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Survey findings: What financial services employees say about hybrid work models

Article 14-Sep-2023 Read time: min
Financial services executives worldwide will agree that return-to-the-workplace initiatives have met mixed reviews.

In a world where technology makes hybrid work models viable and desirable, leadership teams must balance the perceived advantages of employees in the office with corporate policies that prioritize employee experience and satisfaction.

The debate has been particularly acute in the financial services sector. Executive assertions that hybrid work models sap productivity, collaboration, and culture have guided return-to-the-office mandates and policies for office attendance.

But what do financial services employees think? Beyond ideas about sweatpants instead of slacks, might the front-office and back-office teams powering these companies think hybrid work models actually lower barriers to collaboration and inclusivity that persist in person? Could flexible work arrangements actually enhance corporate culture?

We thought these questions warranted a deeper study.

Kyndryl surveyed 300 managers and staffers at large financial services companies around the world to understand their perceptions of productivity, collaboration, culture, and inclusivity in hybrid work settings.

In a line, they said: get hybrid, get results.

Consider five key takeaways from the survey and our proposed action steps for financial services leaders.

Kyndryl GM of U.S. Financial Services Robert Turner and I also participated in a Q&A about the findings.

Hybrid work models overwhelmingly preferred by employees in financial services

A majority of research participants say they already work remotely at least two days in a typical work week. Most (86% total) emphasize that a hybrid work model is important to them, including 47% who say it’s extremely important for them to work remotely at least some of the time. The sentiment is shared across respondent age groups, years of work experience, and front-office or back-office roles.

The participants—across all demographics—were so emphatic about this point that 75% said they would at least consider looking for other roles if they weren’t able to work remotely some of the time. The findings are consistent with separate reports on the challenge of attrition in financial services.

What’s the sweet spot? How many days would they work remotely if given the choice? 72% would prefer to have the option of working remotely at least three days per week. Respondents who work at companies with more than 5,000 employees were significantly more likely to prefer five days per week remote. 

Q: How would it impact your feelings about your employment if you were no longer able to work remotely at least some of the time? 

Hybrid work models fuel productivity  

Not only are hybrid work models preferred, but 83% of respondents agree or strongly agree the arrangements enable them to get more work done. 83% also agree or strongly agree hybrid work models make it easier to meet deadlines. In thinking about their teams, 79% say having a hybrid work schedule also enables their colleagues to get more done. This is especially true among respondents whose location is more than three hours away from their colleagues.

Most prefer to work away from the office when doing high-focus, individual-oriented tasks, such as status updates, data analysis, and training or learning activities. Networking and team-building activities were most often preferred to be done in an office environment. (So much for videoconference happy hours!)

Bottom line: 76% of respondents say having a hybrid work schedule enables colleagues to deliver a higher quality of work.

Q: How much do you agree or disagree with the statement: Having a hybrid work schedule enables my colleagues and teammates to deliver higher-quality work.

Hybrid work models increase collaboration

When asked to correlate hybrid work and team dynamics, 64% of respondents agree or strongly agree that hybrid work models enable their teams to be more collaborative. Physical proximity also does not appear to limit interactions, as 61% agree or strongly agree they are, in fact, more likely to seek input on work from teammates when working remotely.

Given widespread reports of videoconferencing fatigue, which has been dubbed "Zoom fatigue" by others, one would anticipate an increase in video meetings to be reported as a downside of hybrid work models. The survey findings didn’t trend that way. Despite the Zoom fatigue, less than half of respondents say they spend more time in meetings when one or more team members work remotely.

Time away from the office also appears to enhance collaboration. 78% agree or strongly agree that having a hybrid work schedule makes them more engaged on days working in the office with their teams. This is especially true for employees younger than 35 years old.

Of course, technology plays a huge factor in the respondents’ ability to be productive and collaborative away from the office.

More than three out of four respondents indicated videoconferencing tools, internal messaging systems (for example, Slack or Teams), VPN connectivity, and access to an IT help desk as critical or very critical. No real surprises there, but without reliable access to these tools and support, hybrid work can’t work.

Q: How much do you agree or disagree with the statement? Having a hybrid work schedule makes me more engaged during my days working in the office with my team.

Hybrid work models may enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion programs

In shaping the research, we were particularly curious to learn perceptions about unintended inequities that may be created or exacerbated by hybrid work models. Participants suggested the contrary. When asked for opinions about meeting culture, 67% say virtual meetings are an easier environment than in-person meetings to contribute ideas. Moreover, 64% agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I am more likely to contribute ideas in a virtual meeting.”

Employees younger than 35 years old and those with 12 or fewer years of experience in the field are significantly more likely to agree with the statement.

