Why European banks are flexible on remote work and US lenders want staff in the office

All 12 top European banks are continuing to allow employees to work remotely for part of the week

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At Goldman Sachs Group and other US banks, staffers know that their bosses want them back in the office. Yet many of their colleagues at European firms are working about half the time from home, with their employers saying that flexibility is a competitive advantage.

Every one of the 12 top European banks surveyed by Bloomberg is continuing to allow employees to work remotely for part of the week. UBS Group even sees its embrace of hybrid working as a chance to hire talented staff from US competitors.

The Swiss bank is committed to offering employees the option of hybrid working and about 75 per cent of employees have roles that offer the necessary flexibility, a spokesman said.

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Similarly, France’s Societe Generale, Spain’s Banco Santander and ING Groep of the Netherlands cited workplace flexibility as helping them attract and retain the best talent.

Contrast those approaches with Goldman Sachs, which led Wall Street’s return to its Manhattan towers last year. The company, and competitor Morgan Stanley, began removing some of their remaining Covid-19 mitigation efforts after this month’s US Labour Day holiday.

Earlier this year, Goldman executives emphasised their expectation that staff meeting Covid-protocol requirements will work from the office. The firm — and chief executive David Solomon — has been out in front trying to corral its highly paid staff to resume full-time office work.

A Goldman Sachs spokesman declined to comment on the bank’s policy. Mr Solomon said on an earnings call last year that achieving the goal of bringing staff back to the office “is not inconsistent with the desire to provide our people with the flexibility they need”.

The level of flexibility in Europe varies depending on roles, with traders more bound to offices than IT staff. Yet Deutsche Bank’s policy appears to be the norm, with staff allowed to work remotely up to 40 per cent of the time, rising to 60 per cent in “exceptional circumstances”. SocGen agreed to a similar approach for its France-based staff in 2021.

US-based banks may be trying to push staff in UK and European offices back to their desks, but they are meeting resistance, said Christine Armstrong, who researches the world of work.

“We’re hearing that in some cases, they are getting less than 50 per cent compliance and people are just not turning up,” Ms Armstrong said.

The impact of insisting people return to offices is being felt in increased pay demands and a higher risk of staff attrition, she added.

“Every time you encourage more people to go back to the office or mandate it, you’re increasing your cost of hiring and increasing the chance that people will leave to go somewhere with more flexibility.”

European banks do see the value of bringing staff back to physical meetings during part of the week. Credit Suisse Group wants to ensure employees “continue to be connected to an office and spend valuable time collaborating and team building” a spokesman said.

Still, several European banks are also supplying staff with the equipment to make working from home easier. Spain’s Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria is providing phones, laptops and, if requested, a chair, screen, mouse and keyboard.

While some tasks are done best in a physical team setting, others “are better done in a more calm space”, whether that is at home or in the office, said ABN Amro Bank of the Netherlands.

Staff are returning to offices, but “not yet at the rate that we had anticipated”, said Jarco de Swart, an ABN Amro spokesman.

Updated: September 15, 2022, 4:30 AM
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