UBS to let most staff mix working from home and office permanently

UBS plans to allow up to two-thirds of its staff to mix working from home and the office on a permanent basis, betting the approach will give the Swiss lender an edge over Wall Street banks when recruiting.

The move to embrace a hybrid working model has been led by chief executive Ralph Hamers and his top managers, according to people familiar with the matter, and underlines the growing gulf with the more hardline approach adopted by many US banks.

The Swiss bank has decided that only employees whose roles are required to take place in the office due to supervisory rules or to carry out specific tasks, such as traders and branch staff, will have little or no flexibility in their working practices.

An internal analysis of its 72,000-strong global workforce showed that roughly two-thirds were in positions that would allow for hybrid working, according to people familiar with the matter.

The stance from UBS echoes that of European peers such as France’s Société Générale, but is in stark contrast to the approach taken by several US banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which have ordered staff in New York back to work.

After more than a year in which most bankers have worked from home offices, spare rooms and kitchen tables, the decision by UBS signals that one legacy of the pandemic may be a fundamental split in working practices between European and American banks.

UK-headquartered banks HSBC and Standard Chartered have announced plans to allow staff to work from home or in “near-home” locations to reduce office footprint and avoid city commutes.

In an internal message to staff published last week and seen by the Financial Times, UBS said that “we’re committed to offering you the flexibility for hybrid working (a mix of working from the office and from home) where role, tasks and location allow”.

However, even staff offered hybrid working will still be required to attend the office for certain activities, as agreed with their manager.

The bank, which is headquartered in Zurich, has not yet set a date on when staff will be required to return to the office. UBS declined to comment.

By contrast, Goldman staff have already been ordered back to the bank’s New York headquarters, while JPMorgan’s US employees are expected to move to a regular in-office schedule from July 6.

James Gorman, chief executive of Morgan Stanley, has been the most strident in calling for staff to return to the office. “If you can go into a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office and we want you in the office,” he said at a recent company event.

Citigroup is one of the few large US banks so far to introduce a hybrid working model, with staff allowed to work from home up to two days a week.

Despite moving just five years ago into 5 Broadgate, one of the City of London’s largest buildings, UBS has long looked for ways to allow more staff to work from home.

Last year it experimented with issuing its London-based traders with augmented reality headsets, allowing them to recreate the experience of working in a packed trading floor without leaving their homes.

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