May 14, 2020
April 27, 2020
The World’s Biggest Banks Embrace A New Breed Of Offices
For Gordon Gecko, the villain of Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, lunch is for wimps. In Michael Lewis’ 1989 book Liar’s Poker, about his time working in a U.S. investment bank, bond traders would hold burger-eating contests and mock colleagues who admitted exercising. Investment banks have a reputation as soulless, unfeeling, terrible places to work.
But the way investment banks work today has changed, and as a result, so has the way they use property. Now, in order to compete with tech companies and improve productivity, the new offices being opened by giant financial services firms offer mindfulness spaces, yoga studios, biophilic design and vegan lunch options. Flexibility is key, in terms of how, when and where banking staff work.
“Our people were telling us, we want to work hard, we don’t mind long hours, but we want to do it healthily,” Deutsche Bank Managing Director for Corporate Services Kathryn Harrison-Thomas said.
“For the first time we’re going to have five generations at the same time in the workplace, and we have to design our spaces inclusively, based around what all of these generations need.”
The evolution of the way banking uses office space is probably summed up best by the attitude to mental health and flexibility of working.
At Deutsche Bank’s new 564K SF office in the City of London at 21 Moorfields, being developed by Landsec, there will be mindfulness spaces that staff can use both on trading floors and elsewhere in the building.
As well as canteen areas, well-equipped kitchens will be available for staff to use after hours, and will provide a social space as much as nourishment.
"The kids who come in, the analysts, they know they are going to be working really long hours, and they relish it,” Harrison-Thomas said. “But we make sure they have really good kitchen space to convene and talk when their managers have gone home.”
To further boost the physical health of employees, the new HQ will feature a gym as well as fitness rooms that can be used for yoga and other such classes.
A growing body of research points to the benefits nature has on physical and mental wellbeing. For this reason the new office will also have a greater number of plants than previous offices, and the plants used have been chosen because they put the highest amount of oxygen into the atmosphere.
And the heavily planted roof terrace will have the best WiFi available so staff can work outside if they want to, as long as financial regulators permit flexible working.
This flexibility in working practices is a growing feature in the world of banking and financial services more broadly. Banks like HSBC, UBS and Barclays have embraced the flexible office world, taking space from flexible operators for individual teams working on specific projects, or in some cases for entire divisions.
And within their core office space, they are also embracing the trends for agile working and collaboration that have become commonplace in sectors like tech and media.
At Goldman Sachs’ new building, the 826K SF Plumtree Court on the western fringe of the City of London, around 40% of the bank’s staff use flexible seating, EMEA corporate real estate head Mike Taylor told React News after the building opened last year. Divisions are not forced to adopt the practice, but they have the option, and many do so, given the benefits it can bring in terms of collaboration, and the efficiency it can bring in divisions like asset management, where staff are often travelling.
The offices occupied by partners and managing directors can be split up by adding or dropping partition walls. And Taylor said an increasing number of managers are eschewing their own office altogether. Junior staff enjoy learning from senior managers, who in turn enjoy the buzz of being on the floor, he said.
Goldman’s building has a creche and nursery on-site, to allow staff with child care needs to be able to work as flexibly as possible.
And Deutsche Bank’s Harrison-Thomas said the greater flexibility to work from home that was precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic will have a positive impact on diversity.
“Being able to work from home will hopefully allow us to retain more women in senior positions, particularly in divisions where that has historically proved more difficult, like corporate banking,” she said.
Banks have for many years been morphing into tech companies. By some estimates, between 30% and 40% of Goldman Sachs’ staff are tech workers rather than bankers in the traditional sense. So it stands to reason that the company and others like it would begin to change the way they use physical space and mirror the needs of the people they employ.