Half of UK financial services staff want shift to flexible working

04 November 2020 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

More than one-quarter of finance workers want to work from home full time once Covid-19 passes, while one-in-ten are looking to relocate following the pandemic. While different generations within the workforce have historically held contrasting views on ways of working, the preference for more flexibility is consistent across age groups, suggesting the pandemic has already initiated a profound cultural shift.

A number of recent studies have shown that attitudes to remote working have changed drastically over the course of 2020. When the first lockdown wound down, 37% of people polled said they expected to work from home more than before. This may be a result of having become aware that the majority of their responsibilities were not contingent on sitting in the office – but it is also likely that many workers in that poll were wary of rushing back to work and exposing themselves to a dreaded second wave of Covid-19.

Further polling revealed that 60% of staff expected a return to regular work by the end of summer, but were feeling uncomfortable about it. Around 45% of respondents, meanwhile, said they were most concerned about bringing Covid-19 into their home. With no vaccine in sight to shield workers from the pandemic, and the number of daily new cases in Britain already rising swiftly in September, a sizeable portion of the labour market clearly felt it was being pushed back to work for the state of the economy, while a significant health risk remained.

Half of UK financial services staff want shift to flexible working

As the infection rate of the UK continues to boom, having hovered consistently at 20,000 new cases a day toward the end of October, those fears have surely been proven to be right. With the UK Government finally announcing plans for a second (albeit more lenient) lockdown, the shift in attitudes regarding home working are likely to become even further entrenched. According to a new study presented by KPMG and the Financial Services Skills Commission, this shift in norms is already particularly pronounced in the UK’s financial sector.

Polling conducted by intelligence firm Savanta – which surveyed 1,510 members of the UK workforce, including 632 employees working within financial services – shows one-in-two workers now want to continue to work from home for at least part of the week. Over the course of the UK’s first lockdown, the financial sector was able to successfully transition to a remote working model, with 78% of financial services workers surveyed saying they have worked effectively from home. As a result, more people now seem to regard a five-day week in the office as an unnecessary risk – not to mention a waste of time and resources.

Mel Newton, Head of Financial Services People Consulting at KPMG UK, commented, “Covid-19 has created a global shift in ways of working. With much of the workforce scattered across a variety of home-offices, kitchen tables, and spare bedrooms, this has presented both difficulty and, in some cases, welcome flexibility… [However], it is important to note that only half of the workforce want to continue working this way, and that clear division is important.”

According to Newton, the research also shows that “flexibility is more than just allowing people to work from home on the occasional Friday,” and rather what the future workforce wants is “personal choice.” For 26% of respondents, for example, the new ways of working adopted during lockdown have been so positive that they are keen to work from home full-time. Some are considering even more significant changes, with 13% looking for a change of location, be that home or office, after the pandemic. As a result, Newton warned employers that they will only “make the best of their talent if they employ them more thoughtfully.”

Illustrating this, KPMG and the Financial Services Skills Commission state that 53% of financial services workers aged 31-45 are most driven to work more flexibly, while 28% of workers under 30 keen to extend this even further to working from home permanently. However, while many research pieces find that different generations within the workforce hold contrasting views on ways of working, the preference for at least some flexibility is consistent across all age groups.

In order to facilitate any such change, however, employers will also need to help their workforce improve their digital and practical skillsets. Around 30% of respondents told researchers they need more digital expertise, while only a quarter have been offered digital training by their employers – and 21% said they are relying on different management and leadership skills while working remotely, yet only 17% have been offered training on it.

Claire Tunley, CEO at Financial Services Skills Commission, remarked, “The last few months has brought the skills challenges facing the UK financial services sector into greater focus. As we have experienced a huge leap forwards in digitisation and remote working, the need to upskill our employees in digital and technological expertise is more important than ever. Increased investment in our employees’ future skills, alongside a sophisticated remote and flexible working offer, will help the UK financial services firms address the skills crisis the sector has been facing, attract talent, and position it for a successful future.”