As the Covid-19 vaccination drive shifts into high gear, many of us have started thinking about life after the pandemic. With the most significant disruption being how we perform our jobs, it is only natural to wonder how the workspace will change and how we will move forward within it.
As an investment banker, you’ll probably deal with this uncertainty the best way you know how: research, theorising, and evaluating. IB Insider examines the trends we expect to see in the workforce and workspace after the pandemic.
An Increasing Gender Gap
Investment Banking is a mostly male-dominated field. The ratio of men to women being 5:1 at the analyst level, and an unsavoury 17:1 at MD level. Unfortunately, the disparity between these numbers might increase even further. There are concerns that women are less likely to return to the workforce after the pandemic.
During the pandemic, mothers have been three times more likely than fathers to be responsible for most housework and childcare. As such, if parents are given a choice between returning to workplaces or staying home, the imbalance in unpaid domestic labor may convince a disproportionate number of women to choose remote work.
In America, one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to Covid-19; an ominous sign for the future of gender equality in investment banking.
You May Be Working From Home More Often…
The results from the experience of remote working are pretty clear: people work just as hard from outside the office. The past year has seen you adapt, improvise and overcome the confines of your makeshift desk to keep your team afloat.
Remote work allowed many to craft an environment that works for them. Perhaps you were more comfortable in casual wear from the waist down, or the lack of a work commute put you in a better mood. Research has suggested that productivity remained stable during the pandemic, even increasing in some companies.
Investment bankers, who are traditionally office-bound, were able to perform critical business functions from home, even coping with a spring surge in securities trading without any visible problem.
With the pandemic acting as a wake-up call that firms must provide greater digital enablement to their workers, the transformation towards digitisation will only accelerate. Hopefully making working from home increasingly feasible for the long-term.
The office space will likely change to reflect this shift. Redesigning will have to take place on two levels. Firstly, on a physical level, you could see bigger desk spaces, corridors, and cubicles, all to enable social distancing. There will likely be limits to the number of people a meeting room can host, the end of the shared water fountain, and hand sanitizer stations in unexpected places.
This leads to the second level: the boundaries between being physically in and out of the office must collapse, to support a new hybrid working model. With half your team out of the office, managers need to find ways to prevent awkward meetings where half of the participants watch silently from a screen on the side.
Beyond seamless in-person and remote working, there is value in preserving the collaboration spaces that generate some of the best ideas, and the corporate culture is deeply fundamental to your firm’s identity. Whether it be brainstorming together on a digital channel or having an online whiteboard, futuristic ideas will quickly become standard practice in a post-Covid world.
Reasons to Return to Office Life
While these developments are promising, banks are likely to continue favouring an office set-up for many roles. The truth is, functions requiring regulatory oversight and compliance adherence do not lend themselves very well to remote working.
For example, in early 2020, the Financial Conduct Authority (the UK’s financial regulator) stipulated several conditions that needed to be met before banking staff could work from home. In line with the bank’s regulatory obligations, traders needed to be able to enter orders and transactions promptly into the relevant systems, use recorded lines when trading, and have access to compliance support as necessary.
Working from home could also pose a security risk for those dealing with sensitive information, an issue that only the most Orwellian measures can resolve. Banks need to prevent insider trading and illicit information sharing.
The unobserved nature of remote working means that standard rules such as the ban on personal phones on the trading floor are unenforceable. While the shift towards innovative technologies has come a long way, sometimes the simplest solution is best. In this case, it would be physical work.
This is good news if you are a new starter. Young analysts stand to gain the most from the physical proximity of experienced colleagues; after all, a manager may bring a young recruit into a client meeting if they’re in the office. However, they’re less likely to invite a quiet observer onto a video call.
Valuable insights can be dropped through casual conversation during a pantry-break, and there is just no replacing the ease of approaching your cubicle-mate for help at work. You’re not going to teach or learn the art of M&A from your kitchen, and the value of the office is likely to endure going forward.
With ‘unprecedented times’ being one of the most overused phrase in the pandemic, it is understandable to crave the simplicity of pre-Covid times. Unfortunately, the workspace will never be the same, as we undergo an irreversible transformation towards flexible work policies and digitisation.
One thing is for sure; the almost overnight shift to working from home may have been borne out of necessity, but it demonstrated the resilience and creativity of the banking industry. These traits will carry us forward into a post-Covid future as we continue reimagining what the workspace looks like from here on out.