By Stuart Templeton, Head of UK, Slack
Financial services organisations have had a complex relationship with hybrid working. The technical challenge to enable remote work for most staff at the onset of the pandemic was relatively easy to overcome. But the resulting change in expectation from employees has proven more difficult to manage—particularly for an industry that is predominantly office-based, be that an organisation’s headquarters, the trading floor at global exchanges, or simply the local bank branches.
It therefore comes as no surprise that there has been some resistance from senior business leaders to adopt new ways of working. But the Rubicon has been crossed and employee expectations have irreversibly changed. According to research from KPMG, half of the financial services workforce wants to work from home after the pandemic and a quarter wants to do so full time. Some 96% of financial services professionals would even take a pay cut to work permanently from home.
This mirrors the wider trend of employees expecting—and, sometimes, demanding—increased flexibility from their workplace. New research by the Future Forum has shown just how important this is to the modern workforce, with flexible work policies being cited as the number one factor that has improved their company culture over the last two years. In return, workers who have full schedule flexibility show 29% higher productivity than workers with no ability to shift their schedule.
The key catalyst to create this win-win situation for financial organisations and their workforce is the digital HQ, a shared space that connects all of an organisation’s people, the apps they’re using, and the information they need to do great work—wherever and whenever they’re needed. Changing the ways teams operate, collaborate and connect with each other might sound daunting at first, especially for financial services organisations that have undergone so much change in the last few years. But there are real, tangible business benefits for companies that introduce a digital HQ.
Improved cross-functional coordination
In finance, organisational structures can sometimes be extremely siloed, driven by defined skills and managerial hierarchies. In an era of distributed work, with complex global contracts and partnerships, a more holistic and joined-up approach is needed to improve how people work together. Digital HQs can realise this by moving collaboration to shared, real-time communication channels.
Channels take work out of separate inboxes and meetings, and instead bring everyone needed—whether that’s accounting, compliance or analytics teams—into a single space that can be built around a specific topic or project. These can be either public, so teams can quickly come together on shared work, or private, for when dealing with sensitive data that must be kept to a strict set of stakeholders. In either case, channels means less time searching for information or the right person, and more time delivering impactful work. Channels can also include automations, happening behind the scenes, to implement better banking.
Starling Bank does exactly that by using its digital HQ to coordinate customer support. It achieves this by integrating its customer support web app with its digital HQ, so that when an approval is needed, or a sensitive action must be taken, the right person is notified in a private channel. In that channel, those taking action can see the history of previous actions and simply click ‘approve/reject’ to deal with the incoming request. This means Starling always has a clear record of activity which they can share with auditors, while customers always get a swift response.
Greater knowledge sharing wherever teams work
A productive and flexible workplace empowers teams to succeed from anywhere. However, in the fast-paced financial sector, visibility over work and sharing knowledge remains vital. The digital HQ can help by making communication open and transparent. This means leaders can easily undertake a ‘virtual drop in’ to see how teams are progressing and new interns, graduates, or recruits can ‘learn by osmosis’ even if working remotely.
In doing so, the digital HQ helps nurture a shift to a more autonomous and flexible way of working. Asynchronous collaboration tools, like video and audio recordings, provide employees with even more ways to connect with each other where and when it works best for them, without sacrificing the quality of their work. Further, live audio huddles offer a simple alternative to desk-side conversations when working remotely—meaning new joiners can still easily learn from their more experienced colleagues, talk through ideas, and build their network.
Stronger security for both internal and external communication
Secure communication is key in financial services and doesn’t have to come at the expense of increased flexibility. Using a digital HQ, organisations have control over who can access and share data on their channels—and these can be used for both internal collaboration and work with external partners. Using communication channels that connect the digital HQs of different companies offers much greater security than legacy tools like email, given the risk of phishing. Meanwhile, the improved user experience means teams won’t be tempted to use consumer apps for work purposes. By keeping communications in channels, organisations can have confidence that sensitive data is only being shared in a secure digital environment, even when working remotely.
Faster response times to unexpected issues
During a crisis, time is often of the essence. And in the financial services industry, where time is money, any delay in dealing with an unexpected situation can have serious financial repercussions. A digital HQ provides the foundation to allow organisations to quickly and efficiently bring all relevant stakeholders together to deal with whatever situation might have arisen.
Challenger bank Monzo has a rigorous protocol in place on how it uses its digital HQ in the unlikely event of an incident. With the creation of dedicated channels, teams can rapidly assess the situation and address it without disruption to its services. And if ever external stakeholders will need to be made aware, all the information needed to inform them can easily be accessed within the channel. This is an example of how the digital HQ can empower businesses in the financial services industry to respond in real-time to dynamic events and manage external relationships effectively.
A digital HQ for the changing world of work
Whether organisations like it or not, the world of work continues to evolve. But this change also brings about a huge opportunity for financial services companies to redefine how they operate, what flexibility they offer to their employees and, crucially, how they unlock increased productivity from their workforce to fuel the next phase of business growth.
Digital HQs can enable these workplaces to drive up cross-functional impact and security, while simultaneously offering employees greater flexibility in where they work – and leadership visibility over work’s progress. The time for financial services organisations to embrace the digital HQ and reap these rewards is now.