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The workforce of the future: remote working

By Shelley Hoppe, Agency Director at Spoon London 

Even before COVID-19 appeared on the scene, we were living through an almost unprecedented period of change in both pace and scale – but now one of the biggest business challenges is almost certainly how to maintain business-as-usual activities while asking the vast majority of employees to work remotely.

The finance sector is no stranger to disruption, and will have seen a rise in demand from employees for remote working opportunities in recent years anyway, but definitely not on this scale. We have seen office doors closing in favour of off-site or home working, with the likes of JP Morgan and HSBC leading the early charge –  but problems are emerging around how to manage a workforce that is no longer connected physically and keep them engaged in the company culture, their individual work, and their relationships with each other.

So, what can finance organisations do to prepare for the age of remote working?

Strengthening social bonds for business success  

First of all, get the right tools in place.

Shelley Hoppe
Shelley Hoppe

Although digitisation and globalisation has meant that a lot of our day-to-day business activities can be done from anywhere in the world relatively simply, it’s still important to have the right support system in place. The coronavirus has been a wakeup call around the need to ensure that we not only have the right channels for fast and user-friendly interaction on a mass scale in place, but also that we all know how to use them effectively.

Without the right tools in place or proper guidance on how to use them, teams can quite simply struggle to work together, to be inclusive, to stimulate ideas and build innovation. In order to prevent this, you should focus on two things: inclusive habits and technology planning.

Firstly, office-based workers need training on how to work with remote teams. Those in the office often underestimate the importance of their ‘water-cooler’ communication. It’s essential to initiating and developing business ideas and encouraging team relationships – but it’s easy to leave remote workers out, and even easier to assume that that’s OK and just part of being a remote worker. But if more and more of us are going to be working from afar in the near future, it’s essential that this attitude changes and that everyone takes responsibility for actively engaging in both work-related and personal discussions with the rest of the team – whether they are in the office or not.

To achieve this kind of connection, technology will play a critical role. Intuitive remote working tools will help to empower employees to synchronise their work; a recent study on this topic found that a third of home workers were concerned about being left out of team collaboration.

How can you get around this? Test out conferencing technology, messaging apps and document sharing programmes and see what works best for specific teams and the organisation as a whole. It is also important to think inclusively here again – be prepared to train employees on how to use these tools and make sure that you are there to listen to any feedback and concerns that they have.

Keep on learning 

So you have the tools in place for a remote workforce – but how do you make sure that working in this way is sustainable over long periods of time?

Working from your sofa may sound appealing at first, but it can quickly result in a steady loss of engagement. Prolonged periods of remote working without the normal structure and initiatives in place to maintain employees’ development and personal growth can also cause significant problems for retention. For the younger members of the workforce, nearly half of millennials considered quitting a job that did not provide learning opportunities. Financial institutions can therefore benefit from putting employee development first. There are so many ways to do this, including online training, coaching and mentoring programmes tailored towards individual team members’ goals and ambitions – thus simultaneously delivering benefits for both the individual and the company.

Through blended learning, businesses can empower employees to control their development at their own pace – whether they work remotely or not. Combining audio, audio-visual, interactive and written communications with either occasional supplementary F2F or “live” online webinar sessions can help us replace expensive and old-fashioned training formats that involve a familiar ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentation style.

Digital tools such as VR, podcasts, videos and animations allow for complete immersion by creating interactive sensory learning experiences, whilst webinars provide the human component needed in the learning process. For financial institutions with global workforces, this has important consequences given that it is cost effective, far reaching and allows remote workers to develop their own culture of curiosity around the business and its goals – keeping them engaged along the way.

A permanent shift?

For the likes of JP Morgan and HSBC, this is a learning opportunity to think about how they can evolve their businesses to cater for the workforce of the future.

One positive outcome of being forced by a dangerous virus to implement an overnight remote working policy is that many financial organisations will be less afraid of it in the future. COVID-19 is testing both our internal habits and our customer experience capabilities. With Lloyds and Halifax already feeling the pressure of rising to the challenge of meeting digital demand for customers, this could be an opportunity for financial businesses of all shapes and sizes to learn new ways of working, evolve and steam ahead.  Why not use this opportunity to re-think and re-shape how they can make sure they are both employee and customer-first? After all, if they can make a success of creating a culture that supports multiple working styles, financial institutions will be better placed for handling whatever the future may hold.