Will ‘floworking’ be the fourth age of the financial workplace?

The major changes seen in the financial sector over the past decade are set to develop in new and intriguing ways, according to WORKTECH’s Financial Workplace 19 conference

The financial workplace is entering the 2020s having gone through four distinct waves of spatial change over the past decade: first, owned desks in smaller rooms; second, open plan space with more desk sharing; third, a ‘work anywhere’ move towards more remote and distributed working; and most recently, a new approach which brings in elements of coworking to give financial monoliths more access to smart start-ups.

That is the summary of Tim Yendell, Head of Workplace at RBS, who presented the bank’s Living Rooms concept at 250 Bishopsgate in the City of London as part of the Financial Workplace 19 conference, held on 21 October 2019. The Living Rooms is marked departure for RBS, described by Yendell and designer Jon Avery of LOM as ‘floworking’ – this is a mix of coworking and flexible working, rich in biophilia, variety, eclectic detail, texture and open vistas.

Competing for digital talent

A key driver for such a major change in a landmark headquarters financial building was clearly the need to compete with tech companies for digital talent – and this is a challenge right across the financial service industry where lots of bold new things are happening even in the more traditional corners of the industry.

At international tax and financial advisory company BDO, for example, new neighbourhoods on big floors with digital screens to identify people and staff have been introduced to create a more flexible future, according to BDO’s Chief Operating Officer Andy Butterworth. At the Financial Conduct Authority’s new Stratford HQ, there has been a focus on choice and community with a large internal staircase to physically connect people and cut down email traffic, as the FCA’s Head of Property and Estates, Peter Hewitt-Penfold, explained.

‘Bringing a fresh, human-centred design dimension to the sector …’

The growing use of Design Thinking as a customer-focused technique in the banking sector has now extended to designing workplaces to create a better overall ‘customer experience’ for employees, according to Dan Makoski, Chief Design Officer at Lloyds Banking Group. Makoski worked at Walmart, Capital One, Google and Microsoft before Lloyds so he is bringing a fresh, human-centred design dimension to the sector. He described turning around a ‘famous old British bank’ as perhaps his biggest challenge yet but, in an onstage interview with WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson, he appeared to be relishing the task.

There are, of course, no shortage of technology tools to support the emergence of ‘floworking’ or a more human-centric workstyle in the financial workplace.  Martin Smith of Logitech described how newer workforce generations such as Milliennials and Gen Z want video-first organisations as their employees. Logitech worked with RBS to install Zoom video collaboration systems at 250 Bishopsgate. Tim Streather of Spica Technologies emphasised the importance of harvesting sensor-driven data, arguing that corporate real estate managers in financial services are now in the user experience business.

A backlash against tech?

Not all advances in the sector, however, will be digitally predetermined. UnWork’s Philip Ross and Blackstone’s Michelle Marwood discussed how there could be a backlash again tech in financial services with more analogue solutions on show, such as traditional presentation boards to pin up stuff.

Ultimately, as the financial workplace negotiates its fourth phase of development, the conference left us with an intriguing sense of duality in the sector. Not only will the analogue and the digital  coexist but workspace and hospitality space will merge, suits and sneakers will share the same start-up-driven environment, biophilia will green highly technical trading rooms and different generations – young and old – will be represented in the workforce. All of this suggests a ‘new mix’ for designers and architects working in the sector and a ‘new bargain’ for employees with a greater accent on experience. Interesting times ahead.

Financial Workplace 2020 conference takes places on 6th July.
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