Office, hybrid or home? Businesses ponder future of work | Working from home


The government could announce an end to its work from home guidance in England next month, leaving companies with three broad choices: bring everyone back to the office; introduce a flexible working regime; or allow people to work from their home office, kitchen table or garden shed permanently.

Here we look at the pros and cons of each option.

1. Back to the office

Major investment banks have taken some of the most hardline positions on return-to-office plans, meaning staff will soon have to return to their daily commutes into London.

The boss of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, dashed bankers’ hopes of splitting their time between home and office in February when he called remote working an “aberration” that needed to be corrected “as soon as possible”.

Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, James Gorman, told his New York bankers this week that anyone who felt safe going out to a restaurant should be returning to the office.

Gorman said the bank would take a different approach in countries such as the UK, where fewer than 25% of its 5,000 London staff have been going to work in person, due to stricter Covid restrictions, but insisted offices were where bankers learned their craft. “That’s where you build all the soft cues that go with having a successful career that aren’t just about Zoom presentations,” he said.

Goldman’s US staff marched back to their desks on Monday and its 6,000 UK bankers are expected to return to the Plumtree Court offices in London as soon as government work from home orders are lifted, potentially on 19 July.

About 30% of Goldman’s UK staff are going into the London office on a regular basis and are being tested twice a week by on-site medical staff as part of safety measures. While it has stopped short of demanding UK staff disclose their vaccination status, as has been asked of their American counterparts, an anonymous survey revealed “the majority” of its London workforce will have had at least one jab by next week.

Solomon is reportedly concerned that staff have been abusing work from home privileges, citing an incident last year when a junior employee approached him in the middle of the working day while they were dining in the Hamptons – 80 miles outside New York City. The chief executive said he was particularly worried about how to train the next generation of bankers if most staff were working from home.

The JP Morgan chief executive, Jamie Dimon, has also raised concerns about a lack of mentoring for young staff and a small drop in productivity on Mondays and Fridays. Likewise, the Barclays boss, Jes Staley, has bemoaned the challenges faced by young graduates and new hires, who needed to be immersed in the “culture and the values” of the bank by meeting colleagues face to face.

2. Hybrid working

For the majority of large corporates, the future is hybrid. Some of the UK’s largest office occupiers, from the big four accountancy firms to major tech firms, all intend to allow more flexible working after the pandemic, with staff splitting their time between their desk and a remote location.

Working from home is increasingly being demanded as a permanent arrangement by staff, especially younger workers. But company bosses are also aware of the bank bosses’ argument: the benefits of bringing teams together in a communal workplace to foster collaboration and corporate culture, while also helping to train younger employees and new starters, who may not have the luxury of a dedicated workspace at home.

As a result many corporates have opted for the compromise of hybrid working.

The accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has announced a flexible working policy for its 22,000 UK staff, allowing them to split the week between their home and office, which the chair, Kevin Ellis, said was a “direct response to soundings from our people”. The company expects workers to spend 40-60% of their time with colleagues, whether at PwC’s offices or on client visits, and with the…

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