UK banks to phase out remote working

Working from home became the norm during the Covid-19 pandemic and is seen by many as one of the few positive outcomes of lockdown. However, the golden days of logging on wearing your pyjamas could soon be over, as many banks are now launching plans to roll back remote working and get staff back into the office as much as possible. 

On Monday (11th September), Lloyds will make it compulsory for 40,000 of its workers to be in the office for at least two days per week. HSBC will implement a three-day minimum for working in the office in October, and Citi has said it may review how it awards bonuses to staff who aren’t in the office for at least three days.

Productivity concerns

A study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests working from home may actually be less-productive than first thought. Productivity of workers randomly assigned to working from home during the study was 18% lower than those assigned to the office.

Not having all people on site at the same time, and a lack of face-to-face contact plays a part in this, argues Lloyds chief executive Charlie Nunn. “We can only [be competitive] if we collaborate effectively, which is difficult, if a team are below strength on certain days of the week, or if some key people are only available at times when the majority are not,” he said in a staff briefing, according to the Financial Times

David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs has previously expressed his disdain for the practice, reportedly calling it an “aberration.” The US-based bank has taken a harder line on returning to the office, asking staff to return five days a week where possible. “While there is flexibility when needed, we are simply reminding our employees of our existing policy,” said Jacqueline Arthur, head of HR at Goldman. “We have continued to encourage employees to work in the office five days a week.” 

Citi also recently told its UK staff in no uncertain terms that it has “firm expectations for office attendance” and would “hold colleagues accountable for adhering to their in-office days.”

At JPMorgan, employees were warned in April that they should make an effort to work from the office as much as possible or face consequences. In July, CEO Jamie Dimon affirmed those sentiments: “I completely understand why someone doesn’t want to commute an hour and a half every day. Totally get it… Doesn’t mean they have to have a job here either,” he said. 

Pushback from workers

Not all workers are keen to give up their home comforts. A grievance against Lloyd’s’ overhaul of its remote working policy published by Unite union members received 3,649 signatures – making up 5% of its entire workforce. Unite said it was the largest response ever received for the financial services sector. 

Some firms are trying to lure workers back to the office with other perks, such as free meals, coffee and ice cream, and financial support for childcare and commuting.