Covid crisis proves tech can replace office space and support cost-cutting at Barclays

Bank says it will continue to look at its use of office space as it targets further cost-cutting measures

Barclays Bank is to look at ways of cutting costs by reducing the office space it uses, after working-from-home policies and technology have proved successful during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although the bank said it is yet to make decisions, it seems likely that more staff will do their jobs, at least in part, from their homes.

Remote working has been a subject discussed in annual employee appraisals for years in businesses, but managers often gritted their teeth when staff raised the subject – but the restrictions brought by the coronavirus have opened the floodgates.

The national lockdowns imposed during the pandemic meant many workers could not go to the office and even if they could, they were encouraged to limit this as much as possible.

Barclays has about 55,000 of its 85,000 staff working from home and they have done so since early in the pandemic. Barclays, like other businesses in various sectors, have learned during the crisis that most of their staff can work productively at home.

During its latest financial results statement, Tushar Morzaria, finance director at Barclays, said the bank has learned a lot through the pandemic. “We have some very large offices in different parts of the country that, you know, we’re not sure how they’ll be utilised prospectively,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions on this – I think these are very long-term issues, and we want to be thoughtful and deliberate.”

Many staff will not take too much convincing to swap the daily commute for the home office. According to a survey by KPMG and the Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC), half of workers in the UK’s financial services sector want to continue to be able to work from home for at latest part of the week when Covid-19 passes.

The survey found that 26% of staff wanted to work from home permanently and 13% wanted to relocate.

The success of remote working has given Barclays another avenue for cutting costs, with a reduction of office space planned. The bank has been using branches as call centres instead of accommodating staff in large offices.

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Barclays CEO Jes Staley said earlier this year that 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,” he said.

A few months later, Staley said Barclays wanted to get its people back into some offices, with, for example, “a major presence in places like Canary Wharf” maintained.

But Staley said the reaction to the coronavirus lockdown had been a learning curve for the bank and had helped it to understand how a “dynamic work environment” could operate.

And Barclays is not alone. In June, Denmark’s Danske Bank said sending thousands of staff from the office to work from home would have a lasting impact on how work was structured and conducted.

Chris Vogelzang, the bank’s CEO, said: “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.”

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