" class="no-js "lang="en-US"> EXCLUSIVE: "WTF should we do about WFH?" – Joanna Molik, Microsoft; Krista Griggs, Fujitsu and Anjali Raina, Harvard Business School India Research Centre in ‘The Fintech Magazine'
Sunday, April 21, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: “WTF should we do about WFH?” – Joanna Molik, Microsoft; Krista Griggs, Fujitsu and Anjali Raina, Harvard Business School India Research Centre in ‘The Fintech Magazine’

It’s a hybrid paradox that all leaders are facing: can you, and is it advisable, to force staff into working from home full-time. Or is it bad for them and bad for business? Hannah Duncan considers the options with Anjali Raina, Krista Griggs and Joanna Molik Joanna Molik, Microsoft | Fintech Finance

As a freelance writer, the concept of working from home (WFH), far away from office life, doesn’t seem contentious to me. I love sleeping in for a delicious extra hour, saving money on stressful London commutes and wearing clothes that don’t feel like they have the wire hanger still attached. But not everyone feels that way. Over 2021, 81 per cent of Gen-Zers and Millennials suffered from isolation when working from home, according to Kadence, a hybrid working software supplier.

The 16- to 34-year-olds felt distant from co-workers and anxious about how the lack of face-to-face time was impacting their careers. Another 63 per cent revealed that if WFH continued, they would likely find it harder to focus, and 59 per cent believed they wouldn’t enjoy their job as much. Banks and fintechs have demonstrated they have the digital tools – and now the experience – to go fully remote. But should they? So far, the only conclusive answer is to avoid conclusive answers.

Goldman Sachs recently tried to re-impose office life pre-COVID style, and it was not well received. The fallout was fast and furious, as employees went to the press to voice their disappointment. Meanwhile, progressive UK challenger Atom Bank introduced a voluntary four-day week for its 400-plus employees without cutting pay. Experts have good vibes about this, as studies in Iceland found giving employees an extra weekend day to be a remarkable stimulus for business success. American Express is among several creating a flexi model, offering hybrid working models for employees. Indeed, everywhere you look, banks are offering a new way of working, designed to keep employees (and shareholders) happy.

But is there a right and wrong way to do it? Are there missed opportunities that could arise from this new way of clocking in? We asked three industry experts for their views: Anjali Raina, who heads the Harvard Business School India Research Centre, which studies trends shaping business models there; Joanna Molik, executive director at Microsoft whose Teams software made big inroads into the unified communications as-a-service market during 2020; and Krista Griggs, head of financial services and insurance at Fujitsu, whose research found 89 per cent of business leaders and 77 per cent of employees in financial services believe hybrid working will make their organisation more resilient.

The Fintech Magazine: Do you see financial services organisation moving to a hybrid workplace permanently?

Krista Griggs, Fujitsu | Fintech FinanceKrista Griggs: Absolutely. We’re already seeing that in banks like HSBC and NatWest, which have declared that it’s a permanent change they are making. And, equally, we saw [the repercussions if they don’t] when Goldman Sachs said it wanted everyone to come back to the office – there was a real backlash to that.

Anjali Raina: I spent almost 26 years with different banks, Citigroup being one of them, and I’ve surveyed my past colleagues on this. The reaction was very similar to what Krista is saying, that some organisations are totally focussed on bringing everybody back to work and, in fact, have already done it, and some are saying that it’s going to be hybrid. But some of my more thoughtful ex-colleagues pointed out that it depends on the job. For example, in investment banking, a research analyst can do a hybrid job, or maybe a completely remote job.

But a person who is in sales and trading, or who’s trading in very large amounts, where milliseconds and approvals matter, perhaps they need to be on site. Maybe all that we can say is that, coming out of this pandemic, the experiment has been fantastic in showing that remote working can be done and it can be productive. But how far people accept that, and how we take that forward – this is going to be something that we have to still work out.

TFM: How can banks and fintechs create a hybrid environment that supports the wellbeing of employees?

Joanna Molik: The first step is to know your employees and know their needs. Provide them with the flexible hybrid solutions that are fit for different kinds of work, and the different kinds of jobs they are doing. There’s no one size-fits all approach. We know some employees prefer to work from home and are more productive from home. While others cannot wait to come back into the office! That’s where the hybrid paradox comes into play. It’s about giving everyone the same experience, no matter where they are.

For example, with the rise of in-person meetings, make sure that everyone is included, whether they’re joining digitally or are physically present… It’s the number one way to maintain and manage the level of communication. That, for me, is the most important element for wellbeing at work and the key one to tackle: the ability to fit different expectations into one hybrid experience.

KG: One of the things we’ve seen with remote working, especially during lockdown, is that it’s really difficult to spot when people are struggling. For some people, it’s created a difficult wellbeing situation, and, as managers and leaders, we have to be more cognisant. We have to understand what the personal circumstances are, not just the job situation. Think, ‘what’s the right thing for this individual? How can we make sure they stay connected? That they’re not being burnt out? How can we help them?’.

AR: The very fact that we are talking about wellness and emotional wellbeing of employees is maybe a wonderful fallout of this whole process, because I don’t think employers have ever really cared that much. They’ve looked at physical wellbeing, and they have had cafeterias with nutritious food, and they’ve had gymnasiums, and they’ve paid for yearly check-ups, and so on, but it’s always been in the physical dimension. This focus on mental health, mental wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, even the focus on inclusivity, and on diversity, is probably more widespread than it was before the pandemic. And that’s a good indication.

