How financial services companies can accommodate flexible working
April 2016 | EXPERT BRIEFING | BANKING & FINANCE
Flexible working has grown enormously over the last two to three years. Working out of coffee shops or from home was once viewed as a slight oddity, but now it is very much the norm in modern society. In fact, modern day employment laws have changed traditional working practices forever, with businesses required to offer employees the right to request. The stigma once attached to flexible working is – in the majority of cases – gone, and the benefits are now widely respected across a large number of sectors, none more so than banking and financial services. By their very nature, these companies are very disciplined and hence are in an advantageous position to facilitate flexible working – more so than other sectors. It does, however, require careful and considered management in order for both staff and the business to benefit and flourish as a consequence of this new way of working.
Allowing flexible working in the regimented role of banking may seem like a huge step to take but it shouldn’t. Look at it as another way of empowering and motivating staff which, if done correctly, will yield positive results. Establishing a good work/life balance is not something that the UK does particularly well and working flexibly helps this and allows staff to do more of what they enjoy, be it spending time with their family or doing a hobby, improving overall wellbeing and productivity. Naturally, many financial services professionals will want to work flexibly to cater for a busy lifestyle, but it’s likely to be those with responsibilities outside of work who have the greatest need for it. Being flexible as an employer helps build and retain a talented team, so do what you can to accommodate these requests where possible, or negotiate so that all parties are happy.
In banking for instance, the process requires a certain degree of adaptation. Finance often requires considerably longer working hours with tight deadlines to meet, so these need to be taken into account. Most notably, mergers and acquisitions by their very nature can create irregular work patterns, especially in corporate finance, so communication is key to ensuring that employers and employees are on the same page. When dealing with M&A on a global scale, different time zones and demands from all over the world often result in bankers having to work throughout the night, and when it comes to audits, the procedural nature of the work required by their clients certainly does not always fit into the regular 9 to 5 routine.
But those working in finance can get their just rewards during quieter periods, which often come around in consistent – albeit short – bursts due to the recurrent financial calendar. This is where flexible working, including reduced hours after working overtime, can be implemented to great effect by employers who are keen to look after the wellbeing of their staff. Finance is a profession that is consistent in its inconsistent hours – the workload will not always fit into a regular 9 to 5 working day, which can actually work in an employer’s favour when it comes to granting flexible hours for the many employees who are in and out of the office at different times.
To make it work, however, one word is always high on the agenda – trust. If this is not reciprocal, unfortunately the best processes and procedures will always struggle. Employees should always be trusted from the start and both parties should work back from there. All flexible workers should be given clear objectives and ultimately measured on their output, as opposed to whether or not they are physically in the office. It can be a big step for financial services companies to make what is a big leap by industry standards, so if you are slightly cautious then we would recommend setting up an end of the day review to check progress or schedule regular catch ups with staff to get their feedback. This can help the bedding in process and, once all parties find their feet with the new set up, employers will have peace of mind.
If there is ever a breakdown of trust, then there are ways to tighten controls – taking away the privilege should be very much a last resort. If your hands are tied as an employer and there seems to be no way of making the process work, then both parties have ultimately failed. It is up to managers to understand what makes people tick and the reasoning as to why somebody is possibly drifting as a result of their new-found flexible hours. We have found that when people work remotely they feel the need to achieve better results, as if to prove their worth, and that the process is really benefitting them.
Fresh talent coming into work expect a greater degree of freedom due to technological advancements, but they also demand instant access to this technology because being connected wherever they go is more crucial than ever. Tools such as iMeet can bring all communication together, no matter where you are, be it working from home, in a coffee shop or on the other side of the world, just like users would do in their social lives. Ultimately, communication software allows you to stay connected and save costs.
As businesses continue to grow, and with technology developing at such a rate, business leaders and firms now face the added pressures of needing to be responsive 24/7 and having access to more information, quicker – and there’s no exception when working remotely. Social media and live chat support has meant that meeting the needs of customers and their demands for more immediate responses can be the factor between winning or losing business to competitors, so this has to be factored in when implementing flexible working. Across the finance sector, chief executive and chief financial officers can bridge the gap with smarter ways of working, by using tools such as screen sharing and online chat that complement each other so that small, remote teams can work productively, with access to guidance and approval where required.
In our experience, people are often more productive working at home as they can work the exact hours they want, be it around a young family or a hobby. There are also no distractions from others and it can breed more creative thinking being outside the confines of the office walls. We find staff are more motivated as they have a far better work/life balance. We all want to be successful in our careers but it should never come at the expense of our wellbeing. Employers will notice that this helps with staff retention, top talent recruitment and a happy workforce, which is always a more successful one. We encourage our staff that can, to work from home at least one day a week.
Across the financial services sector, flexible working ultimately just makes better business sense. The most compelling argument for employers granting requests for flexible hours (however it is managed), in our opinion, is to retain valuable skillsets across their workforce. The sector is not exempt from a high-end skills shortage of its own at the moment, so if these firms are serious about retaining talented and skilled people they need to accommodate their requests for a greater work-life balance. Flexibility takes many different forms, and if you can manage the employee workload and maintain an outstanding service for clients, it is a great option for banks and financial services companies, and they will likely reap the rewards in the long run.
Jason Downes is the managing director at Powwownow.
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