Within two short weeks, everything has changed. In January, being a good employer in financial services was about offering great gym facilities and mindfulness classes in the lunch break. Now it's become a lot more serious. The best employers are those who can accomodate large numbers of employees working from home; lives may depend upon it.
It's unsurprising, therefore, that firms which are well equipped to allow staff to work from home have begun boasting about it. Peter Harrison, group chief executive for investment firm Schroders, wrote yesterday of Schroders' foresightfulness in preparing employees for mass homeworking four years ago.
"We looked at this after I became chief executive of Schroders in 2016," said Harrison. "The management team identified that to establish true cross-business collaboration and business resilience, technology would be the solution. Unhindered flexible working was the aim."
Enabling employees to work from home requires years of planning, suggested Harrison - it's not the kind of thing that can be turned on overnight. "We began by rolling out a system that allows people to work anywhere from any location at any time using just one log-in. They get full access to the systems they would usually get in the office; our client services teams can talk to clients, our fund managers can place trades."
Schroders' preparedness meant that when the virus hit, first in Asia and then globally, the asset management firm was ready. It took its 5,000 people who were split across 34 locations and divided them into two teams, which would alternate home and office working (although presumably as of yesterday they're mostly at home in the UK). This was, "straightforward," boasted Harrison. "The change was made smoothly and efficiently."
The upshot is that working from home for Schroders sounds pretty zen and may even be a blueprint for the future. "Previously manual processes have been swept away by Aladdin, a risk and portfolio management tool. Collaboration tools, messaging and chat applications help the traders stay coordinated with fund managers and operations while Bloomberg IB Chat and Symphony also allow secure messaging with brokers and counterparties. The list of new technologies goes on, and they are all available to our teams," enthuses Harrison.
As the virus progresses - and until a large proportion of people have recovered and feel confident about going back into the office - the ability to work from home is likely to become the key differentiator of desirable employers. Some banks seem to be on a par with Schroders. Others are still insisting that employees come into the office where possible - Bank of America, for example, is still asking compliance staff in Asia to test work from home set-ups without mandating homeworking. In an email last week, APAC COO Richard Yacenda reiterated that the offices were open and that working from home with manager approval was an option. But various employees say that approval is still being withheld.
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