Would you like to work in an office where you wear a small wearable that tracks your brain activity, recording your energy levels and attention span for your boss to monitor at their convenience.
Imagine sensors detecting your stress levels and playing personalised music to combat anxiety as you move around the office, creating a unique ‘bio-soundscape’ that follows you throughout the day.
While the fintech world might not have fully embraced these arguably Orwellian offices of the future, the fintech workplace is undoubtedly in a state of flux.
Covid and the resultant change in work dynamic coupled with a yearning to be at the vanguard have meant fintechs are at the forefront of testing and trialling varying workplace designs as they look to create an ambience pitch perfect to spawn eureka moments.
The Fintech Times has quizzed fintechs to find out about their workplace setups and how they see the future of the working environment.
Is hot desking dead?
Hot desking, once the cornerstone of disruptive businesses, does not get a universal thumbs up in fintech.
Tim Chong, co-founder and CEO of Yonder, a credit card startup which began life with a team of seven in a ‘tiny’ co-working space, says it has shifted away from hot-desking.
“Every employee has a seat that’s been chosen so that teams can communicate with each other as easily as possible,” says Chong. “But we’ve made sure we have breakout and work spaces throughout the office to give staff the option to work elsewhere if they’d like to.
“Small things like the way monitors or desk separators are set up can have small impacts on how people communicate with each other that all stack up. We’ve thought carefully about how we arrange our team in the office, with our primary aim to ensure that teams can collaborate with minimal friction.”
Chong says one of the perils of hot desking is it can impact productivity.
“If someone comes into the office and can’t find a place to work that suits them, we really believe that can have an impact on how well they feel they can work that day.”
Another fan of the assigned desk is blockchain firm Quant.
Phil Ashton, Quant’s chief HR officer, says: “We have received feedback from team members that they like having an assigned desk space to work from, for when they are in the office. This mitigates the need for team members to move their personal items every time that they are in the office.”
“The most important aspect of work is to have the right work environment to get things done.”
Fans of hot desking
However, companies have not yet thrown hot desking into the office rubbish bin.
Mariola Sokolowska, head of talent operations at Moneyfarm, says: “At Moneyfarm, no desk is allocated and our employees can book a seat through a user-friendly app prior to coming to the office.
“The office is equipped with office chairs and desks where monitors are available to our staff, but there is also comfortable sofa and bean bags, which convey a sense of homeliness, and a big kitchen table around which teams can have lunch together.”
The biggest advantage of its seating policy, says Sokolowska, is the “freedom of choice” it gives to employees. “They can work at a standing desk if they prefer and then move to a comfortable sofa to have a catch-up with their teammates.”
Lillian Bautista, chief people officer & COO, business lender OakNorth, says: “Hot desking Is a great way for teams to maintain flexibility in how they work and who they work with on any given day. We also offer stand-up desks for those that request them, as well as lounge areas, collaborative spaces, and even a barista bar, which has been great for spontaneous meetups or informal meetings.”
At Berlin-based Vivid Money, hot desking is the norm and ‘Vividians’ have the freedom to choose where they sit.
“We especially want to encourage inter-team exchanges,” says a spokesperson for Vivid Money. “Legal is sitting and talking together tech teams, PR & communications join the developers – with that we can collaborate closer and understand the way of working of others way better.”
A spokesperson for Starling said: “Starling employees hot desk and can book desks, all with the functionality to sit down or stand up, using a virtual floor plan. In addition to desks we have small private booths and breakout areas across our offices.”
Senior execs mixing with staff
How can fintech senior executives actively engage with staff? Do they sit in regal splendour in their own offices, away from the collaborative beanbags, hammocks and brainstorming pods?
Chong says: “It’s really important to us that there’s no overarching sense of hierarchy at Yonder. There’s zero distinction in our desk set up between senior management and the rest of the team, which is a reflection of how we run the business too.”
Yonder’s policy appears to be the norm, with an absence of hierarchy in the fintechs The Fintech Times spoke to.
Sokolowska says such a non-hierarchical melting pot fosters “good team bonding and helps exchanging ideas, improve collaboration, share knowledge and even jokes from time to time”.
At Quant, Ashton says its senior leadership team “enjoy” sitting with their teams. “We further encourage opportunities for our teams to have time with our senior leadership team at our quarterly town hall events.”
Starling says that senior management at Staring sitting within with staff creates the “ultimate open door policy”.
Offices of the future
And how do these fintechs see the office of the future?
Chong says the gaze on mental health will only become more pronounced in the future. “Protecting our physical and mental health at work will only become more important in the future,” he says. “Walking pads and under-desk bikes are already a thing, so I imagine that’s just the beginning of the new tech that encourages movement at work in the not too distant future.”
Sokolowski says: “Regarding trends, we see more and more people prefer not to sit at one desk all day hence we will continue varying the options available depending on needs.”
Like Chong, Asthon says mental health will be a key dictator of the future of the office workspace. “I anticipate that there will be continued development of ‘hub’ open plan office locations, where the office is a central location for team members to come together to collaborate, connect, brainstorm and socialise.
“The positive momentum of employee mental and physical well-being will continue to be a central part of how organisations consider physical space and their overall employee value proposition.”
Bautista adds: “The most important aspect of work is to have the right work environment to get things done. Sometimes that means you need quiet, focused space for independent work and deep thinking. Other times, that means you need a collaborative, exciting space for team brainstorms and whiteboarding so innovation can thrive.
“And sometimes you need to get out of the office and have a walking meeting with a colleague. Companies that offer these varied and inclusive environments will be the ones that don’t need to force people back into the office- their employees will want to come in.”