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One Of The World’s Biggest Banks Explains Why It’s Moving To A Hybrid Work Model

Everyone in the world of business and real estate is talking about the future of the office, hybrid work models and flexible office networks. How will companies and their staff use office space in future? Well, one of the world’s largest banks is pioneering a new hybrid work strategy and has given Bisnow an insight into its thinking and strategy. 

Standard Chartered Group Head of HR Tanuj Kapilashrami explained at Bisnow London’s recent Future of Office digital summit why the company has become one of the first major global firms to strike a deal with a flexible office provider that will allow a big chunk of its staff to work remotely for a big portion of their time. 

The answers lie in data, in thinking about productivity in a new way and about carefully measuring where people are working, rather than just guessing. 


The main message for the real estate industry is that in the post-COVID world, companies will be more willing to give people what helps them succeed, rather than imposing a way of working on them from above. 

“We’ve taken a data-led approach, so we’ve dialled up the listening with our colleagues significantly,” Kapilashrami said. “We ran three surveys last year, and the data was very clear. More than 75% of our colleagues globally wanted to work flexibly at least 50% of the time. That was very important, as it showed us we needed to design the future based around what our colleagues wanted, not our preferences.”

Standard Chartered has struck a deal with IWG in which its more than 90,000 staff around the globe will be able to work from any of IWG’s 3,500 global locations. It is a 12-month trial that began at the beginning of this year.

The bank is headquartered in London and has a major presence in Asian markets. In November, it told staff that it would roll out a phased move to hybrid working, with some people having the option to work from home or remotely more regularly starting this year, especially in its 10 largest markets, and more and more staff would be given the option through 2023. 

In a conversation with IWG Chief Executive Mark Dixon, Kapilashrami said a key driver for the initiative had been looking at the type of jobs Standard Chartered employees actually do and analysing the best way of doing them.

“Our aim is not just about increasing home working or flexible working, it’s about redesigning jobs, so analysing the different types of job-families our colleagues do and taking a view on how these jobs are going to be done in future,” she said. “And what we found was 80% of those jobs can be done more flexibly. This idea is about co-creating the future with our colleagues, not just 10-15 White men and women sitting in a boardroom.”

The analysis led to the conclusion that Standard Chartered needed to change the makeup of its existing offices, but also offer its employees flexibility to work elsewhere.  

“Our colleagues said 70-80% of our workspace is not based around task-based work, collaborative work,” she said. “Going forward, colleagues wanted the majority of the workplace to be designed around places where people could come together and collaborate. So we are redesigning our workplaces, but we also made it clear that flexible work is not just about home working. We absolutely recognise the value that our colleagues have in coming together, collaborating and working creatively, so we wanted to give them the optionality to come together and have somewhere to work near home.”

Kapilashrami's team has done a lot of work mapping IWG locations against the locations of colleagues to help them work out where colleagues can meet up within walking distance of home. 

There are practical concerns for an organisation of the scale and type of Standard Chartered. A lot of that is around privacy and security so that client confidentiality and sensitive information are as well-protected at IWG locations as they would be at one of the company’s offices. 

Dixon pointed out that companies have to work out the best way to manage who is in what building at what time, or working from home, to get the best of it. He compared it to getting used to other types of technology.

“It’s like when you’re young and you take your first flight, you don’t quite know the system, but when you’ve done it once you get the hang of it. And in two or three years’ time, not adopting hybrid working will be like not adopting email 20 years ago. If you understand and manage the technology well, it can be a huge boost to people’s productivity.”

Clockwise from top left: Bisnow's Mike Phillips, Standard Chartered's Tanuj Kapilashrami and IWG's Mark Dixon

This point about productivity is key. Kapilashrami said Standard Chartered will be measuring how and when people use the offices in the IWG remote network and gauging the impact on their productivity. The first step is getting over an old fallacy. 

“A lot of critics of flexible working have said that productivity is going to come down, and my challenge to them is, productivity has been used interchangeably with presenteeism,” Kapilashrami said. “We believe that by leveraging technology well we can enhance productivity.”

She drilled down into how the company will be measuring the impact of the new way of working.

“What we’re doing, as people start using the booking system, we’re going to monitor the usage to give more guidance to our colleagues about how does it work most optimally? I think that’s important, because we are all learning this together,” she said. “We are spending a huge amount of time thinking about measurement, not just on this collaboration. So we are building an exhaustive measurement framework that has three aspects.” 

The first is employee sentiment, which is very important, Kapilashrami said. How do colleagues feel? Do they think they are able to bring their best selves to work? 

The second aspect is business results. She said Standard Chartered already measures lots of business outcomes — client contact, financial performance and client satisfaction — and will continue to measure this in the new working structure. 

The third leg, traditionally not measured, is behavioural insights. How do people behave or collaborate differently? What networks are created within the company? Who do people reach out to when they need to do a piece of work? 

“So the measurement approach we are putting together will look at the employee sentiment but also the behavioural changes that we see in how work gets done and how that impacts outcomes. There are some really cool tools out there around network analysis, how work gets done, who collaborates. So we will be bringing these things together and seeing how it impacts productivity.”

Kapilashrami was coy about whether these changes would lead to Standard Chartered reducing its footprint of fixed real estate. But as alluded to in the need for more collaboration space, that fixed real estate will definitely change. 

“The idea of offices being rows and rows of desks with a photocopier at the end, I struggle to see how we go back to that,” she said. “When we did our survey, a very low single digit number of people said they want to work from home 100% of the time. They want greater flexibility, but they do want to come together to collaborate, innovate, meet clients. And let’s face it, we have a large proportion of our workforce who are millennials, and workspaces are also places of inclusion, social engagement and interaction. So our workspaces will continue to have a role. We need to do some real thinking about how much space do we need and also what it looks like.”