By David PourhosseinDirector of Client Architecture, Digital Web Services, Unisys
Mall financial services firms have now moved to some type of hybrid working model, requiring employees to be physically in the office for an agreed number of days per week (or annual percentage of working time) or establishing a ‘c’ is up to you. Some may see this as a temporary fix in the wake of the pandemic, and while it was indeed the catalyst for its introduction, these working practices are here to stay. It’s been proven that not only can employees be just as productive when working from home, but the vast majority of employees now expect a more flexible approach to their working life – in fact, it’s even become a deciding factor for many when choose where to work.1
Offering hybrid work is now a prerequisite for attracting and retaining talent, and companies need to think about how to keep this practice thriving in the long term. The first port of call is to address the vulnerabilities that flexible working can expose them to.
Of course, for a financial services organization, the downsides of allowing staff to work from home go far beyond productivity. Staff must meet the internal expectations of their teams and their direct reports. They are also required to meet the expectations of external organizations. For example, at the end of last year, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published its “expectations”2 for companies engaged in hybrid or remote work setups. As part of these expectations, FCA emphasizes that the new way of working should not:
- affect the company’s ability to oversee its functions, including any outsourced functions;
- increase the risk of financial crime.
Instead, a business must demonstrate that it has satisfactory planning, including:
- The company can establish an appropriate culture and maintain it in a remote work environment;
- The company has considered all data, cybersecurity and security risks.
Ensuring adequate security is in place and nurturing the company culture in hybrid work setups is especially important for financial services organizations to ensure they are compliant with FCA expectations. Importantly, if a company can adhere to the above, it will likely avoid some of the potential pitfalls that come with hybrid working. Financial services organizations need to consider a few key factors in this new world.
So what are these pitfalls and how can companies avoid them? Here are some things to watch out for:
- Security vulnerabilities
The onset of remote work during the pandemic has dramatically increased the digital footprint of many businesses overnight. There is now a wider area for cybercriminals to attack and, therefore, more opportunities to do so. Not only that, but it also moved all activities beyond the conventional perimeter defenses, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems, that organizations had in place to protect against cyberattacks.
But remember that vulnerabilities extend beyond infrastructure. Communications and “people managers” in the field are key to preventing security breaches resulting from human error. Reduced in-person supervision can make employees feel less accountable and potentially increase risky decisions or negligence over time.
It should also be noted that without cybersecurity training appropriate for the hybrid workplace, employees could work on unprotected home networks, introduce unauthorized technologies into their home office, or share sensitive company data via insecure channels such as unencrypted files without realizing the risks of such actions. train. Many security vulnerabilities associated with hybrid working can be avoided with proper employee training.
There are many new considerations for today’s workplace that employees may not be aware of. 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 solved with cyber hygiene education.
This does not mean that the responsibility for safety rests solely with the employees. Businesses need to ensure employees are set up to succeed with the right infrastructure, from VPNs and 5G to requiring two-factor authentication.
But, in a hybrid environment, a holistic approach to cybersecurity is needed. Having all the necessary infrastructure in place cannot protect against human error by employees working from home. Up-to-date cybersecurity training is therefore necessary in parallel.
- Lack of employee engagement
If the proper infrastructure is not in place for those working remotely to receive a quality experience comparable to that of the in-person environment, physical distancing from the workplace can lead to reduced engagement and employee motivation. Experiential parity is essential.
One only has to look at the recent media frenzy around “silent quitting” to see that the rise of remote working can contribute to an overall disengagement from the workplace.
The most important factor in maintaining employee engagement within a hybrid workforce is ensuring an equal quality experience is available for remote and in-office workers. Technology to facilitate a frictionless end-to-end experience for those attending meetings from home is key to preventing employee engagement from falling off a precipice.
Collaboration is a must. Significantly reduced interaction at the start of remote work has affected the well-being and mental health of many workers. A lack of interaction also means that employees may miss opportunities for group brainstorming and access to other perspectives, which affects their job performance. It’s critical that businesses use technology to optimize communications and facilitate collaborations in the hybrid workplace, giving home employees the interactions they need to feel valued and engaged.
Companies can now monitor employee engagement through sentiment analysis. New human resources artificial intelligence (HR AI) analysis tools can give managers constant access to snapshots of the general mood of employees. The availability of this real-time insight into employee sentiment means a better understanding of corporate culture: whether or not HR initiatives are working is easily determined by employee responses, for example.
- Culture loss
The geographic dispersion of employees can easily lead to fragmented or non-existent work cultures. A positive and inclusive work culture is key to maintaining employee engagement. In a well-thought-out hybrid work environment, all factors will work harmoniously to create a setup that works best for everyone.
Of course, many factors influence culture, but hybrid workplace policies and frameworks will directly impact people and culture across the enterprise.
FCA guidelines for hybrid working include the responsibility of companies to ensure that the corporate culture is not negatively affected. Maintaining a culture among a group of faces on screens can seem like a daunting task, but that’s why company culture has to adapt.
Personal relationships, the foundation of corporate culture, are primarily determined by proximity. If you see the same people for a long time each day, you will most likely bond with them. However, the proximity does not have to be physical. This is where we see a need for recalibration for the post-pandemic world. We need to reconsider what we mean by proximity and realize that, in this context, at least, proximity can be achieved digitally.
People-to-people meetings, leadership team transparency, and regular communications between all parties are all ways for companies to foster closeness between employees, creating relationships that will, in turn, nurture the culture of company.
A strong corporate culture will have a positive effect on employee engagement. Many of those who wanted to return to the office during the pandemic were driven by a desire to regain a sense of community, to connect with the purpose of the company, and to 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 will not fit all
In conclusion, there is no single formula for establishing a hybrid work environment that works best for every company. But keeping the considerations discussed above in mind when creating and perfecting a hybrid workplace will help companies avoid the potential pitfalls of this location-independent way of working. Keeping tabs on experiences is critical to successful adoption and satisfaction. Perhaps most importantly, a carefully designed hybrid work environment can ensure increased employee engagement and satisfaction, and ultimately business performance.
1 Microsoft News Center UK: “More than half of UK workers would consider leaving their jobs if hybrid working was scrapped, study finds», December 9, 2021.
2 Financial Conduct Authority (FCA):”Remote or hybrid working: FCA’s expectations for companies», February 14, 2022.