By Tyler Betts: FX Risk Manager at Infinity International

Working offices are rooted in history with the first ever examples found in Ancient Rome, within its very own business district.  Upon the collapse of the Roman Empire, offices were not a part of modern life until 1726 in the UK, when Thomas Ripley built the Ripley Building to house the Admiralty and bureaucrats of the Royal Navy.  This was followed by East India House on Leadenhall Street in 1729, to serve the powerful East India Company.  Both impressive buildings are still standing today!

Early offices were segmented across individual rooms for each employee and only in the 1900’s did we see the advent of open plan working space, which has largely been the way we’ve worked ever since.

Covid-19 has brought to light many challenges including the need to temporarily overhaul the way we work, with many organisations moving from office to home based in under 48 hours – a remarkable achievement for businesses operating exclusively from an office or on legacy technology.

According to a study by Censuswide around working from home, it is claimed that “Sixty-eight per cent feel they are either more productive or equally productive from home – which is particularly significant given the unique challenges many workers face with handling childcare and home-schooling.”[1]

This may be one of the reasons that Barclays CEO, Jes Staley, has said that “There will be a long-term adjustment to our location strategy,”. “The notion of putting 7,000 people in the building may be a thing of the past.”  With over 70,000 Barclays staff working from home around the globe, this could be a seismic way to cut costs for institutions such as the big banks.

What have we seen at Infinity?

Infinity is a subsidiary of a larger group, FCD, which is a multi-site business, across several countries.  Despite this, it was a rarity for people to work from home or alternate sites.  Pre-pandemic, our Group was in the process of evolving our technology roadmap, led by the enigmatic Richard Gompels.  We have been Investing heavily in Cloud-based services, re-platforming our trading systems to enable free movement across all our sites.  We now have a fully resilient and secure business – with the set up in terms of files, systems and general connectivity – securely accessible from anywhere in the world.  This allows us to continue to deliver the best possible customer service, further strengthened our controls around sensitive data, to continue to improve the protection for our clients.

This move has involved transitioning to many supporting cloud-based services – even our telephone system is “in the cloud”, allowing us to make calls “on the go”, from our Infinity direct lines, via a mobile phone application.  This amazing new technology even allows these calls to be recorded as per guidelines from our regulator.   We have video meeting rooms, in each office, and across all sites – even into our homes, securely.  The other integration was a Cloud based computer desktop, which saves your computer profile and documents on a system that loads up when you log into it – letting you continue where you left off.

With the advent and implementation of this new technology, the Infinity transition to working from home was 100% seamless – even though this was not the situation we ever wanted to see, continued support for our clients was made possible by our continued investment in our technological capability.

So, what is the next evolution in the way we work?

A defining factor in the adaptability of businesses during this time has presented an opportunity, which is to completely re-define the way we work and what is expected.  Utilising technology not only to work from remote locations but having the tools to train and promote efficiency and productivity – core concerns of any business.

The other benefit and one that I am deeply fond of is time.  The norm for many businesses is to start at 8.00am and finish at 5.00pm, ensuring structure and productivity throughout these hours.  If you have ever climbed the ladder of the corporate machine or grown your business from the ground up, then you will know that ‘normal’ working hours are a fallacy and that your great ideas and productive moments are usually outside of the official working day!

Technology businesses have adopted much of the above from the start and helped to define what working from home looks like over the past decade.  If you have the skills to add value as an employee, the other prerequisite is to have a working internet connection, anywhere in the world!

The offices they do have are generally co-working or shared spaces, keeping costs down and ensuring a great working environment for those that do need to travel in.  It is reasonable to assume that other industries will look at this for a framework moving forward.

Ok, so what does this mean for the future?

I envisage a flexible working environment where a portion of the workforce can spend more time working from home, supported by video conferencing software and other easy-to-use communication tools including cloud computing.  The faster internet speeds mean that there is no real difference to meeting face-to-face and no delay in contacting anyone.

It is no surprise that businesses will likely be supportive of freeing up desk space or having the flexibility to downsize. In Central London it can cost upwards of £1,000 per desk, per month.  If your business has 100 people and you could now have 50 people working remotely, that is £50,000 per month or £600,000 year in extra net profit – astronomical figures.

There are obviously management and training issues, not to mention the mental health aspect of being more isolated.  I am sure even the most anti-social of us would like to interact with another human from time-to-time, but I will wait for Lloyd Eagles to confirm his thoughts in the comments.

I believe the work/life balance will be looked for by many as we return to some semblance of normality, with many already questioning why they had to commute into the office to do a job they could have delivered perfectly well from their home.

[1] https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/remote-working-after-covid-19-coronavirus/

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