its workforce working remotely at the height of the pandemic, Standard Chartered decided to dial up its employee listening.
The bank asked employees some “very focused questions” about their experience of remote working and how it had changed their view around the workplace.
These surveys found that 74% of global employees wanted to work a minimum of 50% of the time from home – which came as a surprise. “This was very consistent across geographies and other employee demographics”. While a tiny proportion said they wanted to work from home 100% of the time.
Therefore, “the starting position of hybrid really started with what our employees wanted,” explained Kapilashrami.
“We matched that listening with an analysis of all our 140 plus job families to see what level of flexibility can be offered across those jobs,” she adds.
There were some jobs that Standard Chartered decided couldn’t be done remotely – for instance, tellers and traders – because of concerns about risk and the needs of the business.
But for all the others, “we launched a formal expression of interest process” in November where people were asked what flexibility they would like (in terms of both location and hours) and then the findings were shared with individual managers and team leaders.
Then the HR department gave some guidance to managers, which “encouraged them to have conversations with their entire team” and really think about the best way to structure the team’s work.
Kapilashrami gives the example of her team. “I looked at the expressions of interest, I then had a conversation with each [member] of my team and said ‘these days are going to be collaboration days where I would like everyone to come in [to the office]”.
But otherwise, her team were free to work from home or from a IWG flexible workspace that Standard Chartered has decided to provide as a third option to staff.
Once these conversations took place, employees went through a formal application process, which was then approved by their line manager.
To date, the hybrid model has been rolled out in the bank’s eight main markets, including the UK, US, and China. In these markets, the bank now has “84% of its workforce in a formally documented flexible working arrangement” – “in those same markets, the number was less than 10% pre-pandemic”.
The plan now it to expand this to the remaining 21 markets by the end of the summer.
Crucial role of HR tech
For the bank, this hybrid model is “not about home working at scale”, “it was about redesigning what work is going to look like” for the long haul, according to Kapilashrami.
“We would have really struggled to drive the progress without the leveraging the right technology”.
First of all, the original employee listening was done through pulse surveys and broad engagement surveys with the help of Qualtrics and ServiceNow.
Then the entire workflow around the expression of interest was done through ServiceNow’s platform. Also, 99% of the flexible working contracts signed as part of the formal application process were fully automated.
Ultimately, the use of technology enabled the bank to “support innovation, collaboration, as well as enhance the employee experience”, and therefore make hybrid working successful and inclusive.
Challenges with the hybrid model
“As we were talking about hybrid working, we also started talking about the challenges. You could argue that hybrid is the toughest of the three options” to do successfully, notes Kapilashrami.
But, once again, HR tech was on hand to help.
One of the main issues Standard Chartered noticed was around stress and employee wellbeing.
Therefore, they launched an app called Unmind to support employees with their stress and mental wellbeing.
“While Unmind focuses on mental health, we did another piece of work around a platform called Switch+, which focuses on physical wellbeing,” explains Kapilashrami.
Another challenge with hybrid working is around “how do you create those communities” and social interactions between employees. Therefore, the bank ran a co-creation campaign where it encouraged employees to pitch ideas of how to “recreate watercooler moments in the hybrid world”.
They then ran a Dragon’s den exercise and the top three got some Seed funding. Many of the ideas leveraged technology – for instance, one proposed a dating app style platform to match staff with colleagues with similar interests, while another linked with employees who lived near each other.
Finally, Standard Chartered was very aware that its employees were seeking learning and development opportunities while working from home. So it dialed up its focus on that and actually launched its own AI-backed learning platform with the help of a vendor which Kapilashrami did not name.
She explains it works like Netflix and it suggests other courses or programs based on the content employees have previously consumed.
It is clear that HR tech is a big passion area for Kapilashrami. She explains that Standard Chartered wants employee’s experience of using HR tech in the workplace “to be as close to the way they experience technology in their personal life”.
However, she is also aware that there are instances where technology needs to be supplemented with a human focus on the needs of specific groups of employees. For instance, in hosting an event for learning week, it became clear that the virtual event format wasn’t friendly to hearing impaired employees, so the bank focused on ensuring they had sign language interpreters on hand to help.
This is a good example, in Kapilashrami’s view, of technology freeing up humans to be even better at being human and dialling up inclusion.
Kapilashrami concludes that “as long as you make thoughtful choices, this creates a far more inclusive experience [when] leveraging HR tech”.