• Paul Mokdessi and Isaac Halpern
  • Published: 06 May 2020

Over the past eight weeks, as the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, financial institutions rapidly executed business continuity plans. With the health crisis, economic turmoil, and government response rightfully serving as the main storyline, the smoothness of this transition has been a mostly unnoticed good news story, amidst a lot of terrible news. But this is no small feat, and the smooth functioning of the financial system (so far) has been one bright spot in an otherwise bleak year. Financial services leaders, and in particular resiliency teams and business continuity planners, deserve a lot of credit.

But just as the industry has effectively transitioned to remote operations, financial services leaders will need to form a coherent strategy about how and when to start bringing the team back to the office. Returning employees to work at offices once health and safety conditions permit will present substantial planning and logistical challenges, which will, in some ways, be even more difficult than the abrupt transition to remote work. Reintegration plans involve several areas of enterprise, geographic and jurisdictional complexity, and will require an expert level of coordination and communication. At the same time, this transition will also present significant opportunities to improve alignment between roles, value, and location – and ultimately can accelerate the transition to the workforce of the future with increased flexibility in where and how work gets done. 

Before the pandemic, remote and flexible work was on the rise, and businesses reported a resulting increase in productivity and workforce happiness. Eighty-five percent of companies surveyed  confirmed that workforce productivity has increased due to greater flexibility in work location. During the pandemic, with nearly the entire workforce working remotely, these trends in productivity have accelerated due to such factors as reduced commute times and increased facility with collaboration tools. Understanding the long-term sustainability, and identifying the behaviors and desired outcomes involved in workforce transformation is timely. 

We believe that leaders should take a balanced approach. There is a strategic opportunity to turn ‘lemons’ (being forced to transition to remote work abruptly) into ‘lemonade’ (coming up with a better long-term model), while at the same time paying attention to the fine details of re-entry. 

As we advise leading global financial services institutions on re-entry planning, we are encouraging them to think about the following questions.

Strategic re-entry questions

1. What are government requirements?

  • Nothing should happen that does not align with regulatory mandates, and FIs should generally be even more conservative 

2. What is our long-term vision and goals for talent transformation post-re-entry?

  • Protecting safety, health, wellness 
  • Improving employee happiness and productivity 
  • Potentially taking advantage of opportunities to reduce cost (e.g., real estate) and increase productivity 
  • Driving better outcomes for customer centricity and business value

3. How can we better align value, roles, and location?

  • Align role to location based on client/business value
  • Define which roles must be 100 percent on-site, and which could be partially on-site or fully remote while providing the same degree of value
  • Identify the desired day-to-day workforce behaviors and long-term outcomes, and what metrics to use to measure these

4. What would it take for the team to feel confident about returning to work?

  • Which employees are willing and able to return?
  • How do they map to the role vs. value alignment?

5. What governance is required to execute detailed planning?

  • Central guidelines versus local decisions
  • Approval authorities
  • Communication protocols 

6. What needs to be in place to reintegrate employees?

  • Health and safety – testing/ monitoring
  • Technology preparedness 
  • Changes to the physical work environment (e.g., maintaining appropriate distance, installing plexiglass barriers on trading floors)

7. What is the near-term transition strategy?

  • Phasing of roles/locations/critical services
  • Preparing employees

By taking a structured approach to answering these questions, financial services institutions can make sure they are prepared to bring the team back to the office – but not the whole team, and not to make things the way they were before. The rapid transition to a fully remote workforce creates the opportunity to rethink where and how work is done, and ultimately create a stronger, happier, more productive, and more resilient team coming out of the crisis, and yield long-term tangible business benefits for the enterprise.

* FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics