Howard Davies: WFH and the elephant in the Zoom

Column: The RBS chairman remains to be convinced by remote working.

by Howard Davies

Early in the lockdown I received a letter designating me as a “key worker”. I don’t think I have ever been considered as “key” before, in an almost 50 year career. Diplomats, Treasury officials and regulators all, I would submit, do things which are occasionally useful to their fellow citizens, but not quite in the essential category, like doctors, policemen and app developers.

In this crisis banks did have an essential role to play, pushing out loans to troubled companies, and keeping the cash economy running. Whether a chairman is exactly central to those efforts, one might question. I certainly couldn’t restock an ATM unaided, and bank transfers are something of a challenge even in my private life. But someone has to oversee all this activity I suppose, even if 99.9 per cent of the heavy lifting was done by Alison Rose and her executive team.

We did it, of course, largely on Zoom, our gallery view of choice. And almost every employee, apart from a brave few who staffed the branches, was working at home, or “from” home (WFH) as we mysteriously call it. It all worked so well for us, and many other firms, that some now ask if we will ever need to return to the office, especially if office life is constrained by social distancing rules. If I turned up at 8am, with two people to a lift I would reach my 7th floor office around mid-afternoon.

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