Some City employees are disobeying managers’ demands to report to work on a predetermined number of days per week, according to research I released on behalf of Women in Banking & Finance, an organization for women working in the financial services industry. Instead, they are taking what they call a “remote first” strategy, only coming into the office when it is in their best interest to do so from a productivity and business demands standpoint.
London School of Economics
My colleagues and I at the London School of Economics’ The Inclusion Initiative performed this study to demonstrate, via hard data and empirical research, what works (and what doesn’t) in making workplaces more inclusive and promoting gender equality.
Seventy percent of the 100 employees at various levels we questioned worked in financial services. Bank of America, BlackRock, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Schroders, and UBS were just some of the companies represented.
We took a non-judgmental stance toward the research and let the respondents have their say on the topic of the workplace’s future without interjecting our own ideas.
Most respondents highlighted the need for managers and HR departments to respond quickly and empathetically to issues of isolation, bullying, and burnout in order to reduce stress and illness in the industry.
It is surprising that no one has emphasized that businesses should do more to boost their employees’ morale.
Creating an Environment
Our respondents stressed the need to put psychological safety first. This required creating an environment where workers felt safe to share their ideas and opinions. It’s not always easy for managers to hear the truth from their employees, but it pays off in the long run when their team is diverse and frank about issues like risk assessment and innovation. “Interviewees said functions and teams should define locally when they should be in the office in terms of satisfying operations, and maximizing productivity.”
Several of the supervisors we talked to expressed the sentiment, “what’s the point of showing up to the office just for the sake of it?”
One interviewee explained, “Sometimes I’m told, ‘You really should be in on this Thursday or it will look bad,’ and actually I didn’t want to be in on this Thursday because I’ve got only Zooms.
We could not discover any evidence of threats or punishments being used to bring employees back to work. Positive incentives to entice workers to the workplace were much more widespread. Everything from free meals and social gatherings to presentations by famous motivational speakers was on offer.
According to our broader research, companies that prioritize increasing all indicators of diversity and inclusion should abandon the practice of mandating fixed days in the office because it is no longer effective at bringing out the best in its employees.
We discovered that nearly everyone agreed that there was no “one size fits all” when it comes to the best way to get work done, and that different departments and teams needed to decide for themselves when they were most productive.
Senior management employee quotes a previous experience: “We used to hear people saying, ‘I had to throw [the kids] at the nanny and get into the office for 9am.’ We now hear people saying, ‘We get a lot more from our people when they feel trusted to make their own decisions.'” “I’d rather have you here for six hours where you’re really productive than for ten hours where you’re really stressed,” is something I frequently tell my employees.
How much productivity is lost when bosses make workers compromise their preferred methods of getting work done in order to satisfy their demands? There is no correlation between hours put in and results achieved, unless you are working on an assembly line. This is the primary issue in the banking and insurance industries.
By emphasizing results over input, coworkers will see the value of showing in to the workplace on the days they are asked rather than working independently. Some managers worry that workers may abuse the opportunity to work from home and would consequently underperform. Assuringly, research shows that giving workers more freedom in the workplace boosts morale without decreasing output.
Moreover, research shows that employees feel more trusted and secure working under a manager who provides them with some degree of autonomy.
- Companies in the financial and professional sectors that place a premium on productivity should choose for a future of work that strikes a balance between remote and on-site employment.
- Companies that take this stance will be able to attract, develop, and keep a more broadly talented workforce, as flexible work schedules are especially helpful for those with impairments and those with child care responsibilities.
- Bet on your group: Relax your need to micromanage your team’s every move. Allow your employees to feel comfortable approaching you with any issues or blunders they’ve encountered. If they’re doing their jobs, then they should be left alone.
- Set ground rules for your interactions: Guidelines for effective “remote first working” could specify the frequency of virtual huddles, the length of team strategy meetings, and the circumstances under which everyone on the team must be physically present.
- Output definition and measurement: Instead than counting hours, try gauging value added or productivity. Lay up the deliverables that your staff is obligated to produce by a certain date. Use comments to refine your definition of weekly production, and provide stories to help your team understand the “why” behind your goals. Encourage peak performance by making sure everyone on the team understands and buys into the team’s mission.
Don’t abandon anyone: Make sure everyone on your team has a chance to shine and is heard.
One of the quickest ways to drag down team output is to turn a blind eye to a coworker who isn’t contributing anything of value. Address their under-performance as soon as possible.