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Disruption leads to the reinvention of financial workplace design

Disruption leads to the reinvention of financial workplace design

Technology is affecting financial workplaces and the way we design them says HOK's Daniel Hajjar

Daniel Hajjar, managing principal, HOK London.
Agnese Sanvito
Daniel Hajjar, managing principal, HOK London.

To some extent, all aspects of traditional business appear to be experiencing a challenge from new technologies, and the financial services sector is no exception. 

Cryptocurrencies, blockchain, biometrics, cognitive computing, open banking and interactive teller machines are all challenges to the way the current financial sector operates. 

There are calls to embrace digital currencies, for example, as they allow for more efficient and secure transactions, though on the flipside there are concerns about the volatility of cryptocurrencies, regulatory issues, and the impact on the long-term viability of traditional banking systems.

Biometrics, including iris and fingerprint recognition technology, and cognitive computing processes such as predictive analytics, all have clear benefits for improving efficiencies in financial services, yet they also bring significant challenges to overall real estate requirements and the ways in which workplaces operate. 

Traditionally static, location-based and process-led, today’s financial institutions face forces that are reshaping the sector. The convergence of financial services and technology are challenging the sector to adopt the cultures and workplace design practices of the tech sector. Fin Tech has become a noun in everyday parlance, yet we are not really sure what the implications might be from the future innovators currently working away in their basements around the globe.

HOK’s WorkPlace practice has published an extensive global survey on the sector. “The New Financial Workplace” looks at an adapting industry that is already positioned near the forefront of new workplace models.

This is a sector that has seen challenges. The financial crisis pushed many companies to optimise their assets, often consolidating their portfolios and increasing their agility. After all, real estate is one of the three largest business costs, along with technology and talent.  They have a natural sensitivity to the bottom line. 

As the nature of financial work continues to change - and the fintech challenge accelerates - the sector is increasingly adopting both the cultures and workplace design practices of the tech industry. Indeed, to succeed, some are looking and acting more like tech companies, and the average age of the financial sector employee is dropping. 

The move away from overly centralised workplace models to a more fluid, collaborative and entrepreneurial approach, has enabled the sector to be responsive and adaptable in the face of volatile business environments. 

The days of repetitive tasks and static work spaces are now coming to an end, and we are seeing a departure from traditional open plan workplace environments, and the introduction of a whole ecosystem of flexible and human-centric spaces. 

These new formats include “Neighbourhood Based Choice Environments,” which provide a team’s base, supported by a variety of work settings designed to encourage collaboration and information sharing. The focus has squarely shifted to creating places that encourage people to be healthy and productive. 

Many firms, that had decreased their space portfolios in response to challenges such as the financial crisis, are now looking at ways to enhance the employee experience and retain their top talent. Financial services professionals have been attracted to the tech sector, and the war for talent in both directions is brutal. 

This has led to recognition by the sector that vibrant, progressive spaces help attract and retain the best people and establish a more diverse workforce.

Strategically planned, well-designed spaces are a powerful business tool, and legacy players in financial services should continue to look to their workplaces as part of the solution when addressing the current challenges of their businesses.    

Daniel Hajjar is a registered architect with more than 25 years of experience covering all aspects of design, planning, architecture and project management. As the managing principal for HOK’s London practice, Daniel has led numerous master planning and architecture projects in Europe and the Middle East. Daniel is past vice chairman of the Emirates Green Building Council.

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