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Banks and insurers join Google, Amazon and Meta in encouraging staff to spend most of week in office
Free parking and changes to managers’ bonuses have helped Britain’s biggest insurer, Aviva, lure staff back to their desks for most of the working week.
Welcome to the new-old world of work: where companies, particularly those in financial services and technology, push for staff to spend more days in the office as they try to rebalance the working from home trend.
Aviva is one of a growing number of banks, insurers and fund managers trying to bring workers back for at least half, if not most of the working week, long after enforced working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic ended.
There has also been a big drive to get staff back in the office in the technology sector, where companies including Google, Amazon and Meta have ordered employees back to their desks for most of the working week.
Aviva allows its 16,000 UK staff to split their time equally between home and the office but reported that the number of people who came in to the office had gone up every month this year. At the same time, it said there had been a reduction in the number of days taken off because of mental health problems.
The shift happened after the Aviva chief executive, Amanda Blanc, decided to include senior managers’ ability to get their teams back into the office in their end of year performance assessment, on which bonuses would be based.
Danielle Harmer, the chief people officer at Aviva, said: “The majority of our people are now back in the office for the majority of the week. Our colleagues clearly value working side by side, collaborating and meeting regularly in person, and this experience is leading more to come back, more often.”
Aviva has also dropped its parking charges in Norwich, Birmingham, Sheffield and its other sites in the UK, with the exception of London, to help staff with the rising cost of living and encourage their return to the office.
This mirrors changing working patterns elsewhere in the City. “There is an underlying trend towards a greater number of your working days being in the office rather than remotely … across insurance, asset management, banking, the US and the UK,” said Bruce Carnegie-Brown, the chair of Lloyd’s of London, the world’s biggest insurance market.
He said he wanted to see people working in the Lloyd’s building in the City at least three days a week – and not just Tuesday to Thursday – to avoid a situation where people were taking “long weekends” every week, as he worried that Mondays and Fridays were not properly covered for clients.
Lloyd’s closed its underwriting room last month to revamp it, installing better technology, seating and lighting, and will reopen it next week. As part of the changes, Carnegie-Brown wants representatives from all 85 insurers that are members of the market to be present throughout the week on the main ground floor.
This should make the main floor “much busier and buzzier”, although he added: “Hybrid working will continue. I don’t believe we will return to five days of working in the office”, apart from certain roles.
Similarly, HSBC has told its 24,000 staff in the UK that it wants them in the office three days a week. A spokesperson said: “We have been clear from the outset that hybrid working would evolve to ensure we are serving our customers in the right way. From October, hybrid working at HSBC UK will mean colleagues spending typically three days a week in an office or with clients.”
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The London-based fund manager M&G, which was spun off from the insurer Prudential four years ago, said it expected its senior staff to spend an average of three days a week in the office so they can be with their team and clients.
Lloyds Banking Group has been offering free hot rolls, fruit and drinks in some of its offices to attract staff back and has asked them to come in at least two days a week.
Collaborating effectively “is difficult, if a team are below strength on certain days of the week, or if some key people are only available at times when the majority are not”, the bank’s chief executive, Charlie Nunn, told staff in July.
By contrast, other firms such as NatWest Group and the car insurer Admiral do not mandate days in the office. NatWest said its staff were spending one or two days in the office, on average.
Citigroup, the US bank, has reportedly started monitoring the office attendance of its 12,500 UK staff, most of them in its Canary Wharf headquarters, who are expected to come in at least three days a week. A memo, seen by Bloomberg News, said: “One swipe per person, per day, per location will be captured. The focus of the reports will be employees with consistent office absences.” This could affect their bonuses or even lead to them being sacked.
But perhaps the strongest backlash against homeworking has come from the very tech companies that benefited from the working from home boom.
The Amazon chief executive, Andy Jassy, told US staff last month that “it’s probably not going to work out for them” unless they came in at least three days a week.
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