Key highlights

  1. Our hybrid working model allows flexibility for employees and clients alike when it comes to in-person meetings and remote advice. Here’s how we’re meeting clients’ needs.
  2. It’s a combination of the working from home model we employed when the pandemic hit and a tentative step back into office space.
  3. The key part of this way of working is finding a balance between what works for the organization and the clients we serve.

The pandemic forced many people to drastically change their ways of working. For UBS, it meant being almost fully remote, with over 95% of employees enabled to work from home right at the start of the pandemic, including client advisors.

After seeing what was possible when working remotely, we’re now committed to offering employees the flexibility to work both at home and in the office, where job role and location allow. For clients, this hybrid working model builds on the success of Remote Sales & Advice that expanded rapidly at the start of the pandemic in the Swiss home market, and gives them a choice on how they interact with the firm, while offering first-class, top-quality advice, no matter where their advisor sits. 

We’re focusing on fulfilling our client promise as an outcome of hybrid working by, among other things, looking at how we can hold efficient and effective virtual meetings, finding new ways to engage with new clients and build on trusted client relationships both virtually and in person, and creating pathways to more flexible work schedules. To succeed in implementing a hybrid working model long term, we need to operate with agility and care, while also taking factors like regulation, risk, and productivity into consideration. 

Digital interactions offer different and even additional benefits to in-person meetings, encouraging more innovative thinking, and giving clients and employees more flexibility. But, while there’s certainly value to this side of the hybrid model, the importance of in-person interactions shouldn’t be underestimated, and will remain an important component of our relationships, both internally and with our clients.  

David James, Head Global Banking UK, Malcolm Gordon, Head UK Institutional Client Coverage, and members of their teams told us how a well-balanced approach helps us meet the needs of both employees and the business, and further evolve into a more agile organization.  

Keeping an open mind 

Having both operated fully from the office pre pandemic, David and Malcolm’s teams were among the many that faced a shock to the system when the pandemic hit. 

“My team has 40 people in it, mostly more senior employees, due to nature of our investment banking business,” David explained. “Being forced to work from home certainly opened our minds to alternative ways of working – there was a huge discussion about what the right thing to do was, for us and for our clients – once the necessity to work from home full time was gone.” 

Being forced to work from home certainly opened our minds to alternative ways of working.

Another important aspect, he noted, was acknowledging that this was new for everyone; no employee or client knew how to operate in a hybrid model officially. And, as with everything, there would be a period of testing out options and making mistakes, but still recognizing that there’s definitely something here that could work – for both sides.  

“When we were deciding how our work pattern would look on return to office in 2021, we got together as a team – when it was safe to do so – and just talked at a very human level, focusing on what works and what doesn’t, based on our experiences in the 2020 lockdown,” he explained. “Those meetings were really constructive: you could almost sense that, after each one, we were inching closer to something that actually works now and for the future. Everyone agreed that whatever we did, one hard requirement was to enhance the client experience of UBS.” 

I had to learn to trust my team in a way that I didn’t have to consider before.

For Malcolm’s team, the issues – and dynamic – were different.  

“We’re only five people, sitting within a broader client coverage unit, providing asset management services to clients. In some ways, having a smaller team makes it easier to make decisions, but, in others, it makes it harder, because everything and every person is more visible,” he said. “I had to learn to trust my team in a way that I didn’t have to consider before because, in a smaller, close-knit team in the office, having an overview of what people are working on simply by walking past or overhearing conversations is naturally easier than it is when you’re all at home. Not having that in the same way doesn’t mean things can grind to a halt, though, because their clients still need to be served and business has to continue.” 

“One thing I would say without doubt, is that the joke of ‘Working from home? Enjoy your day off.’ is definitely no more!” 

Hybrid working in practice

Like all good plans, the proof isn’t on paper, but rather in reality. For David and his team, this meant being particularly aligned with their time management.  

