Financial workplace: what we learnt from professionals in New York

The financial workplace hasn’t traditionally been in the vanguard of change – but WORKTECH’s 2023 Financial Services conference in New York indicated that new experiences are on the horizon

Data and experience were the watchwords at the WORKTECH Financial Services conference, hosted at Bank of New York Mellon’s Greenwich Street office on 16 February 2023. An industry that hasn’t traditionally been at the forefront of workplace innovation is now taking a forward-looking stance.

Co-chaired by Alicia Duncan, BNYM’s Global Head of Workspace Transformation for Technology Services, and Bobby Magnano, President of Financial Services at JLL, the event was attended by over 120 senior financial services professionals. Alongside exhibitors showcasing innovations, over 30 speakers and panellists discussed how financial services firms are facing their future.

Here are five key trends that surfaced during the discussions:

Embedding hybrid

Hybrid is here to stay. In response, organisations are implementing more deliberate and effective policies. This was one of the key trends identified by Meg Swanson, Chief Marketing Officer at Eptura, and conversations throughout the day reflected this approach. Overall, the message was that while firms see value in the in-person relationship, there is no data to justify bringing people back in more than two to three days per week – and that flexibility is a strong enough recruitment tool not to be worth the risk. However, there was still an underlying note of caution – while the genie is largely out of the bottle, not everyone is ready to make drastic decisions about space reduction that might be difficult to reverse.

Diversifying space

Doubling down on the hybrid working pattern has made space – for perhaps the first time – a C-Suite level conversation. The overall approach is one of consolidation and reduction of portfolios and introducing or increasing desk sharing, but accompanied by diversification in terms of the options that are being offered to employees. Alejandro Perez, Chief Administrative Officer of BNY Mellon, described a shift from traditional to more diverse, agile and interesting workspaces that offer employees a variety of experiences and amenities.

There were some useful lessons in how to get people using new types of space. One common complaint around offering space that can be adjusted by users is that people don’t take advantage. Linda Foggie, Citi’s Global Head of Real Estate Operations, found success by sending the FM team in to ‘hack’ their new space in India twice a week until employees felt confident to take control.

For perhaps the first time at scale, this is not restricted to front office staff. While operations and call centre staff have historically tended to be treated differently, there is now shift towards a more considered and equitable approach. Melissa Davis and Hilary Green of Scotiabank talked through a recent project that directly addressed the specific needs of call centre and operations staff to create similarly diverse experiences at a back-office location.

Panellists described an increasing tendency towards actively including flex space as part of their real estate strategy. Will Monaghan, Global Head of Real Estate and Workplace Experience at Willis Towers Watson, described his company’s exploration of easy ways to overflow into flex space without introducing friction into employee’s days. While landlords are – in most cases – not yet ready to operationalise it, the panel agreed that it was coming.

Maximising experience

A strong focus on employee experience was a consistent theme throughout all the conversations. John Britto, Executive Director at JPMC and closely involved with its new Manhattan HQ project designed by Foster + Partners, described the ambition as being to provide meaningful and memorable experiences that are personalised and location aware.

‘A recentring around experience driven by the need to make sure that the value proposition is there…’

This recentring around experience was driven by the need to make sure that the value proposition is there when people do come in – and by the increased complexities of ensuring seamless experiences across the whole network of spaces where people might be working.

This is leading to a new focus on the whole user journey, described by Stuart Logan, BNYM’s Head of Human Resources, Global Operations and Technology, as ‘attract, hire, onboard, daily work, exit, alumnus’. Multiple panellists referred to the resulting need for much closer collaboration between the separate departments of facilities, technology, HR, workplace planning and security than has historically been the case.

App-enabled journeys

The workplace app is increasingly a key piece of the toolkit when it comes to delivering on seamless experience. In a panel focused on app delivery, Gabrielle Fink, a workplace strategist who led HSBC’s app implementation, described the importance of a ‘one stop shop’ that makes life easy. However, while the workplace services aspect of the app is important, a big takeaway is that the approach needs to extend beyond Corporate Services to be a firm-wide initiative.

At HSBC, the community module has been one of the best used – including by people who are at home. Grace Lai, Executive Director, and Martin Vergara II, Global Head of Talent Acquisition – both at Morgan Stanley – agreed on the importance of shifting from a utility-centric view to an employee- experience driven approach focused on the value that is being delivered. As with experience, this requires close collaboration across functions with HR and Comms as key stakeholders.

Data-driven decisions

Data is the ‘lifeblood’ of employee engagement, experience and real estate decisions. Occupancy monitoring in real time is becoming the baseline for developing an understanding of how financial services organisations are functioning and new metrics are being explored. These include velocity (how often people change spaces), affinity (where they are and who with), noise levels, and more typically retail oriented metrics such as Net Promoter Score.

Real time is the goal, with a combination of longitudinal measurements and trigger-based question sets that are linked to particular moments in a journey. Rosamond Cosentino, Chief Operating Officer of Location and Realty Services at Citi, outlined its work on a series of pilots to test how to get more insights from data in a panel that underlined the importance not only of having access to data, but of understanding what you’re going to do with it.

One-size-fits-all to user insights

There is a drive for personalisation and customisation over a one-size-fits-all approach, even at a technology level. While technology provision within financial services organisations has tended to be product-led, John Britto of JPMC described a shift from ‘utility and need’ towards ‘experience and wants’ that is driving a much more experience-led approach based on different user segments and data.

‘Employees themselves are taking on new importance as a source of insights…’

Employees themselves are taking on new importance as a source of insights to drive this decision making. Alejandro Perez described a new focus on getting feedback from employees and a process of personally visiting locations before making decisions that would have historically been made based on nothing more than spreadsheet entries.

Several other panellists are similarly drawing on user insights to inform decisions – for example, watching how people approach calls at their desks to inform new technology rollout. Michael Przytula, Managing Director of Intelligent and Digital Workplaces at Accenture, highlighted the importance of understanding who is coming in and why – and then designing the space, facilities, services and technology around that.

Overall, the message was about a new focus on what workspace can offer and a strong interest in new approaches. We look forward to seeing what the next year brings for the financial workplace.

Imogen Privett is a Senior Research Associate in WORKTECH Academy. An architectural designer and researcher, she holds degrees in both History and Architecture. Imogen has worked in architectural practice focusing on workplace design with projects including UK headquarters for Barclays, Macquarie Bank and Reuters. Published: 25 April 2023.
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