Technology has saved the day in allowing many workers to operate from home. But the new arrangements bring their own challenges.

If home-working is the new normal, there are all kinds of problems to be overcome from technical support to regulation and compliance, quality control, team building and employee welfare issues as well as maintaining institutional memory.

The list is so long that bank CEOs could be forgiven for not quite knowing where to start. The first challenge has been to keep the show on the road and no doubt some compliance leniency is acceptable under the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But with the realisation dawning that remote working is here to stay now is the time to be planning what may be the biggest ever transition in the organisation of  financial institutions. Step one is to increase technology investment on the basis that digital transformation of the business is now going ahead much faster than previously envisaged.

This will be expensive and the project is made more difficult by being done at a time when revenues are falling. Yet this could still be the easy part. Much more complicated is how to control, motivate, supervise, recruit and train a remote workforce.

As the pandemic emerged, workers who knew both their jobs and their colleagues took their laptops home and carried on as best they could. In future, employees will leave and be replaced by instant home workers who have to pick everything up online from day one. Banks need to be working out now how they get new recruits up to speed, make them feel part of the team and ensure that regulation and compliance are as strictly adhered to as would be the case with office working.

In a new report dealing with these issues, the consultant Deloitte talks about the need for control redesign and the preservation of institutional memory. “Many firms have learned that important knowledge is embedded in people’s institutional memories and 30-year old processes that lack playbooks, many of which are still done manually. Controls will need to be redefined to function with a remote workforce,” says the report.   

Finally, there is the all-important issue of employee mental health. Just as many firms were starting to take this more seriously, the rules of the game have changed completely. They now have to find ways of reaching out to people who are rarely seen (except by video screen) by either their managers or their colleagues. This could be the most challenging issue of all and getting it wrong will have serious consequences.

Brian Caplen is the editor of The Banker. Follow him on Twitter @BrianCaplen

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