By Davoud Pourhossein, Director of Client Architecture, Digital Workplace Services, Unisys
Many financial-services businesses have now settled on some type of hybrid-work model, requiring employees to be physically in the office for an agreed number of days per week (or an annual percentage of work time) or setting out a more flexible “it’s up to you” approach. Some may consider this a temporary solution in the wake of the pandemic, and whilst it has indeed been the catalyst for its introduction, these work practices are here to stay. It’s been proven that employees can not only be just as productive when working from home but that the vast majority of employees now expect a more flexible approach to their work life—in fact, it’s even become a deciding factor for many when choosing where to work.1
Offering hybrid working is now a prerequisite for attracting and retaining talent, and firms must consider how to keep the practice thriving in the long term. The first port of call is addressing the vulnerabilities to which flexible working may expose them.
Of course, for a financial-services organisation, the negatives of allowing staff to work from home go far beyond productivity. Staff need to meet the internal expectations of their teams and direct reports. They are also required to satisfy the expectations of external bodies. For example, at the end of last year, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) released its “expectations”2 for firms engaged in hybrid or remote-work setups. Within these expectations, the FCA outlines that the new way of working should not:
- affect the firm’s ability to oversee its functions, including any outsourced functions;
- increase the risk of financial crime.
Instead, a firm must prove it has satisfactory planning, including:
- The firm can put in place an appropriate culture and maintain it in a remote-working environment;
- The firm has considered all data, cyber and security risks.
Ensuring proper security is in place and nurturing company culture in hybrid-work setups is particularly important for financial-services organisations to ensure they are in line with the FCA’s expectations. But most importantly, if a business can adhere to the above, they are likely to avoid some of the potential pitfalls arising from hybrid working. Financial-services organisations need to consider a few core factors in this new world.
So, what are these pitfalls, and how can firms avoid them? Here are a few things to look out for:
- Security vulnerabilities
The onset of remote working during the pandemic dramatically increased the digital footprints of many businesses overnight. There’s now an expanded area for cyber-criminals to attack and, thus, more opportunities to do so. Not only that, but it has also moved all activity beyond the conventional perimeter defences, such as firewalls and intrusion-detection systems, that organisations had in place to protect themselves from cyberattacks.
But remember, vulnerabilities extend beyond infrastructure. Communications and hands-on “people-managers” are essential to avoid security breaches arising from human errors. Reduced in-person supervision can make employees feel less accountable and potentially increase risk-taking decisions or carelessness over time.
It’s also worth noting that without cybersecurity education appropriate for the world of hybrid working, employees could be performing on unprotected home networks, introducing unsanctioned technologies to their home offices or sharing sensitive company data via unsecured channels such as unencrypted files without realising the risks these actions entail. Many of the security vulnerabilities associated with hybrid working can be avoided with proper employee education.
There are many new considerations for today’s work world of which employees may not be cognisant. Questions such as “Who is standing behind me?”, “How is my network protected?” and “Are my family members allowed to use my work devices?” are still not second nature to many of us. But this can be easily remedied with cyber-hygiene education.
This is not to say that the responsibility for security rests with employees alone. Businesses need to ensure that employees are set up for success with the correct infrastructure, from VPNs and 5G to requiring two-factor authentication.
But, in a hybrid setting, a holistic approach to cybersecurity is required. Having all the necessary infrastructure in place cannot protect against human errors committed by employees working at home, so updated cybersecurity education is required in conjunction.
- Lack of employee engagement
If the correct infrastructure is not in place for those working remotely to receive a comparable quality of experience to the in-person environment, physical distance from the workplace can result in reduced employee engagement and motivation. Experiential parity is key.
We only need to look at the recent media frenzy around “quiet quitting” to see that increased remote working may contribute to an overall disengagement from the workplace.
The most important factor in maintaining employee engagement within a hybrid workforce is ensuring that an equal quality of experience is available to remote and in-office workers alike. The technology to facilitate a frictionless, end-to-end experience for those attending meetings from home is essential to stop employee engagement from falling off a cliff edge.
Collaboration is a must. Significantly reduced interaction during the early days of remote working affected many workers’ well-being and mental health. A lack of interaction also means employees may miss out on opportunities for group brainstorming and gaining access to other perspectives, affecting their work output. It is vital that firms use technology to optimise communications and facilitate collaborations in the hybrid workplace, giving employees at home the interactions they need to feel valued and engaged.
Firms can now monitor employee engagement via sentiment analytics. New human resources artificial intelligence (HR AI) analytics tools can give managers constant access to snapshots of the overall employee mood. The availability of these real-time insights into employees’ sentiments means greater understanding of company culture: whether HR initiatives work or not is easily ascertained by employees’ responses, for example.
- Loss of culture
Employees being dispersed geographically can easily result in fragmented or non-existent workplace cultures. A positive and inclusive workplace culture is essential for maintaining employee engagement. In a well-considered hybrid-work environment, all factors will operate together harmoniously to create a setup that functions best for all.
Of course, many factors influence culture, but policies and hybrid-work frameworks will directly impact people and culture throughout the business.
The FCA’s guidelines for hybrid working include the responsibility of firms to ensure that the company culture is not adversely affected. Maintaining a culture among a group of faces on screens may seem like a laborious task, but this is why company culture must adapt.
Personal connections, the foundation of company culture, are mostly determined by proximity. If you see the same people for an extended period of time every day, you will most likely form connections with them. However, proximity doesn’t have to be physical. This is where we see a need to recalibrate for the post-pandemic world. We need to reconsider what we mean by proximity and realise that, in this context, at least, proximity can be achieved digitally.
All-hands meetings, leadership-team transparency and regular communications between all parties are all ways that firms can foster proximity among employees, creating relationships that will, in turn, feed company culture.
A strong workplace culture will have a positive knock-on for employee engagement. Many who wanted to return to the office during the pandemic were driven by the desire to regain a sense of community, connect to the company’s purpose and receive support and positive reinforcement for their work. This shows that, at least for some, culture is integral to well-being and engagement at work.
One size won’t fit all
In conclusion, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for establishing a hybrid-work environment that best works for every business. But keeping the considerations discussed above top of mind when establishing and honing a hybrid workplace will enable firms to avoid the potential pitfalls entailed by this location-agnostic way of working. Keeping an eye on experiences is critical to the success of adoption and satisfaction. Perhaps most importantly, a thoughtfully designed hybrid-work environment can ensure increased employee engagement, satisfaction and, ultimately, business performance.
1 Microsoft News Centre UK: “More than half of UK workers would consider quitting their job if hybrid working was axed, research reveals,” December 9, 2021.
2 Financial Conduct Authority (FCA): “Remote or hybrid working: FCA expectations for firms,” February 14, 2022.