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Barclays CEO says Canary Wharf office set to stay despite home working success

Barclays chief says the success of home working during the Covid-19 pandemic has taught the banks lessons, one of which is that major centres like Canary Wharf will remain

Barclays CEO Jes Staley has praised the bank’s IT staff for enabling the business to operate despite tens of thousands of staff being stuck at home.

He said the reaction to the Covid-19 lockdown had been a learning curve for the bank and had helped it to understand how a “dynamic work environment” would work.

“It’s extraordinary that we’re running a bank of the complexity of Barclays with over 60,000 people working from their kitchen tables,” said Staley. “A lot of credit goes to our technology staff and our operations people who have enabled us to do that.

“It’ll be fascinating to see how it evolves over the next couple of years.”

But Barclays wants to get its people back into some offices, said Staley. During the bank’s results announcement, he said it would, for example, maintain “a major presence in places like Canary Wharf”.

“We do need to get people together physically, I think, to evolve and improve your culture and collaboration,” he added.

This represents a softening from previous statements that suggested office blocks packed with staff, such as Barclays’ Canary Wharf building, might not be needed in the future. “The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” said Staley at the time.

But while major offices like Canary Wharf look set to stay, Barclays will be looking at where it can reduce its physical operations.

“I think people will rethink their real estate footprint,” said Staley. “We are going to think about our real estate mix, given the lessons that we’ve learned.”

Banks and financial services firms have had to adapt quickly. Not only did they have to enable tens of thousands of staff to work remotely, but also had to cope with a surge in digital and telephone banking among their customers as branches closed and people were advised against using cash.

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Nationwide Building Society, for example, sent 12,000 staff home to work when the lockdown was introduced and the success of technology to support home working over the last few months has given it confidence to increase remote working in the future.

“Colleagues have a single platform that could support collaboration across the society and was accessible across multiple devices, offering them more choice on how they manage their working day around other priorities,” said Nationwide.

Despite staff being at home, including software developers, the building society said Microsoft Teams had helped it to organise support quickly for people financially impacted by Covid-19, with tech and business staff collaborating through the platform to build, test and roll out an online hub for customers in just eight days.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s Danske Bank said: “The Covid-19 experience of sending thousands from the office to work from home will have a lasting impact on how work is structured and conducted at Danske Bank.”

The bank’s CEO, Chris Vogelzang, added: “This experience has proved that there is so much untapped potential in the virtual workspace that we need to explore and use to create a more attractive and flexible workplace, while still maintaining the inspiration, energy and social connection that comes with belonging to a physical team and environment.”

But it is not just employers that would welcome more home working, according to research from global recruitment firm Robert Walters. It revealed that 87% of UK workers would like more opportunities to work from home after they return to the workplace, and 21% said they would like to work from home permanently.

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