The world has seemed a better place lately, with improved optimism around an effective Covid vaccine. As one expert commented, we are not out of the woods yet but it seems like we are on the right path.
What is becoming more apparent, though, is that, while firms are looking at their return to office plans as various lockdowns come to an end, a pre-March 2020 working environment for the majority in the financial services world is very unlikely.
Discussions we have had over recent weeks indicate most businesses are looking at a hybrid approach, with staff spending two to three days in the office and the balance working from home. The pandemic has had an impact on behaviours and conduct, and allowed people to re-evaluate what is important to them.
This year, we have seen quite a few firms change their leadership teams, enrol new recruits and undertake fit and proper assessments on their staff, all via remote technology.
So, how are we managing our businesses in this virtual environment and how do we adapt to the anticipated dual world of office and home?
Bear in mind that, with the first lockdown, no one knew how long it was going to last. Business continuity plans just happened, firms got on with it and by and large, from a pure operational perspective, it worked.
It is only now, as the permanency of remote working becomes the reality, that senior managers are thinking about what risks they are facing.
Let’s start with operational risk. The control and protection of data in remote environments can be very challenging, so we are seeing more firms undertake an impact assessment on how their staff operate day to day.
This is particularly acute if people are sharing accommodation and working in communal places where it is difficult to keep screens locked, or are required to attend meetings when others are in the room.
People risk is another worrying consideration, with the long-term mental and physical health impacts from prolonged isolation very real. Can your team and one-to-one discussions really establish if someone is struggling
Spotting personality or behavioural traits from a screen, as opposed to face to face, is so much more difficult, so managers have had to adapt, become more empathetic, tolerant and prepared to listen. Driving a genuine “speak-up” culture has been the objective of many firms.
The FCA has issued a number of guidance notes on meeting regulatory expectations at this time, topped up with speeches from senior heads reiterating the need for efficient and effective supervision of staff and fair treatment of customers.
We have seen a number of instances where staff have either become stranded overseas or taken the opportunity over the summer months to base themselves abroad.
While such situations may have a personal tax implication, it can pose a dilemma from a regulatory position, particularly if the individual is the money laundering reporting officer or compliance officer, where the expectation is that they would normally be UK based.
Management of these sensitive staff and regulatory matters throw increasing challenges into the mix for those running a business.
Being fair and consistent is key, not only from a wider reputational standpoint but also in how well you are regarded by your people.
Empathy and flexibility now is likely to engender loyalty and hard work for the months to come.