LONDON/NEW YORK: Finance bosses offer more incentives including free meals, ping pong and ‘contemplative spaces’ as they fight to get staff back to the office amid cost concerns and the value of commuting are weighing on ridership worldwide.
Hybrid working policies were introduced in the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, but data viewed by Reuters and interviews with financial industry executives showed footfall was below expectations globally.
And with expenses like fuel and food rising rapidly, workers accustomed to pocketing travel expenses have an added reason to want to stay away, challenging employers to increase the attractiveness of work. Office.
“Employers have done a lot to make the office more attractive and useful,” Kathryn Wylde, chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, told Reuters, citing a range of benefits from free meals to improved space. social with ping-pong tables. .
But a global survey of nearly 80,000 workers by consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) showed that employees are not complying with hybrid working policies.
When organizations have policies requiring two, two or three or three days in the office, attendance is 1.1 days, 1.6 days and 2.1 days, respectively, AWA found.
“When we came out of lockdown and the regulations were relaxed, people tried to come into the office… and when they got there they found they were just making Zoom calls,” Andrew Mawson said. , CEO of AWA.
“The reason people don’t go to offices is because they’ve gotten used to a lifestyle and a cost structure that works for them,” he said.
Senior executives may be among the most adamant about staying at home, said Kelly Beaver, UK and Ireland CEO of polling firm Ipsos, which is ditching its hybrid two-day-a-week policy at the benefit from a more flexible approach.
“We find that some of them are less tolerant of little office frustrations, or they think going to an office is an unnecessary burden…but they lack networking,” she said.
OFFICE AS A HOTEL
While younger employees in the financial sector are aware of the impact remote work can have on career progression, job seekers often cite remote work as a preference.
Since early August, 80% of people searching for jobs in finance on Flexa, a global online platform that allows users to search for roles based on flexible work preferences, have specified a preference for “remote” or “remote-first” roles, a 33 percent increase since March, a Flexa spokesperson said.
Employees are still a big influence, said Peter Hogg, director of cities at property consultancy Arcadis in London.
“It’s a high-risk strategy for companies to be too directive in terms of telling people what to do,” Hogg said.
The consultancy is now busier helping companies ‘renovate’ their offices – making changes like adding more ‘contemplative space’ like indoor gardens, libraries or informal areas with soft fabrics. furnishings – than ever since the pandemic, he said.
A UK-based trading company has started providing showers, napping areas and laundry facilities for watery-eyed staff working late on deals, said Leeson Medhurst, chief strategy officer at Peldon Rose , which designs offices for companies.
“Our client said ‘we’re going to treat our office like a hotel’, they cater to the needs of the employee and not necessarily the financial needs of the business,” he said.
The City of London Corporation – which runs the financial district – said in August it had hired a ‘Destination City’ curator to run events including theatre, games and live performances.
Steven Cooper, chief executive of British bank Aldermore, told Reuters his bank was encouraging staff to return to the office without reverting to pre-pandemic standards.
The bank plans to hire a janitor to help staff manage daily errands like dry cleaning in the office that they would otherwise have more flexibility to do at home, he said.
Those most reluctant to return to the office are people who have moved to the suburbs and are on long commutes, the Partnership for New York City’s Wylde said, while younger employees are the most likely to show up.
“Young people recognize that their career advancement will depend on relationships in the office,” Wylde said.
‘SOLITARY HOUSE SILOS’
Wall Street’s biggest financial firms have been among the most proactive in bringing employees back to the office.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc called its employees back to full-time office in June last year, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan are mostly back, while Citi has a hybrid arrangement.
Jefferies Financial Group said on Thursday it wants staff to return to its offices rather than “lonely silos”, even though it is also working on a hybrid basis.
Goldman and Morgan Stanley also said they would lift certain pandemic-era protocols in early September, including wearing masks and testing for coronavirus in their offices, according to memos reviewed by Reuters.
In March, JPMorgan made masks voluntary in its office buildings and ended mandatory testing for unvaccinated employees. The largest US bank has also reversed its policy of hiring only vaccinated people.
Chris Gardner, co-CEO of London property lender Atelier, said the weakening UK economy and rising energy costs are likely to drive those worried about layoffs to the office faster than free snacks or other incentives.
“If, as expected, things tighten up later this year, presenteeism and office visibility will become more important,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain, editing by Sinead Cruise and Jane Merriman)