Barclays chief executive: Flexible working will become the norm

One of Barclays' offices in Canary Wharf, London

Barclays chief executive Jes Staley has claimed that office blocks housing thousands of workers could become a thing of the past – and that flexible working will become the norm.

Staley said in a press conference on Monday that “the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building” could be consigned to history and that, as employers adjust to the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be more remote and dispersed working.

He added that the fact that around 70,000 Barclays staff were now working remotely showed that it was possible to keep even a complex organisation such as a bank running smoothly, despite not being in the same office.

The company has not had to furlough any staff, saying that all employees were needed “on hand” to support customers during the crisis.

The bank’s branch network could be used as ‘mini-offices’ for any employees from call centre workers to investment bankers, he suggested.

Barclays will soon begin to re-open offices in Asia, which was first hit by the pandemic – but not all staff will return at once. “This is going to happen over a pretty long period of time,” Staley added. “This is not going to be a light switch.”

In re-opening its Canary Wharf offices in London there could be practical limitations in returning to work once lockdown has eased. “How many people can work in this building if you limit the number of people in an elevator to two at a time? It’s that sort of thing,” he said.

Mark Read, chief executive of marketing and advertising giant WPP, has echoed Staley’s predictions.

He said employees returning to work would be at “substantially lower capacity with enhanced safety measures”. The company employs 106,000 staff.

In WPP’s China office, he added, around 10% of staff who previously came into the office are now working from home now that the lockdown has been lifted.

“The number one question I get in the town hall sessions I have is will there be more flexible working after [coronavirus],” he said.

“The safety of our staff is our number one priority. There is the issue of safety in getting to work, crowding on public transport, as well as working from home. At WPP we are fortunate that we can work from home, it has been seamless really.”

Earlier this month, a survey by Visier found that many workers are not so confident that they will continue to be able to work from home once the pandemic has passed. Almost half of respondents said they expected a return to limited flexible working policies once the coronavirus lockdown ends.

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