Banks adopt a hybrid work model back at the office

Valor Econômico

At the beginning of the pandemic, banks quickly placed hundreds of thousands of employees on a remote work scheme, a move that was previously unthinkable even for executives in the sector. Now, it's time to go back, albeit in a very different scenario from what was in the pre-covid world.

Remote work will remain part of the routine, but not all the time. If in the beginning, some financial institutions even considered a permanent remote work regime for entire departments, now there seems to be a consensus around a hybrid scheme, with some days at home and others at the office. The parameters of this scheme differ from bank to bank, but all are adapting physical structures and procedures to welcome back almost all employees - which requires measures to maintain social distancing and other health requirements since the pandemic is not over.

With 87,736 employees, including branch staff, Bradesco announced the gradual return to its offices at the end of September. In administrative areas, 40% have already returned, in a rotation scheme where half of the eligible public goes every week. The plan is to gradually increase this percentage, until reaching almost all of it. Pregnant women and at-risk groups, representing just under 5%, will only return when the pandemic is definitively over.

The bank carried out a series of studies on the return to face-to-face. "We have a management group that monitors all actions, and we asked employees what their pre-disposition to return was. There is no obligation whatsoever; we want the employee to understand the process and realize that we want a healthy, structured return", says Glaucimar Peticov, executive director of Bradesco.

Attracting the team back is not a simple task. At Itaú Unibanco, since last week, the entire workforce can, in theory, return to the offices. However, the bank is starting a campaign to encourage this return.

Itaú, with 86,195 employees in Brazil, began a test in September with 5,000 of them. Of the eligible public, only 3% were going to the administrative buildings. According to Sérgio Fajerman, director and member of the executive committee responsible for the people area, many felt uncomfortable with wearing a mask all day - as is required - which is why they ended up preferring to remain working from home.

Hence, the idea of the campaign. "We don't have a date to set plans, deadlines if we will make the return mandatory. We are taking one step at a time", says the executive. According to him, employees are being heard, but the bank has to make the most appropriate decisions for the institution to function at the end of the day.

Fajerman states that Itaú monitors more than 70 productivity indicators, and there was an improvement in remote work in 75% of them. Even employee engagement has improved, with their NPS (satisfaction metric) rising by almost ten points. Despite this, the interaction between people is seen as essential for maintaining the company's culture. "What is the impact of this on the organizational culture in the long term? These are things you can't measure."

Itaú has operated with three models: face-to-face; the hybrid with rules, that is, with a pre-defined schedule of days when employees must be in the office; and the flexible hybrid, where the employee chooses the best day, time and place for in-person work. Each area defines the model that best fits its reality. About 25% of the total staff fits the face-to-face model. In any given scenario, only half of the bank's physical space can be occupied.

Banco do Brasil (BB) also started a gradual return process for employees working from home and who are not from risk groups. "The entire movement has also been complying with health safety guidelines and is assessed and guided on a timely basis according to the characteristics of each unit", said the institution in response to Valor.

At the height of the pandemic, BB adopted remote work for 36.33% of the staff, but the bank assesses that the sanitary improvement has enabled the increase in in-person activities. The institution has 85,069 employees. "BB has people's safety as one of its priorities. Since March 2020, it has acquired more than 670 thousand fabric masks for employees and interns, in addition to the distribution of 450,000 model N95 masks and 52 thousand front visors made of transparent material for employees who provide services to the public."

Citi leads the return to the offices following global policies established by the American conglomerate among foreign banks. Now, the voluntary return of 30% of the staff has started - with 1,925 employees - and an evaluation will be carried out after that. Possible COVID cases among employees, stability of the pandemic, and other factors will be observed. In post-covid, most employees are expected to be on the hybrid model three days a week at the office and the other two at home.

Globally, the bank created a colour scale (red, orange, yellow and green), which considers four factors: deaths per million, new infections, ICU occupation and the number of vaccines. Brazil is in the yellow band, heading towards the green. Guilherme Mancin, responsible for human resources at Citi Brasil, says that the policy's objective of having employees three days a week is to form the corporate culture. "If we have the employee out of the office all the time, it doesn't shape the company's culture. For our ethical alignment, the formation of culture is essential", he says.

Bradesco's Peticov agrees with this view. However, he claims that letting the employee go a few days a week would make the presence in the offices very "fragmented", making it difficult precisely to transmit the culture. "The great innovation processes are collective, and for that, connections and exchanges are necessary. If we have a fragmented presence, the exchange process begins and then it is forgotten. With this model interspersed, the process is always breaking down; there is no continuity", he says.

In any case, some departments will likely hold most of the work remotely. One of the key exponents is the technology areas, which adapt very well to this format. In addition, with the possibility for the employee to work from home, banks expand the range of hiring to other states and even countries. With the accelerated digitization promoted by the pandemic, IT professionals are increasingly difficult to find. "We have already hired IT employees who stay full-time outside of São Paulo and, who knows one day, outside Brazil", says Fajerman, from Itaú.

The executive recalls that banks are discussing the future of work and the need to reconcile this new reality even in a pandemic environment. "We are taking it one step at a time, arguing, creating together. We will not have a single solution for all departments, and we are testing some models before reaching a conclusion. It is a 'ballet' between studies on the future of work and the evolution of the pandemic."

Santander preferred not to comment on it. The bank has never built a home office as large as its competitors and, for months, it has been rotating its teams.