With COVID vaccinations underway across the U.S., many firms are now implementing strategies to start bringing their employees back into the office. PwC’s December 2020 Remote Work Survey found that over 70% of U.S. employers in financial services believe employees should be at the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinctive work culture.
JPMorgan Chase plans to organize in-person internships for hundreds of interns in June. Some teams are already back in the New York office. Goldman Sachs hopes to have its employees back in offices by this summer, and Morgan Stanley plans to bring all of its employees back into the office as soon as it’s safe to do so.
For a lot of fintech companies, though, this doesn’t mean a return to pre-pandemic work life. Many, including firms such as Klarna, Wise and Revolut, are coming up with hybrid models that aim to foster in-person collaboration while also retaining the flexibility offered by remote work.
Payments firm Klarna plans to roll out a hybrid work model for its 3500 employees by the end of this summer across all offices globally. Once implemented, employees would only need to be present at the office for two days a week. “Each team will have designated office days so that colleagues can sit together and collaborate in person. Social connection and interaction is highly valued at Klarna, and also an important component given how many new hires have joined during Covid and have never met in real life,” said a spokesperson at Klarna.
The remaining three days of the week would be flexible: employees would be free to choose between in-office and remote work, depending on what the most productive setup is for them and their team. “Our offices will be reconfigured to maximize team interaction while also supporting the flexible arrangements of the broader employee base, so looking at things like increasing collaboration spaces and hot desks,” said the Klarna spokesperson. Team leaders will also receive additional training to help them better manage and coordinate in this new working environment.
Online foreign exchange and payments company OFX, which has offices in Australia, U.S., U.K., Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore, plans to bring some employees back to its San Francisco office this summer. The company is transitioning to a hybrid model, and some employees have already moved out of the traditional office locations to become fully remote. “We are partnering with our employees to assess the best work model for them based on their role and personal situation, as well as business and customer needs. Over the past year, we’ve also hired employees in areas where we didn’t have a presence before the pandemic,” explained Brooke Filary, head of people and culture at OFX. “For the most part, we envision our employees coming into the office a few days per week with staggered schedules, so that we have around a 50% capacity on any given day.”
OFX also plans to modify its workspaces to adapt to the hybrid model and maximize collaboration among employees. “People are really missing in-person interaction, so we’ll likely look to increase flexible informal spaces where employees can chat and also have the space to interact as a small group,” said Filary. “I think we will be using outdoor spaces like balconies much more for meetings as we have all embraced more of an outdoor lifestyle.”
The company is currently planning an online “speed chatting” event, where each employee will be matched at random with a colleague across the organization to interact in a way that they may not have been able to for the past year. “Being remote, there’s less of an opportunity to bump into someone from another team in the kitchen during lunch. Ultimately, my focus is recreating those moments of informal conversation so that we can continue to build and develop relationships that make OFX unique,” said Filary.
For some in the finance and fintech space, the pandemic has brought on a permanent transition to remote work. “Working remotely has proven to be as – if not more – productive, meaning that we will be taking a fully remote approach for our entire operation,” said Kevin Hart, founder and CEO of Green Check Verified, a leading RegTech provider of compliant cannabis banking solutions and services based in North Haven, Connecticut. “We will maintain our two office locations, but if folks want to be remote – fine with me. We have even modified our hiring to be location-agnostic.”
In contrast, CrossBorder Solutions, a company that provides AI-driven tax solutions, has had employees back in its Florida headquarters for many months now. So far there have been zero instances of the in-office spread of COVID-19, thanks to safety precautions such as daily, onsite rapid testing and the use of thermography to screen all employees before they walk in the door. CEO Donald Scherer feels that despite current challenges, it was crucial to reopen offices sooner rather than later. “For a sales-driven culture such as ours, fed by young, hungry employees, we find that productivity and satisfaction is higher when our people work together in the office. There, they can feed off the energy on the floor, learn from their peers in real-time, and get exposure to executives,” he said.
Is hybrid the future?
Studies indicate that hybrid work models are quickly gaining acceptance in various fields and will probably continue to do so in the coming years. Nathan Hilt, managing director at consulting firm Protiviti, has been working closely with finance and fintech clients and advising them on return-to-office plans and hybrid work models. He believes fintech firms always had an element of flexibility and openness to remote work, which has further grown due to the pandemic. “Several fintechs have scaled and expanded in a remote environment, and their culture is built around flexibility and the teams not being together physically. Some are now abandoning plans for physical space/corporate headquarters altogether,” said Hilt. “Others will embrace the hybrid model with a focus on coming together to innovate and share ideas, while more mundane activities will continue to be remote.”
What implications will hybrid models have for the future of finance and fintech firms?
“There are nearly unlimited possibilities for how we can go hybrid,” said Rupert Morrison, CEO of orgvue, which conducts organizational planning for financial firms and banks including HSBC. “Should all employees come into the office part-time? Should marketing come on Monday and Thursday and sales on Tuesday and Friday? Do interns need to be in every day?”
Morrison’s advice is to actively use research methods such as surveys to understand employee preferences and needs. This would allow companies to determine what roles can be performed remotely and which ones require more in-person collaboration. “Recent data show that junior employees prefer to be in the office: many don’t have home environments conducive to business and find work to be an important social outlet. The office is also typically where young professionals develop key relationships and get access to coaching and mentoring opportunities,” he explained.
“Rather than leaving the decision on the CFO, it’s important to hear from the staff and managers as to what can be accomplished online and what can’t.”