Post Lockdown, Flexible Working To Be The Norm, Says Barclays And WPP Chiefs

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, flexible working is set to become the new normal to keep the workforce healthy amid, predicts the chief executives of Barclays and WPP, as they view that there will no longer be crowded city centre offices and rush hours.

A more de-centralised approach to staff working, which could include the chances of local branches becoming satellite offices for more employees, was something that Barclay’s will consider, said the bank’s chief executive Jes Staley.

“I think the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past, and we will find ways to operate with more distancing over a much longer period of time,” he said. “You’re going to find we use much more significantly our branches as alternative sites for investment bankers and call centre workers and people in the corporate bank,” he explained.

The chief executive of WPP which is also the biggest employer in the world in the marketing and advertising sector with staff strength of 106,000, Mark Read, also echoed the same views. Those employees who would be returning to work amid the pandemic will have to work in offices at “substantially lower capacity with enhanced safety measures”, he said.

At the beginning of the coronatvirus pandemic crisis, WPP was instantly exposed to the realities of work as the company had to accommodate about 5,000 of its employees in China in a work from home scenario.  About 10 per cent of the company’s employees in China, who used to come to office before the pandemic, are now choosing to work from home even though the lockdown has been lifted in the country, Read said.

“The safety of our staff is our number one priority,” said Read. “There is the issue of safety in getting to work, crowding on public transport, as well as working from home. At WPP we are fortunate that we can work from home, it has been seamless really. I think through the other side of this capacity will be somewhat lower. It will be important to maintain social distancing in offices.”

The plan of reopening of Barclay’s office includes the bank first reopening its offices in Hong Kong, followed by those in Singapore and Tokyo. Opening of its offices in Europe are still a bit far.  When trying to assess the number of people that should be allowed in an office on any given day, a number of practical issues need to ne consider, Staley said. For example, physical distancing measures may mean only two people can use a lift at any one time.

“It’s that sort of calculation that will determine how you roll this out and it’s going to happen over a pretty long period of time. This is not going to be a light switch,” he said.

He however said that it was “absolutely remarkable” that with a total asset of £1.4bn on its balance sheet, Barclay’s was still being able to function even though a vast majority of its staff, which total more than 80,000, were working from home.

“It’s an extraordinary thing that technology has allowed us to keep this bank so functional, given the fact that 70,000 people are doing it from their kitchens,” Staley said.

“The number one question I get in the town hall sessions I have [with staff around the world] is will there be more flexible working after [coronavirus],” he says.

(Adapted from

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