A slightly smaller majority of all respondents, 58%, agree or strongly agree with the statement, “Virtual meetings make it less likely that a single person will do most of the speaking than in-person meetings.”

The three data points particularly catch our attention. At a time of increasing scrutiny of company practices to promote experience diversity, equity, and inclusion, it seems hybrid work models may help advance the intended—and desired—outcomes.

Speaking of promotion, 78% of participants agreed with the statement, “I am just as empowered to advance my career when working in a hybrid setting as I was working in office full time.”

Q: How much do you agree or disagree with the statement? I am more likely to contribute ideas in a virtual meeting.

Hybrid work models improve work culture

In contrast to opinions that remote work drains corporate culture, survey respondents suggest the opposite may be true. A majority, 85%, agree or strongly agree that working in a hybrid environment makes a positive impact on their company’s work culture. Notably, only 2% disagree.

Given culture is a lived experience, we asked if having a flexible work arrangement has a positive impact on their daily employee experience. Indeed, 87% agree or strongly agree that it does.

Of course, the high levels of agreement likely wouldn’t be possible without management support. In general, survey participants seem to perceive support from their managers:  

  • 91% agree: My manager trusts me to get my work done remotely.
  • 74% agree: My manager would say that hybrid work environments enable members of my team to be more productive/effective.

But there’s a nuance: more than half say their manager would prefer they and their colleagues work in the office most or all of the time. This answer was particularly consistent among respondents at companies with fewer than 10,000 employees.

The duality is curious: why would employees perceive their managers want them in the office more, despite feeling trusted to contribute remotely?

We surmise it may reflect the relative newness of hybrid work models in financial services—or that policies may still be in flux.

At the same time, the respondents who already work in the office at least three days per week were significantly less likely to believe their manager and leadership trust them to get their work done remotely.

It’s worth considering if more stringent office attendance policies not only counter employee preferences, but also diminish corporate culture.

Asked to indicate specific enablers of success for hybrid work models, respondents to our survey suggest an ability to manage their own schedule has the greatest impact.

Action steps for financial services leaders

We undertook this study to understand how financial services employees think hybrid work settings affect productivity, collaboration, inclusivity, and culture.

The findings not only make clear that they prefer hybrid work models, but also suggest that hybrid arrangements, when properly enabled and supported, can improve the overall employee experience.

Action step 1: Mind the UX 

Through the pandemic, many of the financial services firms we work with heavily invested in technology to enable flexible work arrangements. But more can be done to streamline the experience of using the systems to enhance productivity.

Case in point: consider the volume of e-mail, chat, and other system messages that cross employees’ machines every day. These tools can be optimized and personalized to help filter through the noise. But many companies haven’t prioritized such work.

The same can be said of the disparate systems for file sharing, collaboration, human resources, and other functions. It’s one thing to have anytime, anywhere access to these tools, but a without single-sign-on capabilities or a dashboard view, simply accessing the systems can squash productivity.

Action step 2: Nurture collaboration

Asked to indicate specific enablers of success for hybrid work models, respondents to our survey suggest an ability to manage their own schedule has the greatest impact.

Hybrid work models enable employees to collaborate across time zones and at asynchronous times. But making a habit of soliciting input from colleagues across time zones or during off-hours likely won’t just happen on its own. It requires expectation setting, modeling, and reinforcement from the top.

Our survey results suggest that leaders who enable this kind of agility may find outcomes of improved collaboration, productivity, organizational culture, and employee satisfaction.   

The latter two outcomes, in particular, have been correlated with better recruitment, retention, customer experiences, and revenue growth.

Action step 3: Promote cultural engagement

While hybrid work models are relatively new in financial services, it appears the models have broad appeal. Our respondents do not buy into opinions that remote work destroys corporate culture.

Still, despite respondents’ appetite for hybrid arrangements, the physical separation inherent to hybrid work can complicate the kind of engagement that fuels innovation and advances business initiatives.

Our experience suggests passionate employees can be the glue. One approach may be to formalize and activate a coalition of cultural ambassadors who can coordinate local activities and champion company culture-related activities. (That’s what Kyndryl did.)

An effective employee engagement strategy often is a hallmark of an organization’s digital workplace maturity and ability to make hybrid work… work for their teams.

How we got the data

We engaged a third-party research firm to conduct an online survey with 300 employees in the financial sector who work remotely at least part of the time. Responses were collected from March 30 to April 19, 2023.

Respondent demographics
  • Individual contributors and managers (i.e., non-director level) of large enterprises (i.e., 1,000+ employees)
  • 5+ years professional experience, having had some experience working in person
  • Primary location in Europe, India, Japan, or North America
Industry breakdown
  • Financial services: 35% of respondents
  • Banking: 31% of respondents
  • Insurance: 34% of respondents