Nationwide tells 13,000 staff to 'work anywhere'

Wellingborough branchImage source, NAtionwide
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Nationwide is trialling whether traditional office-based staff could work from branches as part of the flexibility initiative

Nationwide is to allow 13,000 office staff to choose where they work under a new flexibility scheme.

The UK's biggest building society said its "work anywhere" plan would allow employees more control of their lives.

Under the plan, Nationwide is closing three offices in Swindon, with 3,000 staff either moving to the nearby HQ, working from home, or mixing the two.

Other UK staff may be able to work from their local High Street branch if they prefer, rather than travel to offices.

In a Nationwide survey of staff, 57% said they wanted to work from home full-time after lockdown ends. More than a third - 36% - said they preferred a mix of home and office-based work.

Joe Garner, chief executive of Nationwide, said: "The last year has taught many of us that 'how' we do our jobs is much more important than 'where' we do them from.

"We are putting our employees in control of where they work from, inviting them to 'locate for their day' depending on what they need to achieve."

Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, Mr Garner said that research suggested staff made better decisions when working from home.

"A third of our people are saying they have an even greater consideration of the human impact of their decisions," he said.

"And perhaps that's not surprising because people are in their home environment, they're seeing other people's children on the screen - [as well as] cats, dogs, etc."

Nevertheless, he said the office would still play an important role, but people would not be told how often they have to travel into work.

"People do want to go," he said. "They just don't want to be compelled to go every day."

The move towards flexible working will see a change to the configuration of offices, with more collaboration spaces and fewer meeting rooms, as well as introducing quiet areas and designated walking and cycling routes.

The building society said that although its branch-based staff were less able to work flexibly, it is looking at ways to "help them better manage their working day around their home lives".

Nationwide, which employs 18,000 staff, is also trialling an initiative in five sites where traditional office-based employees can work alongside branch colleagues.

The move comes as companies across the UK consider how to tackle the issue of remote versus office working once lockdown ends, with many backing a hybrid model.

On Thursday, Santander announced plans to reduce the amount of office space it rents in London and move its headquarters from the capital to Milton Keynes. It will close a number of its offices across the country and ask staff to work from home more often or travel in to one of its remaining offices.

The bank also said it would close 111 branches.

Image source, PA Media
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Nationwide acknowledged that allowing staff at its 650 branches more flexibility was more difficult - but it would try

Nationwide had already indicated it would not force people to return to the office if they have been successfully able to work from home during the pandemic.

Oil giant BP has told office-based staff they can spend two days a week working from home after lockdown restrictions ease.

Banks HSBC and Lloyds are among many other companies looking into split working arrangements. And British Airways is considering the sell-off of its huge headquarters at Heathrow Airport as part of a move to flexible arrangements for about 2,000 staff.

Face time

Earlier this month the boss of IWG, which provides office space across the world, told the BBC he expected hybrid working "to become the norm" for many companies.

Mark Dixon said: "It works for companies, because it's a lot cheaper. It's also much, much better for the environment."

Nationwide's survey of staff found that almost all of its workers believed they were at least as good at prioritising decisions in the interests of customers when working from home, while three-in-10 said they were better.

Nationwide added: "People won't be forced to return to an office, but anyone who needs a desk in an office can have one - for whatever reason.

"Our offices will become hubs where teams can meet for creativity, social connection and collaboration."

In a separate report compiled with Ipsos Mori, Nationwide found that 90% of those working from home wanted to continue doing so at least one day a week, with 60% saying it gave them a better work-life balance.

But the report - which sought views from a raft of major organisations including American Express, Visa, B&Q owner Kingfisher and NatWest Group - also suggested that 43% of remote workers needed some face-to-face time with colleagues to do their job effectively.