Culture in the context of work from home
Because culture is an area where boards and senior management can exert influence, the focus must be on defining desirable behaviors and then reinforcing and supporting them through recognition and changes in the operating model. Remote working has instilled new habits and behaviors in the culture, and boards and management must be intentional in identifying which are worth promoting.
The questions to be addressed include:
- Is there sufficient training and support for adopting new collaboration tools?
- How can trust be built and strengthened?
- Are employees being allowed or encouraged to take vacation days?
- Are managers modeling the right behaviors?
Indeed, culture may be the top issue on directors’ minds in thinking about the future work experience. Most banks are reporting more cultural metrics at the board level, and not just because of conduct risk. Directors are careful to point out that accountability and ownership of the cultural metrics are necessary, rather than reporting for the sake of reporting. As one director put it, “It’s hard to manage culture from a dashboard.”
Using technology to “listen”
There is intense interest in how technology can foster collaboration, create dynamic interactions and strengthen workplace culture. Powerful new engagement software can help management monitor and manage cultural impacts and support more data-driven and actionable reporting to the board.
The same is true of new “listening channels,” such as frequent surveys and insights derived from enterprise system data. Some firms have adopted brief pulse surveys to provide more timely and granular data than traditional annual surveys or quarterly check-ins. A number of banks are also using artificial intelligence (AI) in assessing workplace strategies and in-person interactions. AI can identify employees at risk of burnout (a serious concern for directors) by tracking their scheduled meetings and providing alerts if they are working excessive hours or not taking time off.
Firms are taking many creative approaches to promote connection among employees, including protocols for shorter meetings, breakout sessions in large video calls, and promoting social conversation at the beginning and end of meetings.
The customer perspective
Directors routinely raise questions about the impact of remote working and cultural shifts on customers. In many cases, customers naturally migrated to digital channels when banks were closed.
In investment and commercial banking, customer-facing staff are using virtual dinners or cocktail hours to stay connected. Not surprisingly, some sales and service staff will be glad when travel restrictions are lifted and they can call on their clients in person.
While the EY Work Reimagined study covered multiple industries, banking was the top sector in terms of commitment to making bold changes for future success. The last year has demonstrated just how quickly and effectively banks can change. Directors understand that capability will be even more important going forward, particularly with renewed conversations around the role of bank branches.
The journey to diversity and inclusion
In the wake of social justice protests in 2020, there is renewed focus on corporate diversity, inclusiveness and equity (DI&E). Beyond recruitment and hiring programs, which remain important, there is increased urgency around creating a sense of belonging and relatedness to the organization.
Behavioral change and the elimination of unintended biases and structural inequities are key to progress. Organizational policies and processes (including compensation, attendance and onboarding) must be designed for systemic fairness and to support workplace equity.
The growing body of evidence that companies with higher degrees of diversity and inclusiveness enjoy a performance advantage has raised the bar on DI&E programs. Board members are energized to meet the moment by building on current momentum and cultivating tangible and sustainable change.
They also acknowledged the rising demand – even expectation – among employees that their companies will demonstrate leadership on anti-racism and other social issues. The board’s first responsibility is to set the tone for the organization. Directors can seek out diverse voices to participate in strategic discussions, as well as take personal accountability by holding smaller conversations.
Leadership in a time of uncertainty
Boards already had a full plate before COVID-19 struck. Even as diversity and anti-racism have become imperatives, climate change is no less urgent. In combination with the pandemic, these forces have combined to accelerate momentum toward stakeholder capitalism and a broader, more holistic conception of the value business produces for society. Board directors understand just how these issues overlap and are bearing them in mind as they devise strategies to reinvent the work experience and sustain what’s best about their culture.
Click here for all the insights, including further perspectives shared by board members and EY and results of polling conducted during the sessions.