Financial Services Plans Gradual Return to the Office: Deloitte

Deloitte's new survey of FSI decision-makers indicates that when and how to facilitate the return of the workforce is a mixed bag for the industry.
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Financial services institutions are not only considering when and how to facilitate reopenings but whether to return to a full on-site staff at all, according to a new study from Deloitte’s Real Estate & Location Strategy practice.  

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FSI leaders are facing a particularly daunting challenge, as there is no single solution that covers a wide variety of property types, including office buildings, data centers and retail bank branches. Deloitte queried 100 senior FSI executives who are spearheading crisis management and business continuity endeavors, and roughly 50 percent of respondents claimed to be in the midst of creating operational contingency plans that will be executed over the next three months. There is no common thread in the stages of a rollout—many survey participants are only in the earliest planning phase—but the general consensus is that the return to the workplace in the FSI industry will occur over an extended period of time, with some companies planning for just 40 percent of staff back in buildings as late as the third quarter of 2021.

“Overall, the reality is that there isn’t any urgency to return to a physical space; many firms have adapted to the remote work environment and significant health, safety, and sanitation challenges remain,” according to the report.

Signs of reentry

The determining factors for restarting are diverse, according to the survey findings. Participants were allowed the opportunity to provide more than one response, and 64 percent cited role or function as an important indicator of who should return and when, and 60 percent pointed to geography as a leading gauge. Fifty-four percent of respondents plan to incorporate the reduction of workplace density into their restart strategy.

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Having conducted follow-up discussions, Deloitte found that as FSI decision-makers embark upon or continue crafting and executing return-to-work scenarios, a key component has gone missing: Greater communication with corporate real estate leaders and landlords. “We believe that commercial property owners have an opportunity to engage with their tenants more proactively to be part of the reentry planning process,” Darin Buelow, Deloitte principal & report co-author, told Commercial Property Executive. Buelow wrote the report with Deloitte managing directors Tina Witney and Francisco Acoba. “In multitenant situations, the landlords can act as a convener and help their tenants have a more organized response for safe reentry. While some office tenants are engaging their landlords with surveys to start the process of information exchange, some owners are taking a wait-and-see approach to reentry planning, which reduces the amount of time they have to make an impact with their tenants during the crisis.”

In the office

As Deloitte notes in the report, the FSI industry’s office footprint accounts for more than 15 percent of total office leasing activity, making it the second-largest office user in the market. With workplace social distancing a must-have and some survey respondents indicating that they may consider permanent remote-working arrangements for 30 to 35 percent of their workforce, the office real estate sector may be in for change down the road, following years of solid performance.

If the crisis endures, making elevator and workplace distancing a ‘new norm,’ companies who can only load their urban spaces to 25 to 50 percent capacity will potentially seek suburban alternatives and/or adapt to even more employees working remote than expected,” Buelow said. “Once the pandemic is behind us, some companies may well need less space, as leases expire, if they are successful in their remote work strategies. Others may alter how they use offices and may want to keep space for those who come in intermittently.”

The general roadmap

Deloitte asserts that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for employees’ return to the workplace in the FSI industry. However, all decision-makers are advised to consider certain factors when developing a reentry scheme, including the employment of detailed scenario planning and cost-benefit analyses. Deloitte also suggests that firms prepare for the potential of future stay-at-home orders in the event of a new outbreak. “Leaders should strive to find a balance between revenue and cost, while remaining committed to their organizations’ purpose and ensuring that employee and customer well-being remain top priorities,” according to the report.