“When we do go to the office, we try to all go in on the same days. We lean towards a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday pattern, with more flexibility on Monday and Friday,” he said. “But the big difference is evening work. Whereas, previously, we’d spend long hours at our desks in the office, often waiting around between emails and replies, now, I don’t see any reason why that work can’t be done in a more condensed way at home, after using the waiting around time to travel.” 

The focus, as always, is on being available to talk to clients and address their questions at a time that works for them, either during the day or in the evening at a convenient timeslot for both. 

“There’s definitely a balance to be struck between flexibility and retaining some structure,” agreed George Dracup from David’s team. “I do see the benefits of being in an office and do also see a keenness to get back some of the structure and team culture that comes with all being in the one place. But, I’m equally glad to still have some flexibility, particularly when it comes to managing sometimes-long hours more flexibly.” 

There’s definitely a balance to be struck between flexibility and retaining some structure.

For Malcolm, keeping the team spirit up in split locations was top of the agenda. 

“During the first lockdown, we started having a team huddle every morning and have kept it post return to office to make sure no one feels left out wherever they’re working and everyone can ask questions that they need to before everyone gets caught up with the day,” he explained. “Two of the team members actually joined during lockdown, so, as well as the huddle, we tried to meet in person when we could to welcome them into the team properly.” 

One of them, was James Rogers. 

“I started in July 2020 after accepting the job offer in March, of course, being fully remote at the beginning,” he said. “I’d done my fair share of networking at my old job, so I tried to replicate that virtually. The morning call, as a mix of a work and social touchpoint, was definitely helpful to get to know the team.” 

“One thing that I think probably happened quicker virtually than it would have in the office, was learning about a wider variety of products at a faster pace in the very beginning, because people took the chance to have proper introduction calls instead of just a quick hello while passing in the office.”

During the first lockdown, we started having a team huddle every morning and have kept it post return to office to make sure no one feels left out wherever they’re working.

A change for teams and clients, too

“One of the biggest challenges in my case was making sure everyone felt comfortable with the return to office arrangements,” said Malcolm. “A couple of team members were more hesitant to come back as soon as it was announced that we could, so we delayed until everyone felt ready, so that we could start this new approach to working together.” 

From dealing with comments on why other people aren’t in the office to expectations of availability: moving from everyone at home, to some, if not all, venturing back to the office took some getting used to. And, with timetables changed once again, the idea that everyone should be available during the same, ‘normal’ working hours was up for question when it came to everything from team calls to client events. 

“In my opinion, communication, almost overcompensating in your communication about where you are and when you’re available that week to your team and clients, is key to keeping things run smoothly,” David added.  

While in-team logistics and talking are certainly a big part of working in a hybrid model, it’s only half of the story. With people in the office less frequently, and, so, less available for face-to-face meetings, clients and prospects have also had to adapt.  

“When it was clear that the situation wasn’t only going to last a few weeks, there was a frenzy of client activity,” said Malcolm. “Now, further down the line, while clients might be settling more into their own hybrid working habits and in-person meetings are possible in most cases, there’s still definitely a consistent increase in virtual meetings, with clients less inclined to travel to their/our office for the sake of one meeting.” 

Some surprises along the way 

Many parts of the pandemic have been unpredictable – not least the things we didn’t know we’d ever have to think about. In both teams, there were elements of surprise as they adapted to the new normal again and again. 

“The first thing that surprised me was my lack of ability to predict what people will want to do when it comes to their work pattern!” David said with a laugh.  

“I’m also surprised by the people who wanted and equally didn’t want to come back to the office…it’s not necessarily as easy to assume as you’d think, for example, based on what you know about someone,” said George in agreement.

“In seriousness, the fact that the hybrid model works so well is, to some extent, a pleasant surprise – and one I hope continues,” added David. 

“I think the most important thing is two-way flexibility,” said Malcolm. “It’s about deciding what works best for you, but also works best for the business you’re delivering, and meeting in the middle.”

“My biggest surprise,” he added, “was the change is my dress sense. I was a suit and tie guy before, and now I’m a lot more casual, depending on the day. The general shift in dress code that many of us have seen due to working from home is a small point, but still significant in what it represents.”

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