Related to the end of cities – yesterday’s blog – is the fascinating friction between employers and employees over where to work these days. Some believe you have to come back and work in the office whilst others protest and claim you can work from anywhere, even on the beach. Who is wrong, or are both right?
Let’s start with banks. Many are now demanding that employees come into the office at least two days a week, some say three and others expect attendance all week long!
Citibank state: “We are committed to our hybrid work model and proud of the flexibility it provides our colleagues to work at least three days per week in the office and up to two days remotely. We have firm expectations for office attendance and know that the majority of our employees are compliant with their requirements.”
In an email to staff, explaining why senior managers must be in the office five days a week, JPMorgan explained:
“Our leaders play a critical role in reinforcing our culture and running our businesses. They have to be visible on the floor, they must meet with clients, they need to teach and advise, and they should always be accessible for immediate feedback and impromptu meetings. We need them to lead by example, which is why we’re asking all managing directors to be in the office five days a week.”
In fact most bank CEOs do not like the concept of remote working. Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said that remote work is “not an employee choice”; Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called it an “aberration”; and Jamie Dimon said he was “about to cancel all my Zoom meetings,” adding “I’m done with it.”
It’s an interesting debate and is not just limited to big banks. This week fintech unicorn checkout.com came out saying that they want staff in the office at least three days a week “to collaborate and build meaningful relationships”. Maybe it’s not a bad idea as some employees claim that working from home (WFH) is undesirable as it burns you out.
On this theme, research by Scoop – see Scoop’s Q1 2023 Flex Report which collected data on more than 4,000 companies in the US between October 2022 and February 2023 – found that:
- More than 66% of banks offer staff fully remote or hybrid working arrangements.
- Almost four-fifths (78%) of fintechs offer fully flexible work.
- Financial services companies are roughly split equally between fully flexible (39%) and structured hybrid work (41%)—although there are significant differences by sector, company size, and geography.
It is clear that this is not an easy mix. In fact there is a huge clash in Australia between the finance union and the big banks. This began in earnest when Commonwealth Bank ruled that employees must spend half their monthly hours in the office. The Finance Sector Union argues staff were not properly consulted on the change and many believed they were more productive at home. Interestingly, National Australian Bank (NAB) went a different direction and agreed that staff could work from home.
Nevertheless, the grumbles roll on with bank CEOs claiming there is no role in a bank that can be worked on a full-time remote basis.
There is obviously more room for debate here but, critically, if banks do allow flex or fully flex work arrangements then yes, it means the City or cities are dead or dying. Yet, something else is replacing them. Hotels.
Hotel chains, spotting the WFH developments, are doubling-down on supporting remote workers. I noted this with Citizen M, who offered a subscription service where, for $12 a month, you get a great range of perks from late checkout, best views to 10% off everything and a guaranteed room.
There’s even a growing market dedicated to this space. Like WeWork with bedrooms, Zoku opened in 2015. Zoku is “designed specifically for remote workers and digital nomads. It fits space-saving ‘loft’ apartments into the plots of standard hotel rooms, has a coworking space instead of a lobby, and employs a permanent community manager whose job is to facilitate introductions between locals and visitors”.
The net:net is that the offices of banks are becoming more and more vacant; bank leaders don’t like staff working at home; and there is a major gap and opportunity to create new work spaces that are not WeWorks but WeSleep and WeWork.
My prediction? A decade or more from now, most bank skyscrapers will be coworking hotel spaces, just like most bank branches are now coffee houses.
Checking in at the NED Hotel, London, formerly the Victorian Head Office of Midland Bank, now HSBC
Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...