By Tim Hood is the Associate Vice President for Hyland in EMEA.
Following months of unprecedented challenges, the global financial community is beginning to get a sense of COVID's long-term legacy. And while the current situation still has some way to run, the prospect of a rapid bounce back to the old normality looks doubtful.
Over the last six months, a wholesale review and reinvention of a raft of working practices has taken place.
Fortunately, the financial sector was able to adapt relatively quickly to this altered reality because compared to some, it was well down the path to digital transformation.
And as the work-around solutions using technology that was never intended or designed for remote working have been refined or replaced, many firms are finding that these new ways of working are actually working well.
That's evidenced by the fact that 'return to office' dates keep rolling back, with a number of institutions not expecting staff to return to the office until the beginning of 2021, at the earliest.
However, the social distancing measures that remain in place will undoubtedly continue to have a major impact on the traditional office space. With almost half of British workers now working from home according to the Office for National Statistics, how many will want to return to the office, having been free of their daily commute for the last six months? In a recent survey by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), one-third said they wanted to continue working from home.
And as homeworking protocols become ever more embedded, that could see many functions where remote oversight is possible, never return permanently or totally to a central office.
So, with homeworking seemingly here to stay, for a large number of organisations the new norm is likely to be a blend of remote and office-based working.
In uncertain times, one of the most critical business skills is the ability to adapt. Just because we have always done things that way is no longer a valid line of thinking. So, when it comes to matters like remote working, it's time for a more flexible mindset.
Some banking leaders are beginning to acknowledge the changing reality. Barclays CEO Jes Staley said that corporate offices "may be a thing of the past." JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are also proving to be trend-setters in the reassessing the future shape of offices and flexible working.
Of course, effective remote working depends on people having access to accurate, up-to-date information.
That may require reprioritising investment to ensure more appropriate technology solutions are in place. Believe me when I say that accelerating digital transformation is no mere nicety, but a prerequisite for corporate survival over the coming months and years.
Of course, every organisation is different and will have to review its existing systems and procedures before implementing any major technological changes. But I would say that there are several core components required to help ensure future resilience.
As a minimum, there should be the establishment of a content services hub to centralise document storage and workflows in a single location, with a user interface that's consistent – whether you are logging on from your dining table at home or at your office desk.
This will remove potential information silos where data gets stuck, and also prevent the creation of multiple document versions that inevitably follows.
Next, look to introduce intelligent automation where you can, to accelerate improvements in document storage and workflows.
Then, look at shutting down any redundant or unnecessary systems and applications. This is an opportunity to streamline operations by ensuring business-critical information, which may be spread over several dozen apps in some corporate organisations, is uniformly updated and easily accessible. When staff have to search for important documents across multiple locations, they end up frustrated and prone to making mistakes that result in delays and poor customer service.
Though the immediate response to COVID-19 may have had a short-term adverse effect on many in the financial sector, longer-term it can be the catalyst that enables the creation of a truly digital workplace that seamlessly melds together a flexible, distributed workforce with a much streamlined corporate space.
Achieving that will require organisations to carefully chose the correct technology solutions. If they can do that, then our brave new world may not be so scary after all.