That said, it’s a bit like automating a bad process, in that what we’ve done is really just taken the existing work environment and transferred it to remote. One can actually design the workplace in a better way. We need to design it around the humans who are doing the work, rather than around the pressures of the financial services organisation they are serving.

TFM: What tools can banks and fintechs use to design a better workplace?

Anjali Raina, Harvard Business School India Research Centre | Fintech FinanceAR: Harvard put together something called the Flourishing Index, based on research it carried out, which has a number of parameters. It basically says people flourish when you have mental, emotional, psychological and intellectual health. It’s freely available research. Just like we look at the financial returns from an organisation, we can use that index to see if the employee is flourishing. It can be an outcome measure that we work backwards from to design work.

KG: Give staff collaboration tools to make sure that, wherever they are, they can connect, if they’re not physically in the office, and be inclusive in making sure that everyone can stay connected with the team in a way that’s suitable and works for them; create offices that really are set up around collaboration. No more rows of desks of people sitting there for work. They can do that at home.

TFM: Why is employee wellness and wellbeing relevant for banks and fintechs?

KG: There’s so much change happening in the financial services sector. There is a huge war for talent and, therefore, it is quite simply essential to build an environment where people can thrive. [Banks and fintechs must] attract, and retain the right people to do well as a business. So, looking after your people is essential to being successful and resilient in the market at the moment. A lot of that comes down to how can you make it easier for people to work where they want? Whether they are in the office, whether they are at home, whether they are in a park on a bench, it doesn’t matter – they have to be able to do their job.

There is such a shortage of the right skills to drive forward the sector that if you don’t offer it, you’re going to lose out. I think that’s one of the key things that will drive leaders to really put the right things in place, both from a process and environment point of view.

TFM: What are the top things banks and fintechs need to change to support this new way of working?

JM: Number one is empathy. It’s an important skill we need to build up to be successful in a hybrid world. This applies to leaders, to managers and to individuals alike. Also the ability to interact, to break this digital wall between us – to come together and meet as human beings.

There are different groups of skills to tackle. I want to focus on accessibility and inclusion – that not only applies to people with disabilities, but to making a meeting inclusive, and making sure everybody’s voices are heard. This doesn’t come naturally, but those leaders who I’ve seen embrace those skills, and build them in the organisation, get amazing results. People are saying ‘we feel closer now than we were before, even if we were working in the same office!”’. What we used to call ‘soft skills’, but I like to call ‘human skills’, are really of number one importance.

AR: Especially in financial services, we tend to think that face-to-face supervision is required. But we’ve seen that we don’t need to do that. We can trust the person. So, it’s really about changing the manager’s approach so that he or she is looking at how the output of the job is going to be measured. Then you can work backwards around that.

KG: It is essential to set boundaries, so people don’t get overblown by work. There’s so much stress. People are saying, ‘it’s fantastic, I can work from home’. Actually, that means there’s no switching off between home and work life; those boundaries have become a lot more blurred. As organisations, as leaders, we have a responsibility to make sure we provide staff with all the tools appropriate to the job and to their personal circumstances, to enable them to ringfence their personal life as something that’s protected and private.

TFM: How can we make sure that people WFH are not missing out on the social benefits of office life?

AR: When people get together, there’s a certain spark, an energy. Often that spark was lit at a coffee machine accidental meeting. So, banks and fintechs should ask themselves ‘how can we make those serendipitous conversations happen? How can we design for them?’. So look at the insights from the data and work backwards as to what is required – and if there is one thing financial services isn’t short of, it’s data!

KG: Start with purpose and a vision of what you’re trying to achieve. So yes, you want outcomes, but it’s not just about financial outcomes; inclusivity is part of this, as well. That’s how leaders need to drive organisations; drive structure and culture. It’s about stating ‘this is the purpose, this is who we are, this is the culture, and this is what we’re trying to do in the world – the change we’re trying to make for our customers, for our society’. Then you can ask ‘what data do I need to achieve that purpose? What outcomes are we looking for and how can we evidence that we’re making progress?’. Because the data has no value if it’s not aligned to purpose and values.

TFM: How should banks and fintechs create this intersection between culture, tech and their own personal values?

JM: Refocus on the purpose – not only on the organisational level but at the team level. Have a new social contract as a team, a charter that says ‘this is why we exist’. Whether it’s an underwriting team in insurance, whether it’s a sales team, I think focussing – or refocussing – on that purpose is so important. Because then staff can say ‘I know why I’m here’.

Our LinkedIn research shows us a great reshuffle is happening. When I look at financial institutions, why people are coming to work and how they are performing their daily tasks, has changed so much that now is a good time for leaders to think about the expectations of employees and managers. In most of the research we’re seeing, there is an increased feeling of inclusion among employees, so the tools are helping. But we still need that leadership mindset shift.

I feel we’ve learned a lot, we’ve experimented a lot as organisations –financial institutions especially. Now, it’s time to gather the insights from these learnings and redesign our processes and ways of working around the human experience.



This article was published in The Fintech Magazine #22, Page 88-89

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