HSBC bosses give up high life amid new reality

Top News | BLOOMBERG 20 Apr 2021

HSBC Holdings has scrapped the executive floor of its Canary Wharf headquarters in London and turned the private offices of its top staff into client meeting rooms and collaborative spaces.

Chief executive Noel Quinn and other senior managers have been kicked out of their offices on the 42nd-floor and will hot desk on an open-plan floor two levels below, Quinn said.

The offices were empty half of the time because senior staff were traveling around the world, which was a "waste of real estate," he added.

Quinn said he is not in the office five days a week, saying "it's unnecessary" and "the new reality of life."

The London-based bank, which expects to eventually shrink its property footprint by 40 percent, does not plan to renew many of its city-center leases due in the next three to five years, Quinn said.

The lender is also shifting to a policy of about two employees per desk, excluding branches, he said.

Last year's abrupt shift to remote working has sparked a debate across industries about needs for office space, prompting a number of global banks and other large firms to rethink how employees operate.

Standard Chartered this month formalized hybrid working for staff across its global operations after 84 percent of employees asked to keep the flexible arrangements pioneered during the coronavirus pandemic.

The approach is also gaining traction at major companies globally, such as Google and Microsoft, as many firms no longer see the need to have staff working from the office every day.

HSBC is also in the throes of a major overhaul that will slash 35,000 jobs and shift the bank's focus to fast-growing markets in Asia, where it derives the majority of its profit.

It said last week that it will move four of its most senior executives to Hong Kong later this year but keep its headquarters in London.

The bank announced plans to scale its office space back by nearly 40 per cent as part of cost-cutting measures. Quinn previously indicated that while HSBC would keep its Canary Wharf headquarters, offices elsewhere in the capital would likely be scrapped as they came up for lease renewal. HSBC has 66 offices in Britain, including 10 in London.

On working arrangements, HSBC has been offering employees more flexibility. The bank recently told more than 1,200 staff at its British call centers that they can permanently work from home. Last year, it allowed eligible staff in Hong Kong to work as many as four days a week at home, subject to manager's approval.

Still, not all banks are embracing a permanent shift to working from home. Goldman Sachs chief David Solomon has said remote work was "an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible."

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