By: Simon Roderick, Managing Director, Fram Search, a specialist financial services recruitment firm (www.framexec.com).
Article word count: 705
We’ve moved so far from the awful days of March 2020 that it’s sometimes easy to forget the fear we all felt at the time. Is my job safe? Can my business operate remotely? Will the economy be able to cope? In the week after the Budget of 2020 it was clear more would need to be done, and panic really set it. The FTSE 100 dropped from circa 7,600 in mid-Jan to just under 5,200 on the 20th March and literally everyone I spoke with had struggled to sleep at some point that week. Yet nearly 18 months later, home working has been normalised, it’s been far more successful than anyone thought it could be, and for many sectors their whole way of working has changed – perhaps for good.
Talking to many of our clients within the financial services sector, hybrid working will be the norm for most going forwards. The upside could be enormous, from reduced property costs to a better work/life balance for working parents, and I think hybrid working will be embraced by the vast majority of firms if it is possible. However, as offices re-open with this new model of hybrid working, is this where the real challenges begin?
Working from home five days a week is no more flexible that being in the office full-time, but what they have in common as models is uniformity and predictability. Predictable means leadership teams can plan around them. Whilst everyone was working from home, managers had no option but to engage with their teams via video calls. Clients had no expectations of face to face meetings. Maintaining the status quo proved easier than anticipated for many firms, but new business proved a problem for some. Training was very difficult and younger staff undoubtedly had worse working conditions than more established colleagues. Some projects were accelerated (mainly digital transformation) whilst others requiring high levels of in person collaboration were put on hold. As frustrating of some of these issues are, it was predictable and for the most part it’s worked very well.
Having seen colleagues work so diligently, and also realising how popular remote working is, I think it would be hard for most firms to insist on full-time office working. In fact, for attraction and retention purposes, I think it’s a necessity to offer flexible working, but the desire to return to the office exists. It may also be necessary too, as patterns and expectations change as the economy reopens. I think this desire is quite strong at senior levels, but the reality is that this doesn’t need to be full-time. Some roles are better suited to being more home based than others, and some individuals work better remotely. The challenge now for employers is to identify what roles can operate remotely, what is the right level of engagement to maximise productivity, to best support clients, and to maintain culture. Indeed, how to maintain culture has been one of the biggest fears, along with the mental health of their teams, of many of the leaders I’ve spoken. How, though, will this work and what are the pitfalls?
For most firms in the sector we support, I suspect that “core hours” will remain the same. In a recent survey we conducted, only 31% of respondees were keeping to their pre-pandemic working hours. Whilst this has huge lifestyle benefits, there can be connectivity issues for teams that require constant interaction. It’s a circle that many will need to square. Will managers struggle to know who is in the office from one day to the next? Will colleagues find it frustrating if they can’t access their colleagues with ease? After all you can just walk to their desk in an office. Will remote workers get the same career opportunities as those who are in the office regularly?
My own view is that all of these challenges are surmountable. We’ve achieved so much in the last 18 months, and the prize for making this work is potentially so good, that I think we’ll find a way to make it work. I’d prepare for a bit of a bumpy ride over the coming year, though, as the balance between individual needs and business needs finds balance.
Established in 2010 by Simon Roderick, a recruiter with 20 years City recruitment experience, Fram Search is a specialist boutique financial services recruitment consultancy. We focus on permanent and interim recruitment in the UK & internationally with most of work being experienced hires through to the marzipan layer.